"Golf is not very popular among Emiratis," says Abdulla al Musharrekh, but he and his two young brothers are among the UAE's brightest chances of competing on the world stage.
Sharing a brotherly love of golf
Like many siblings, Abdulla, Ahmed and Hassan al Musharrekh spent their early years squabbling in fights that often turned to fisticuffs.
But unlike most brothers, their battles were not over a train set or a coveted football. Instead, they fought often over who was the better golfer.
Their competitiveness should come as no surprise, considering each of them started playing the game seriously from the age of four. But in one thing they are united. Collectively, they carry the hopes of the UAE on their young shoulders in a sport that few Emiratis have taken up and even fewer have excelled at.
The al Musharrekhs are among the country's brightest chances of producing golfers good enough to compete on an international level and have amassed a number of trophies between them.
"Golf is not very popular among Emiratis," says Abdulla, the oldest of the three at 23. "They prefer horse riding or football. Golf is more closely associated with western expats. It is getting bigger among Emiratis but it is up to us to popularise the sport.
"It is simply not ingrained in the culture."
Ahmed adds: "On an international level, we are always a team and help each other. When we play national tournaments, we still compete against each other but we respect each other's talents and skills - and we don't end up in fights as much as we did when we were younger."
The accolades are already piling up. Ahmed led the Emirati side in the Eisenhower Trophy in Argentina and was the first Emirati to qualify for the European Challenge Tour's Egyptian Open in October last year, competing against the likes of the European Tour players Rory McIlroy and Matteo Manassero and taking him a step closer to his dream of becoming a professional golfer.
Abdulla, who graduated from the American University of Sharjah in business administration, won bronze in the Arab Championships in Tunisia at age 14 - the first time an Emirati had taken home an international golfing medal. All three have since played in the tournament.
Ahmed, 20, a business management student at the American University of Dubai, took second place as an individual and with his team at both the GCC Golf Championship in Kuwait and the Arab Golf Championship in Ras al Khaimah in 2009. He graduated from the David Leadbetter golf academy in Florida in the US at 19; his youngest brother, Hassan, 17, is set to follow in his footsteps and also study there.
Just this week, the brothers did well at the latest GCC Golf Championship, on Sunday in Bahrain. Hassan helped the UAE team to gold in the junior division and came third individually. Ahmed won the individual gold in the senior division and he and Abdulla were on the senior team that came second.
Yet were it not for a fluke, the brothers might never have taken up a golf club.
Their father, on the board of the Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and a sportsman who played football at club level, took Abdulla to tennis lessons from the age of two.
"Once when I was four, he was really late picking me up after class and the managers had shut the tennis courts so I walked past the driving range at Dubai Creek Golf Club," says Abdulla. "I saw children hitting balls and when my father arrived, I said I would really like to try it. I started having golf lessons and loved the sensation of striking the ball. There are so many different types of shots and it is never boring as every game is different and no two shots or situations are identical. I never went back to tennis after that."
By the time he was six, Abdulla had played in a junior par-3 tournament and come third. It did not take long for Ahmed to want to join his brother on the course after going along to watch his coaching sessions with their father.
"I never actually liked golf when I was younger," Ahmed admits. "I did not enjoy it, I only played because my father and brother did. My father wanted me to play because Abdulla was doing well. It was not until I was about 14 and became good at it that I started liking it. I just wanted to make my dad proud. Now I am completely passionate about the sport."
It was inevitable that Hassan, who is in his final school year, would take the same path. "I was a baby when they started," he says. "I used to watch them play with our father and carry their clubs. I started playing when I was six and got to the same level within three years."
By the time he was 13, he was on the national junior team, and in 2006 he took gold in Egypt at the Arab Championships.
Ahmed now has a four handicap - meaning he shoots an average of four strokes above par - while Hassan is a two and Abdulla is a one. Two years ago, Ahmed played scratch golf, meaning he's regressed a little, but Hassan has lowered his handicap from a nine and Abdulla has improved from a four.
Abdulla says: "Our parents are extremely proud of us. Our father pushed us towards our goal when we were younger but he also let us grow. The tournaments are a lot of fun and we get to travel. It is an advantage to have started so young. We just wish more nationals would come and give it a shot. We need a new generation to come and take our place."
Where to see them
The al Musharrekh brothers are scheduled to compete this week in the Emirates Mens Amateur Open at Emirates Golf Club (www.dubaigolf.com) in Dubai. It concludes on Saturday. Next up for them is the Men's Open next weekend at Abu Dhabi Golf Club (www.adgolfclub.com).