"I was 13 and my sister 12 when our parents first took us to the Islamabad Golf Club,” Rimsha Ijaz, elder sister of Parkha Ijaz tells Eos. “It was just a casual visit. But then, watching the other golfers concentrate on each stroke got me interested in the sport.”
The two Pakhtoon sisters have taken Pakistan’s golf scene by storm. Rimsha, who is 21 now, along with her younger-by-one-year sister, are currently rewriting the record books as they achieve scores never seen before in the country’s women’s golf circuit. In age group events, they even performed better than the boys in corresponding categories. Their remarkable story has seen their family shifting base so that the girls can enjoy better golf facilities.
“It wasn’t long after my initial experience of watching those golfers play up close that I began adopting a serious attitude towards this sport,” shares Rimsha. “And when I tried it, it felt like a rush of adrenaline every time, along with the need to remain calm and collected. I realised that each shot was important. I fell in love with the game. Soon, I was competing in a match-play tournament at the same club.”
But her sister says that she didn’t quite enjoy the game at first. “I just loved being in nature,” says Parkha. “But then, gradually, even I developed an interest in golf, which later turned into an addiction. My first tournament was a local club match at the Margalla Greens Golf Club, where I came second in the ladies’ category. I was around 12 years old then.”
The sisters started playing at the practice range of the Islamabad Golf Club. But as the club was not taking new members then, the Ijaz sisters obtained membership of the Margalla Greens Golf Club in Islamabad.
Two sisters, still only 20 and 21, have shaken up Pakistan’s women’s golf with their astonishing achievements. They now have set their sights on turning professional
From 2013, they began competing in major tournaments. For the first couple of years, it was mostly in Rawalpindi and Islamabad, bagging positions even in big events such as the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Open and the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) Open.
In 2016, they caused a sensation at the National Amateur Championships, where Parkha, the younger of the two, came in second and Rimsha third. Their performances there led to their national selection.
Both Rimsha and Parkha went to Sri Lanka the same year. There, Rimsha participated in the individual event of the Sri Lankan Amateur Championships and was second in the net. Meanwhile, Parkha was a member of the Pakistan team which finished second in a four-nation championship, with golfers from Sri Lanka, India and Thailand, besides Pakistan, competing.
In November 2016, Parkha appeared in the Pakistan qualifiers for the Faldo Series, the world’s biggest series of junior golf tournaments that take place in over 30 countries, involving more than 4,000 golfers each year. She won the under-16 category. This enabled her to represent Pakistan for the Faldo Series Asia Grand Final in Vietnam in March 2017. During this time, Rimsha featured at the Bangladesh Amateur in January 2017.
These marvelous achievements in 2016 and early 2017 were pivotal in the girls’ father making a vital decision to further facilitate his daughters’ golf progress. The family moved from Islamabad to Lahore in 2017, solely for their sporting sake.
“It was a huge decision for our father to make, since he is a businessman with all his business set in Islamabad,” says Parkha. “But Lahore was better for us, as it has far better facilities. Lahore has three championship golf courses of international standard there.
“Of them, the Defence Raya Golf and Country Club stands out with one of the best greens in Asia. Our house is virtually on the golf course, and we only have to walk a few steps for our regular practice. Lahore also holds several top tournaments year round. In addition, we have got good coaches here,” adds Parkha.
And the shift paid off. The girls excelled at home and continued to represent their country abroad.
In November 2018, at the Pakistan qualifiers for the Faldo Series, Rimsha won the under-21 category with a score better than even the winner of the boys’ competition in the same category.
“Parkha finished runner-up and she, too, scored better than the boys,” explains Rimsha. “But only the winner in each category qualified for the Faldo Series Asia Grand Final in Vietnam in March 2020.
“Unfortunately, my flight got cancelled, and I had to take the next flight. As a result I couldn’t get the time to familiarise myself with the course before the event. I had a poor game on the first day, not compensated by a better display on the second day,” says Rimsha.
“I was also a part of the Pakistan teams in 2017 and 2018, at the junior international golf championships in Sri Lanka. Both times, we finished the runners-up in the three-nation event, with the hosts Sri Lanka and India playing besides Pakistan.
“In 2018, we had tied with Sri Lanka for the first position. Even after the playoff, it was even. But Pakistan lost in the sudden death. The same year, I also figured in Sri Lanka’s individual women’s amateur championships. In the 54-hole competition, spread over three days, I scored the best gross on the second day, though my total score wasn’t very good,” Rimsha shares.
Meanwhile, Parkha played in the Asian Pacific Junior Amateur 2018 in Hong Kong. The same year, at the junior world championships in Indonesia, she finished a creditable 21st. “In Sri Lanka, I was fifth at the HSBC Junior Golf Championships and was also my sister’s teammate in the three-nation event,” she says. “Then, in May 2019, I represented Pakistan at the Thailand Ladies Amateur Open.”
At home, the duo constantly performed well, winning many tournaments and were never out of the top three. At the 57th National Amateur Golf Championship 2018, Rimsha was second and Parkha third. Finally, in 2019, still a teenager, Rimsha won the national championships.
That year, the sisters again relocated for their golf. Both got admission in the fall of 2019 at the East Tennessee State University in the US, on a golf scholarship.
“After a few months there, the Covid-19 pandemic struck and we had to take a semester online,” says Rimsha. “We were told ‘no tournaments, only online classes.’ Hence, we decided to take a gap of a year and return to Pakistan. It remained uncertain if regular golf were going to be restarted at our university in America.
“Here, in Pakistan, we have been regularly getting tournaments and our game is improving. Currently, we are studying for our bachelor’s in Business Administration at the ICMS-IVY College of Management Sciences in Lahore.”
The sisters now plan to complete their bachelor’s in two years’ time and then turn full-time professionals.
“During this period, we also intend to play on the domestic circuit because, due to Covid, Pakistan’s participation in international events has remained suspended,” Parkha explains.
Rimsha retained the national title in 2020. Just a few weeks ago, in October, at the Punjab Open in Lahore, their prowess startled everyone. In the two-day event, Parkha totalled an imposing aggregate of 136. Never before in the history of Pakistan’s women’s golf had anyone managed an eight-under par over two rounds. And Rimsha wasn’t far behind, with a score of six under par.
In order to become professionals, the sisters will need to qualify for the Ladies European Tour. They are well aware that it won’t be easy, and that they will need to clear several more hurdles on the way. But with such talent at the age of 21 and 20, they can rightfully aspire to their dreams.
The men’s world golf rankings show just one Asian among the top 20 — Japan’s Matsuyama at No. 14. On the other hand, Asians dominate the women’s rankings. There are no less than 12 women in the top 20, including at Nos. 2, 3 and 4. They come from Korea, Japan, China and also from not very resourceful countries such as Thailand and the Philippines.
Pakistan can rightly look forward to seeing a Pakistani woman, or perhaps two, playing in the golf majors soon.
The writer is a freelance sports journalist based in Lahore. He tweets @ijazChaudhry1 and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in Dawn, EOS, November 28th, 2021