x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Golf: The Abu Dhabi Schools and Clubs League making a pitch for youngsters

The Abu Dhabi Schools and Clubs League is allowing aspiring golfers access to the sport, says Osman Samiuddin

The 10-year-old Leia Holden plays a shot during the Abu Dhabi Schools and Club League Championships at the Saadiyat Beach Golf Club in Abu Dhabi.
The 10-year-old Leia Holden plays a shot during the Abu Dhabi Schools and Club League Championships at the Saadiyat Beach Golf Club in Abu Dhabi.

Alawy Al-Husseiny has driven the ball 252 yards, according to his father Mohamed and confirmed by Alawy's coach P-J van Merch, the junior training professional at the Saadiyat Beach Golf Club.

"The dad is chuffed about that," Van Merch says. "Maybe he thought it was a one-off but I played with Alawy the other day in training and he hit 242 yards. I spoke to the dad and told him that he did it yesterday as well. It's not something new for me."

Alawy can hit 252 yards but cannot yet quite articulate his feeling for golf. "My dad wanted me to play, and I found it kind of fun. Just the way the game is played. I like watching it," he says.

The thing you need to know about Alawy is that he is 11 years old and there are some putters out there in the world that are taller than him.

Golf is not even his favourite sport just now; he plays American football, is a black belt in karate and a couple of weeks ago took part in the World Jiu-Jitsu Children's Cup in Abu Dhabi. He loves WWE professional wrestling as well.

He started playing golf four years ago, after watching his father, and only more frequent last year. Already he is outdriving his father.

"In golf," says father Mohamed, with resignation, "you know you are getting old when three things start to happen: Number one, your son outdrives you. Number two, you need a driver to get on the greens of a par 3 and three, even with a driver you cannot get on the greens of a par 3. I'm in denial right now, I want to make sure I go back to classes to make sure he beats me legitimately."

Alawy is one of 50 children between the ages of 11 and 16 taking part in the second season of the Abu Dhabi Schools and Clubs League.

Wednesday was the final event of six for the season held at the Saadiyat Beach Golf Club, where Van Merch is the driving force behind the league.

It is essentially an inter-club league for juniors (boys and girls) to be involved in some competitive play. Van Merch says that between all the clubs in Abu Dhabi, junior programmes probably have near 500 children enrolled but those competing on courses is only a fraction of that number.

"We started the league to encourage some healthy competition," he says.

Teams are sourced from a combination of schools such as the British School Al Khubairat (BSAK), who have four separate teams entered, and members from the junior programmes of various clubs including the Abu Dhabi Golf Club and Saadiyat itself. Golf, as a participatory sport, is cursed with fairly high barriers to entry but organisers have been pleased with the league's enrolment this year. The league charges a nominal Dh50 per participant, which gives them access effectively to all the golf courses.

"We had the first event in December 2011 here at Saadiyat and had only 16 kids involved then," says Van Merch. "Since then we've had over 50 kids participating in tournament and league, which is a big number. If it's a one-day tournament across nine holes, you don't want more than that. Next year in the league I want over 100 kids to be enrolled; I'd be happy with that as a good target for next year."

The quality of talent, says Van Merch, is surprisingly high. Playing on Wednesday was Eoin Cunniffe, the 16-year-old Al Ain resident from Ireland, who won the Faldo Series Middle East Championship last week (the first time the series has had an event in the region) and who will now play in the series event in Greece in September.

The Cormorant team from BSAK won the event at Saadiyat and wrapped up the league title with it, finishing 14 points ahead of Al Ain Equestrian, Shooting & Golf Club.

"It feels great to have won the league and I'm glad we all managed to play well enough as a team to win this season," said a member of the team, Darren Hall. "The league is great because to win, you have to play well throughout all of the tournaments, so it judges and shows how good and consistent you are at golf."

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

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