Eida al Mehairbi and Rabab al Haj will make history for their country by competing in the Arab Championships.
Ladies' first today as Emiratis tee off
Two Emirati golfers who make up the first women's team to represent the UAE at international level, are united in the belief that their efforts will encourage more of their female compatriots to take up the game.
Eida al Mehairbi and Rabab al Haj will make UAE history when they compete in the three-day Arab Championships in Tunisia starting today. They face a difficult challenge against international players, but welcome the attention it will draw to women's golf in the Emirates.
"I would have liked to see this initiative sooner, but at least it is happening now and this is a good opportunity for the ladies here in the UAE," al Haj said. Al Haj is doing all she can to help the women's game blossom locally, and she has enrolled her three daughters - Fatma, 16, Maryan, 15, and Al Kawther, 11 - into a new women's training school at the Al Badia club in Dubai.
"They are all very happy with the way things are progressing," she said. "I hope that when they see me in the national team they will be even keener to make progress.
"Fatma is doing particularly well so far. I hope that all of my daughters follow me into the international team and do even better than I have done."
Al Mehairbi, who took up the game in the mid-1990s, said she intends to pass on her knowledge to the next generation of golfing Emiratis. She has recently taken the first steps to become a fully-fledged coach of female players.
"I have been teaching five ladies who are newcomers to the game," she said.
Those tutorials take place on the sand course at Al Ghazal in Abu Dhabi. "They are very responsive to our needs at Al Ghazal," al Mehairbi said. "We need other clubs in the area to show similar support to new players if we are going to produce women of a reasonable standard. Al Ghazal allow you to take a beginner on the course without any fee, which is helpful.
"New players need encouragement. They shouldn't have to pay immediately. They will pay the appropriate fees later on when they start playing the game properly."
Chris Vallender, the coach of the UAE team, was delighted to have helped set up a women's section for the Emirates Golf Federation. "It can only be good for the development of the game here," he said. "And I expect the publicity that this venture creates will enable us to attract more potential team members in the near future."
Al Mehairbi, who plays off a handicap of 19 at her Abu Dhabi National home course, and al Haj, who has a handicap of 26 at the Els Club in Dubai, accept that they have little chance of winning the tournament this weekend. But they are more confident about their chances of doing well in the net-score competition.
"We are hoping to play to our best," al Haj said. "We might bring home some trophies. Why not? We have just as much chance as the others. I think we are capable of winning something if we play to our capabilities. We hope to do well in this competition, if not this time then in the next one."
She said she felt some trepidation, however, as she breaks new ground as a golfer. "I have never played in a foreign country before, so I am a bit nervous," she said. "But sometimes it helps not to know what to expect. The more experienced al Mehairbi adopted a more cautious view and suggested this weekend's tournament would be a learning curve for her and al Haj.
Mindful that the competition will be decided by the best two scores from teams of three golfers, al Mehairbi accepted that the UAE will be at a disadvantage in entering only two players. That means there is no scope for discarding a poor round and that she and her partner will have no room for error.
Al Mehairbi has twice before played in the Arab individual championships. "The first time I played very well," she said. "My handicap at the time was 28 but the competition limit was 15 so that's what I played off. I thought I did really well to finish one stroke outside third place. The second time was not so good but it still provided valuable experience of golf at that level."
Al Haj said she was grateful to the golf federation for providing the opportunity to compete. "They have done really well to have the ladies represented in this competition," she said. "I regard it as an honour to represent my country at this level. I am really looking forward to going there and doing well for my country."
Arab Golf Championship
Where: Citrus Golf Course in Hammame, Tunisia
Senior men: Saeed Malik, Khalid Yousuf, Abdalla al Musharrekh. Ahmed al Musharrekh
Junior men: Hassan al Musharrekh, Faisal al Marzouqui, Sohail al Marzouqui
Women: Eida al Mehairbi, Rabab al Haj
Coaches: Jason Froggatt, Christopher Vallender
Manager/captain: Khalid Mubarak