x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Saunders is silver lining

A coup for Al Ghazal as the WPGA founder takes to the sand in the 25th Abu Dhabi ladies event.

ABU DHABI // Vivien Saunders, one of the pioneers of women's golf in the 1960s, will be guest of honour at the silver jubilee of the Abu Dhabi Ladies Championship which will be staged tomorrow and Saturday on the sand course at Al Ghazal. Saunders, who celebrated her 62nd birthday earlier this week, was awarded the OBE in 1997 for services to golf, having been the first European to qualify for the United States LPGA Tour in 1969. She spent most of her life fighting against discrimination against women which was prevalent in the early years of professionalism in their sport.

She was the founder and first chairman of the Women's Professional Golf Association and inaugurated the Women's Professional European Tour. She was also the England national coach for 18 years and National Coach for Wales and Ireland. Now reinstated as an amateur, albeit with a prohibitive handicap of plus three, she looks forward to competing in a strong line-up for the 25th running of the Abu Dhabi tournament.

Her only experience of playing on sand and the "browns" which are Al Ghazal's substitute for the traditional greens, was on a brief visit to Morocco several years ago. "I am really looking forward to my visit and sampling the famous hospitality of the UAE," said the Surrey-born Saunders. Gill Sibson, the Ladies captain of Al Ghazal, was delighted to have such a top name on the entry list for the big weekend of her year in office and to have such an illustrious principal speaker at tomorrow night's jubilee dinner. "Once again Al Ghazal can boast another first in its short history of doing something different," she said. "We've had most of the EPGA Ryder Cup players playing at Al Ghazal in 2004 and 2005, now we have the honour of Vivien coming along."

The 36-hole event will be the first qualifying tournament of the 2008/09 UAE Golf Association's Ladies Order of Merit. @Email:wjohnson@thenational.ae