Abu Dhabi // More than 100 aspiring professional golfers from around the world are vying for the rare chance of becoming an "apprentice" with the Abu Dhabi Golf Club (ADGC). The offer is a shift in the way the golf industry normally runs and it could mean an end to the practice of the ADGC employing already established professionals. There has been plenty of interest in the ADGC's advertisement, placed recently on the Professional Golfers' Association (PGA) website, for "enthusiastic assistant professionals". About 170 people have applied for the handful of places on a three-year training course.
However, those interested will have to be more than proficient on the golf course - they will have to learn how to fill in tax returns and run a business. Paul Booth, the ADGC's head professional, said aspiring professionals usually had to pay their own way through the PGA's three-year course in the United Kingdom. As well as the costs, training in Britain entails a battle with the elements: the wind, rain and cold that usually afflict UK golfers.
"I think it's like a dream come true," Mr Booth said of the apprenticeship. "It's the first of its kind. We're offering the same training as in England, but this is an opportunity to do it in a different part of the world." Only serious golfers have a chance of being selected to join the club, which hosts the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, a PGA European Tour event. To turn professional, Mr Booth said, players needed at least a handicap of three.
Golfers with handicaps of six or seven have applied, but they would be expected to improve their game by the time they qualified. But being a golf professional is about more than driving, chipping and putting skills that rival the likes of Tiger Woods and Germany's Martin Kaymer, the current Abu Dhabi champion. "Personality is most important - outgoing, willing to have a good laugh and fit into this culture," Mr Booth said.
Professionals could specialise in playing, coaching, managing or even golf course management, he added. As well as becoming PGA-qualified professionals, successful trainees would be associates with Troon Golf, which runs the ADGC and is based in Scottsdale, Arizona. Accommodation and training costs would be provided on top of a "small retainer". There were PGA distance-learning courses and on-the-job training covering everything from the rules of golf to psychology, diet, golf swings, club repairs and merchandising.
At the end of each year, trainees would spend a week at the Belfry, the prestigious golf course in central England, to sit examinations. Responses to the advertisement have come from countries such as Egypt, Australia, Germany and Italy, although Mr Booth said the training programme might be open only to UK and Republic of Ireland passport holders because of residency reasons. Some applicants were teenagers, while others were experienced golf club general managers keen to move to the Middle East. About 20 respondents to the advertisement were women. The number to be employed had not been decided.
The goal, Mr Booth said, was to train people who could move to other centres run by Troon Golf, which had more than 200 courses around the world and planned to open more in the UAE. "We want to make sure we have enough people to go around. We have other projects opening in the UAE that we'll be managing and if we can bring them in and give them some training, then they can move on to another of our facilities," he said.
"We can then get some more trainees and make Abu Dhabi the breeding ground for golf professionals in the UAE. "In the next three to five years, there will be a number of golf courses opening and we want to make sure the people we have are fully qualified." However, Mr Booth admitted the company was taking a risk as graduates would be free agents once their training was over. "We could say they had to stay with us for two years, but I don't think we'd get away with that. We have got to believe they will be staying here," he said.