x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

A call that changed my life

The UAE's only professional female coach says she plans to increase the game's appeal for Emirati women.

Joanne Bates says her biggest challenge is to make Arab women feel relaxed about learning the game of golf.
Joanne Bates says her biggest challenge is to make Arab women feel relaxed about learning the game of golf.

It was better than the collection of bath salts, the pairs of socks and even the shiny new laptop she had unwrapped that morning. For Joanne Bates a phone call on Christmas Day last year turned out to be the best present she could have hoped for and one that was about to change her life.

At precisely 11.09am on December 25, having enjoyed breakfast at the family home in Ely, Cambridgeshire, the third smallest city in England, Bates received a call from the Al Badia Golf Club in Dubai that had a simple question at the end: would she be interested in becoming the UAE's only female golf coach? Bates, having unsuccessfully applied through the PGA.info website for a different job in Dubai less than a month earlier, remained on file and when the phone rang, having already done extensive homework on the region, she jumped at the chance.

She is convinced there are many Arab women in the country who would love to take up the game of golf but will only do so if they can learn from a woman. "I remember the exact time because I've been showing everybody my phone and telling them 'They called me on Christmas Day'," says Bates, who has used her skills to teach at the past two British Opens at Royal Birkdale and Turnberry. On the subject of the timing of the call, a welcome interruption though it turned out, Bates says: "That was something they explained to me. When I got the call, the person on the phone - I think he was sitting in the studio looking out at the practice range and there were two pros working - he said to me: 'Obviously Christmas Day is a holiday for you over there, but it's just a normal day for us golf pros here.'"

Such cultural differences are factors Bates will have to quickly adapt to. Having never visited the Middle East, her knowledge of Arab culture is limited to online research and what she has assimilated from watching golf's annual Desert Swing on television. But she is aware of the regional restrictions regarding Muslim women and being the only female professional affiliated to a club in the Emirates, hopes to provide a solution to the problem.

"I've spoken to the team and obviously I'm aware that golf is growing here. I'm looking to encourage people to play," adds Bates, having begun her new role at Al Badia on Monday. "I don't think I'll need to adapt my teaching techniques; it's more a case of encouraging women to get involved - both golfers and non-golfers. "A lot of the local ladies are keen to play and I want to promote the sport among them. The biggest challenge is to ensure the ladies can relax and learn in an environment they feel comfortable in.

"A lot of women and juniors come to us and they are nervous and embarrassed because they have never played before and don't know what to expect; it is my job to put them at ease." Jason Froggatt, the senior golf pro at Al Badia, said attracting Emirati women to the game was a key factor in the decision to bring Bates on board. "We only have maybe one or two Emirati ladies playing, and they will be through the academy," said Froggatt.

"There are obviously restrictions because of the region we live in, but having a lady pro overcomes that problem. "Joanne adds a string to our bow and provides us with something other clubs can't offer, so that is of huge benefit to us." Froggatt believes Al Badia well positioned to capitalise on the market for Arab women. As increasingly more Emiratis take up the game, he attributes the rise in interest to an influx of facilities in the country - the UAE now has 17 fully grassed golf courses - and the involvement of regional brands in the country's leading tournaments.

"Local sponsors are becoming affiliated with the events here," he says. "That, in turn, has seen high-end locals look to get involved and try their hand at golf." @Email:gmeenaghan@thenational.ae