Alan Babický – Respected golf pro on golf in the Czech Republic

Alan Babický, photo: CTK

This week’s guest in One on One is Czech golf pro Alan Babický. A skilled businessman but also former dancer, choreographer and downhill skier, Babický picked up the sport of golf at the fairly late age of 28. But within ten years he had built up a solid reputation, even winning the World Golfers’ Championship in Thailand in 2004 – one of the most prestigious competitions for amateur players. Recently I caught up with Alan Babický to discuss his career; the first thing I asked was how much he knew about golf the first time picked up a club 15 years ago.

“Absolutely nothing! Zippo, as they say in the States! Today if you invite someone in the Czech Republic top play golf, they’ll know at least something, they’ll have heard of Tiger Woods and know that they have to play 18 holes. I didn’t know any of that then!”

How did you end up on the golf course in the first place?

Alan Babický, photo: CTK
“I was working as a marketing manager for Pepsi and we agreed on a contract with the course at Karlštejn in 1994. They were opening the back-nine in September and in October we signed the deal. Obviously, since they were all golf enthusiasts so they forced me to try it. That’s how I picked up golf.”

Was it in this first game - or in later games - that you caught the spark and realised this was a sport you really liked?

“It’s close to the situation when you say ‘Good deeds for bad reasons’: at first I didn’t know what to enjoy about it. Except for one little thing that immediately worked: I never missed the gold ball. Of course I missed the ball in deep rough with an open lob wedge six years later, but under normal circumstances in the first games I didn’t miss. And I never shot over a 100. That was something that worked.”

Sport of course was nothing new for you: you were a former dancer and choreographer, almost pro skier…

“I think that the dance was key to being able to pick up golf so quickly: to copy the pro and hit the first shots decently, to remember the rhythm and other details. When someone tells you to keep your shoulder up or whatever regarding your stance, that’s new for some people but not for dancers.”

Who long did it take for your game to improve?

“The only thing I really remember was, from the first day, I spent almost ever night at an indoor facility at Strahov. That was closed in January but another opened in 1995 and was also on my way home from the office. So I spent every night practicing there. In April I played first tournament in Karlovy Vary and I shot something like 95, my first experience in a competition.”

And all of this intense practice took place while you held onto your regular day job?

“Of course. That was the way it was for me until 2004, when I won the World Golfers’ Championship. That was the 10th anniversary of my hitting my first golf ball! The competition is the equivalent of the World Golf Championship except that they deduct your handicap. And I happened to win it. And that was the reason I wanted to become an entrepreneur and established as co-owner a golf-related company I work for now. Up until then it was a long ten years of being a manager at an international firm, working ten hours a day and then practicing at night!”

Can you tell me a bit about golf culture in the Czech Republic? There obviously wasn’t much during the Communist years but there was a tradition here before 1948, wasn’t there?

“There’s a beautiful book called ‘Golf in the Czech Republic’ where you can learn that former-Czechoslovakia was the only country in the former Socialist bloc that had a little bit of golf surviving in that era. I think there were three courses that survived then. When I started to play in 1994, the country had only around 1,800 players and five courses. Since then, the Czech Republic has become the fastest-growing golf country in the world, according to studies. We now have over 40,000 players, more than 80 courses and something like 126 clubs. It has been a big boom.

“The culture? When something grows so quickly there are some teething problems or ‘childhood illnesses’ as we say in Czech: sometimes the growth is too fast, sometimes people get certificates too early, sometimes promoters – in order to satisfy clients – don’t respect golf traditions properly. But overall, development has been positive and we have a lot of good players. Most of the time, when it comes to golf 90 percent of players never break 100. Unusually, in the Czech Republic a little study we did in 1998 showed, most of the players here do.”

How do you explain it?

“That’s difficult to answer but I think people here like sports and being in nature and that is connected to golf’s popularity. At the same time, there is a lot of opportunity for marketing, so all big companies make use of it as a communications platform and that’s it.”

You’ve been a lot of things in your career but golf was probably the most important decision: do you foresee any more big surprises?

“When I made those changes they didn’t ‘feel’ like changes: they just grew logically from one to another. There are no more surprises {laughs}. I’m 42, soon to be 43, there is n time for changes now. This is it.”

But you’re happy with it…

“Well that’s just it: golf sort of helped me realise my childhood dream of being a good sportsman. Like every kid I dreamed of winning the Olympics and World Cup in skiing and Wimbledon in tennis but obviously I didn’t make it! I gave those dreams up but all of sudden out of the blue at 28 I came to a sport where age doesn’t play such an important role and you can still play well. I was able to play and come sixth at the European Championship which isn’t ‘great’ but considering I began golf at 28, it’s pretty good. You wouldn’t be able to do that in any other sport!”