ABU DHABI // Twelve boys who have earned the right to take on the Abu Dhabi National golf course this weekend will be hoping to set off on a journey to fame and fortune that opened up for Justin Rose over a decade ago. Rose, one of the world's leading professionals and winner of the European Order of Merit two years ago, first became noticed as a potential champion when he became the 13th teenager to capture the Daily Telegraph Junior Golf Championship title - an event which was launched relatively quietly in 1985 but now attracts more than 40,000 entrants every year.
The capital is the seventh international destination for the cream of British and Irish youngsters following Dubai Creek which had a three-year hosting stint when taking over from Sun City in South Africa in 2005. Rose's triumph in 1997 came at Sea Island in Georgia, USA, and a year later he arrived for real on the world stage when he became leading amateur at the British Open at Royal Birkdale, famously chipping in at the 72nd hole to secure a share of fourth place.
Since then Rose, 29, has won seven professional tournaments and this year, despite playing much of his golf on the US Tour, finished a respectable 52nd on the European money list which was finalised at the Dubai World Championship at the weekend when Rose tied for 50th place. Rose, who was pictured swinging a golf club shortly after his first birthday, began playing the game as a five-year-old. He regarded the competition - temporarily renamed the Abu Dhabi Junior Championship - as one of his defining moments on the way to joining the paid ranks.
"It was a great feeling to beat some of the best junior players around," he said. "Winning is great for your confidence and that victory helped me to gain valuable experience and to continue believing in myself. "Kids enjoy playing in places where the Tour professionals play. The UAE is a great spot to play golf with perfect weather virtually guaranteed." Abu Dhabi has not yet featured on Rose's schedule, although he competed in the Qatar leg of the Desert Swing earlier this year.
Florida-based Rose hopes that the staging of such a leading event in Abu Dhabi will encourage more schoolchildren in the region to try to follow in his footsteps. "Youngsters anywhere should consider taking up golf," he said. "It teaches you honesty and integrity. You have to interact with adults most of the time which makes you more mature. It is also a game for life." The 11 boys and nine girls who qualified from this year's heats staged all over the UK and Ireland will be accompanied for the first time this year by a local representative. Joele Neale, 18, the UAE's amateur Order of Merit winner for the last two years, earned that right in a recent qualifying tournament at the Abu Dhabi course.
The English-born Neale will play for the visiting team in a challenge match against the best of the UAE teenagers today. The three-day main strokeplay event gets under way tomorrow. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org