x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Clouds bring a silver lining to fanatics in Abu Dhabi

Fans enjoy the action at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, despite the rain, with some of the best seats closest to action available.

While the weather affected numbers, it meant a more intimate day out for those who came along.
While the weather affected numbers, it meant a more intimate day out for those who came along.

For a fan from Dubai, the rain that spritzed the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship yesterday was more boon than bane because it led him almost directly to the best player in the world.

Rob Williams - who with a mischievous grin said he wanted to make clear he is not Robbie Williams, the English pop star - had entered the grounds of the National Course with his friend, Irfan Ali, just in from Kuwait, when they found the world No 1 Lee Westwood warming up on the putting green.

"There he was, just a few feet away, and we were thinking how amazing that was," Williams said. "The best player in the world and we're almost standing next to him."

Williams and Ali decided to follow Westwood round the course when he teed off a few minutes later.

"In England or America, we'd be trying to look over 5,000 people to see the world's best player," Williams whispered from behind a group of about 50. "This is great."

The intermittent rain certainly dampened attendance numbers, but those who carried on through the occasional wet said they were rewarded by easy access to food, drink and activities in the Championship Village and to the golfers.

Jill Peaker, for example, expected to get a close look at "the wiggle-bum" of the English pro Ross Fisher. "It's true," she said, blushing. "He does it just before every shot; he wiggles his bum."

Tony Peaker, a Dubai resident and Middlesbrough native, said he had reviewed Jill's analysis and could not disagree with it. "He does wiggle his bum," he said. "That's why he's her favourite player."

Matt and Rachel Griffen, Abu Dhabi residents from New Zealand, said the light rain had left them scrambling to cover the heads of their children, Finton, three, and Olivia, one.

"It hadn't rained the entire time we have been here, 10 months, and it rains the one day we come to see the golf," Rachel said.

"But it has not been bad, and we have some caps and a hoodie."

The family also survived a ticketing mix-up, which prompted Matt, an accountant, to make a trip to their home while Rachel and the children remained near the entrance to the course.

She said several tournament volunteers had taken pains to make them comfortable, giving the children cupcakes and offering to let them wait inside the gates.

"They were enchanting people," she said. "They were lovely."

Malik Juned Ahmed, one of the hundreds of volunteer marshals, said he enjoyed the chance to study the form of the professionals.

Ahmed, 58, a native of Bangladesh and an administrator with Gasco, said he took up golf late in life and carried a handicap of 28.

"At my age, I probably will not get better, but I find it instructive to watch the form of the great players," he said.

He is serving as a volunteer for the fifth time and said the Abu Dhabi fans were nearly always on their best behaviour.

"We almost never have to say a word," he said while holding a white paddle with "Quiet" printed on one side and "No cameras" on the other. "Golf fans here know how to act."

Several fans deep inside the course had found perhaps the best viewing station at the tournament, a grassy slope below a refreshment stand that offered a dozen "bean-bag" chairs for lounging and a bird's-eye view of the 13th green. Also a few feet away: the 8th and 17th greens, and the 7th, 14th and 18th tee boxes.

Dindo Camaya, 35, an IT manager in Abu Dhabi, said he picked the spot because "here, the players come to you".

He said he is not a golfer but his seven-year-old son, Jan, a fan of Tiger Woods and YE Yang, would like to be one. Camaya planned to pass on tips to Jan, back in the Philippines.

"My son would like to play in this tournament some day," he said.

Dr Manaf al Hashimi, a urologist in Abu Dhabi and a native of Iraq, was sprawled on the grass nearby as his wife, Nadia, and young son, Mustafa, reclined on two of the bean-bag chairs.

"This spot is a little bit up in the air, and you can see the [13th] green so well," said Dr al Hashimi, who moved to cover as light rain resumed at 2pm, a precursor to the downpour at 4pm.

Back near the entrance, John White, 63, from Colwyn Bay in north Wales, was giving his best on the "test your serve" machine which topped out at about 60 miles per hour, much to the disappointment of the former Wimbledon junior tennis player. "But that was 40-odd years ago," he said.

Asked how the weather at midday would be described in Wales, White paused before suggesting: "A nice day."