Pakistani Gul Raziq has worked at Al Ghazal Golf Club in Abu Dhabi since 1997
UAE Portrait of a Nation: the long-time golf groundsman who left college to support his family
When Gul Raziq was just 18, he made a decision that would change his family’s life for ever.
Then a student in Charsadda, Pakistan, he cut his studies short and followed his uncle to Abu Dhabi.
Two decades on, Mr Raziq is now head groundsman at Al Ghazal Golf Club close to the airport. And the money he sent home to his three younger brothers, four sisters and parents has transformed their lives.
One brother is now in the army, another an academic and a third is studying. His four sisters are married.
“It was my decision to come here to do that. Because my family was poor and we could not go forward there,” Mr Raziq says. “I had to go and I survived. I am happy about that and I’m proud. I did things for my family and they are in a good position now.”
It’s a story that’s familiar to millions of residents who’ve come to the UAE throughout the decades. They come from Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and across the globe in search of a better future for their family at huge personal sacrifice.
Mr Raziq’s uncle was groundsman at Abu Dhabi City Club. When that course converted to grass, members went on to establish a new sand golf course which would become Al Ghazal Golf Club in 1997. His uncle told Mr Raziq that workers were needed so he arrived for work in 1997.
His journey to the UAE was his first trip outside of Pakistan and he was surprised that the course was not grass.
“We had a golf course in Peshawar and it was for the army,” he recalls. “No one was allowed in only the army people. The big people with a lot of money.
“When I came I thought it would be green: why is it like this? How are they playing here? But slowly I realised about how the sand course works.”
Sand golf has a long history in the region, going back to the pioneering oil days. There were clubs across the country with Dubai Country Club being one of the most famous.
For a non-member on weekdays at Al Ghazal costs about Dh150. Players, or sandies as they are known, carry around a piece of astroturf from which to hit the ball, while greens are “browns”, slicked down with an oil and sand composite. Today there are only three left. Al Ghazal closed briefly last year but now under new management, it’s about to embark on a major expansion this year as a sport and adventure complex.
“When it closed, I was shocked. But the new management are great. Especially Mr Justin [Dong-Jae Lee, the chief executive of TU Management] – he is a professional and it’s going very well.”
Mr Raziq takes me around the course on a golf buggy and memories of Pakistan, long days working at the course and his dreams for the future come pouring out. When he arrived, the course was only sand but trees and date palms have been planted and water hazards added under his watchful eye.
A day usually starts at 7am, “I am leading and have to check everything.” Water coolers around the course are refilled; the browns, or greens, are cleaned; and the fairways smoothed again.
His favourite holes are 15 where he made an eagle during a competition and 8 because of the trees the line the fairways. From the 8th tee, the airport’s control tower can be seen in the distance. Mr Raziq is a keen player and has a handicap of 6 - and apart from Al Ghazal, he also likes Emirates Golf Club.
Mr Raziq also recalls life back in Pakistan before he came to the UAE to work. “It’s lovely there. In morning at 7am I went to college. Then home at 3pm or 4pm and after I played cricket. I loved cricket and would play at the ground in Charsadda with friends.”
Now he has a family of his own back in Charsadda and the money he sends today is putting his children through school. He used to use Skype to stay in touch but now just phones them.
“I miss my family a lot and there are expenses with college so maybe I have to stay five years more.
“Now all my experience is here and not there but my long term plan is to go back and start a business so every day I can see my family. Maybe start a shop.”