x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Scottish test for the UAE golfers

It is not quite all fun in the sun for the Scottish Golf Union Squad, training starts at 7am and today they take on the UAE in a Test match at Yas Links.

the Scotland Golf Union squad are in the middle of a month-long winter training camp in Abu Dhabi.
the Scotland Golf Union squad are in the middle of a month-long winter training camp in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // An entire month playing golf with the sun on your back, by the shadow of the world's biggest indoor amusement park, sounds like a dream holiday for a bunch of teenagers.

Especially if the young men in question come from a golf-mad country that has not seen the sun for a few months.

But do not dare the mention the word "holiday" in front of the Scotland Golf Union squad, who are in the middle of a month-long winter training camp in Abu Dhabi, based at the Yas Links golf course.

"It's not a holiday ... it's definitely not a holiday," said Ian Rae, the national team head coach, as he watched his charges on the lush, green driving range that has Ferrari World as a rather spectacular backdrop.

"The guys have been getting up at 7am to go for a run before we hit the range or get to the course, and even those who aren't runners are in the pool before breakfast.

"They have been working every day, be it on fitness, their long game, putting, bunker play and even the psychology of the game, so this is no vacation.

"Although, it's nice to see the sun, as it's been a while."

Today, at Yas Links, six of the best amateur players from Scotland will take on their UAE counterparts for the inaugural Falcon Cup, a 36-hole matchplay event described by organisers as a Test Match.

And one thing the Emiratis could take from meeting with the Scottish players is their opponents' work rate.

Ahmed Al Musharrekh, the UAE's best player, recently spoke about his aversion to practice.

"I could play tournament golf all day, every day, but I hate practising," he said. "I find it boring. It's my putting that lets me down, but I never practice my putting and I know that has to change."

Chris Vallender, the UAE coach, has praised his players over recent months for an improved attitude towards practice, but the UAE team know they are not going enough to get to the top of the amateur game, never mind the paid ranks, without putting in the hours.

Vallender admitted they were "underdogs" for this challenge, as their opponents will be further along in terms of development.

For example, Scotland's current order of merit winner, 17-year-old Greig Marchbank, knows where he wants to go, and what it takes to get there.

Stopping for a few minutes from hitting drives farther than some people go on holiday, he said: "I want to be the best, it's as simple as that," he said. "But to do this, you need to work, you need to sacrifice a lot, and that's what this month is about.

"We've been putting in the hours on and off the course because that's what the top guys do.

"I've been blown away by Yas Links, if I'm honest. I don't think I've ever seen grass this green, if that makes sense. It's a pleasure to hit the ball off this surface, and it's been great to have some good weather because it's dreadful back home."

Rae, who has coached established European Tour players such as Alastair Forsyth and Marc Warren, believes it has never been harder for any player, no matter how talented they are, to break into the major tours.

"If you think about it, there aren't a lot of places available for pros," he said. "I would say there are, at most, six good tour events a week all over the world, so that's just 900 players teeing up in top events. It's not a lot.

"I tell the boys that there are a heck of a lot of good players out there, so if they want to get to this level, there is no alternative but to work.

"We have been working a lot on their weaknesses, be it putting or driving, which isn't fun, but it's what needs to be done."

The Home of Golf in the UAE, to give this visit its proper name, is more than just a training camp, as one of the main goals is to foster a closer partnership with the Emirates Golf Federation (EGF) to develop talent and elite coaching practices in the UAE.

The UAE are to have access to Scotland's performance coaches, nutritionist, psychologist and strength and conditioning coaches during their stay, and the plan is for a UAE team to play in Scotland in a Test match next year, perhaps even at the famous St Andrews.

"The thing about golf is that players spend perhaps 65 per cent of their time just thinking when they are out on the course," said Kristine Dun, a sports psychologist, who has been working with the Scotland players for the past six months. "So I take them through ways of switching off and giving their brain a rest.

"The guys are really receptive to what I have to say to them. Golf is unique in that players have hours out there, just thinking, and the top guys learn ways to cope with that."

Rae is no stranger to the region but this was the first time he has experienced Yas Links, and he is looking forward to today's match on such an impressive venue.

"Yas is as close to a Scottish links as you can get and perfect for the match. It will be a good test for all the players," he said. "It has been a terrific couple weeks, but nothing beats a bit of competition."

ncameron@thenatoinal.ae