x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Unlocking Emirati potential starts with easy access to golf clubs

Ismail Sharif, a seven-time UAE national champion, calls for courses to open their doors to youngsters to help the sport prosper.

Jason Froggatt, left, one of two national coaches for the Emirates Golf Federation.
Jason Froggatt, left, one of two national coaches for the Emirates Golf Federation.

An exciting programme to unlock the golfing potential of young Emiratis may be in danger of falling victim to the country's growing success in the sport.

"Here, our pyramid is upside down. All the golf courses are five star," said Ismail Sharif, a seven-time UAE national champion, who is spearheading the National Junior Programme, launched recently to introduce young Emiratis to the game.

He said: "When I was at one of the conferences, they call it GolfEx, the first thing they were asking me is why we don't have so many national juniors.

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"The reason is that we don't have the facilities for us. If you see the golf and the golf courses that we have in the UAE, it is all five star.

"Normally you have the five-star courses and you have the municipal courses. Anywhere you go in the world, they have so many municipal golf courses where normal people can go, because golf is very expensive.

"We had one municipality course at Nad al Sheba, but it has been closed.

"The clubs, they want to support us, but in the end, it is very difficult for them. I have worked in one of the clubs [Montgomerie Golf Club] and I understand it is difficult for a golf course management to come forward and give me access for juniors."

The UAE is dotted with some of the best golf courses in the world; the country is host to two European Tour events and Dubai boasts the richest tournament in the world. Creating and maintaining these golf courses calls for huge investments and Sharif believes that is the reason for the neglect of national golfers until now.

"The thing is golf here is very expensive," he said. "We have so many things against us. The weather is against us, we don't have water. For one golf course you need between 700,000 to one million gallons of water per day.

"This means the cost is very high. In the end, when you build such a big facility, you also want to break even. That is why some of the people working there were more worried about the bottom line than why UAE nationals were not coming through."

Saeed Albudoor, the general manager of the Emirates Golf Federation, admits there are difficulties of getting the golf clubs to open their doors to juniors.

"At the big clubs, we understand," he said. "They have members and it's always a very busy season. To book a course for juniors, you need two marshals, you need to guard them, you need a lot of stuff to look after these kids."

Sharif, at the moment, does not have the money to pay for the use of these facilities, but he hopes the clubs will understand that junior golfers today are club members of the future.

"As a junior development programme, we don't have a big budget," he said. "Our budget is very limited. If I have to go and pay for the greens, then what is left for the rest?

"We now have a coach and we are discussing with clubs. So far, I believe all the clubs will support us because they really want to see the UAE national juniors to come up. They are supporting us right now and they will continue to support us in a better way if we organise ourselves.

"I want to organise myself first and my target needs to be clear for me. Then I can move forward.

"But one thing I want to say to the people in the clubs is please open the doors for the juniors."

He said that the long-term aim of the programme was to develop golfers good enough to play on the world-class facilities on their doorsteps and compete in the best tournaments.

"We just want the clubs to be a little bit more flexible with us, the same as in Sweden," he said.

"In Sweden, in each club, 20 per cent of the members should be juniors.

"We want to say to the clubs that they need to have a junior programme … we want to be a part of that junior programme, they should allocate it to UAE national juniors."

Sharif has been busy over the past month trying to convince golf clubs about his programme and he has been promised support from Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club and the Emirates Golf Club. He is positive that more clubs will be opening their doors to Emirati juniors in the near future.

For the short-term, Sharif plans to go to schools and universities to bring more recruits to the golf courses. He also wants to increase the amount of time the youngsters have on the course.

"The time they spend on the course is very little," said Mohammed al Heloo, who has two children taking part in the National Junior Programme.

"One day in a week is not enough. Because of this, I have to take them myself and teach them on my own. It's a problem. They should get three days a week. That's OK, but one day a week is really little."

Sharif agreed and said: "I am against one session a week because you cannot build champions from those who play golf once a week. I want to see them the same as any other sport. If you see Al Ahli football club, they send a bus to the house and pick up my son and take him to the club for training, five or six times a week."

He added: "We just need the support of all the clubs and the sponsors because we really don't have a budget. But we have a very good programme and we are working very closely with the federation.

"I love this game and this sport is in my blood, and we have a good chance of producing good golfers. I will work with what I have now and then we will add more juniors. We will go step by step."

 

arizvi@thenational.ae