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Teens participating in the tournament Dubai Schools Golf League at Emirates Gulf Club. Jaime Puebla / The National
Teens participating in the tournament Dubai Schools Golf League at Emirates Gulf Club. Jaime Puebla / The National

Easier courses needed for novice golfers, say experts

While the UAE is well-known for its championship golf courses, more courses are needed for the regular golfer.

DUBAI // The national golf industry's ability to attract amateurs, casual players and beginners is under par because of a lack of courses that cater to their needs, according to an expert.

And the country's impressive array of world-class and championship-level courses - such as the one at Yas Island - may even have the adverse effect of intimidating and discouraging those of lesser ability.

More casual courses need to be available in order to foster a home-grown passion for the sport, which needs to cater to the more general enthusiast, said Peter Harradine, the managing director of Harradine Golf.

"The locals who live [in the UAE] want to enjoy golf and they don't enjoy it on the championship courses," said Mr Harradine, a golf course architect. "Yas Island is a great course but when you go around and lose 20 balls, it's a bit difficult."

He said an easier course was needed to complement the par-72 course for advanced players on Yas Island.

"It's a great links course, but it's definitely not for the novice," he said, adding that difficult courses that are easy to score on have proven popular with golfers.

"Wherever there is a lot of grass is good," he said. "Professionals make the long drives, but the average golfer does not get on the green in two shots. It's frustrating."

Trevor Chantler, a 50-year-old engineer, said he found some of the UAE's courses daunting and intimidating. "It's difficult for somebody starting out to find somewhere to play where they are not intimidated by the surroundings and the course," said the avid golfer, who has a 22 handicap. He said when he first played the Emirates course, he thought: "I should not be even be here."

The world-famous courses such as Emirates and Abu Dhabi attract a steady stream of tourists.

"The tourists want to play as many courses as they can. I don't think they mind playing on two or three championship courses," Mr Harradine said.

"The average golfer is over 60 and they are the ones who bring in the money. We forgot about them and think of the high-end people.

"The golfer over 60 will never go below a 24 handicap. The pros will tell him to buy this club and that and they will get better, but we know they won't. He'll go play a championship course and get frustrated."

Susan Cottam, a teacher, said she found most of the UAE's championship courses difficult and preferred to play on Sharjah's course.

"As long as a I get one or two good holes, I don't mind. At Yas [Links] I got one good par and I felt good because I knew I could do it," said the 46-year-old Briton who plays off a 26 handicap.

Robert McNamara has excelled on some of the UAE's toughest courses since he picked up a golf club for the first time nearly three years ago. He now plays off a par 17.

"There are very little trees. There are open fairways and no winds like the links courses in Ireland," he said about the championship courses. He added he still had the same ball when he finished playing at The Els course in Dubai.

Mr Chantler said the debate about course difficulty had been going on in Dubai for some time.

"People say we need a basic pay-and-play course where anybody can rock up and have a go." he said. "The problem here is the cost of running a golf course."

Mr Harradine said: "The Middle East has gone too far into the difficult championship courses. It is our responsibility to build playable courses. People will go back to play the pretty course now and then, but on a course where you lose 30 balls, they might not go back."

Mr White said the championship courses put the UAE on the map. "They have become global icons and recognised all over the world. The [Abu Dhabi] clubhouse is iconic and is known all over the world."

eharnan@thenational.ae

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