The Allure of Golf in the Gulf
Earlier this month, the European Professional Golf Association (PGA) Tour made stops in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Dubai and Doha both host major events on the professional tour, and each has spent millions of dollars attracting golf professionals and landscaping beautiful courses out of the desert sand. The resounding success of these two tournaments manifests the burgeoning popularity of golf in the Arab Gulf States. Golf is now beginning to generate serious interest among the local Arab population as well.
The history of the Dubai Desert Classic tournament dates back to 1986 when Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and the UAE's Minister of Defense granted his approval for the innovative concept of developing a grass golf course in the middle of the desert. Merely two years later, the Emirates Golf Club was opened and soon thereafter, the idea of establishing a world class golf tournament was conceived. The Emirates Golf Course opened in March 1988 and at the time, discussions were underway to host a major event as part of the PGA European Tour. An agreement was soon reached and the Desert Classic was inaugurated during the 1989 calendar year.
Since 1986, the Emirates government has invested heavily in golf, not only for the utility of locals but more importantly to attract foreign capital. While the UAE now hosts the world's top players on an annual basis, it also allures significant tourist dollars throughout the remainder of the year. Golf Arabian style is played against the background of a hot sun and date palms, exotic attractions for avid golfers.
The most recent golfing investment is the Emirate Hills project. Situated just outside Dubai, the first phase of this initiative will involve construction of luxury homes for over 500 families and an 18-hole championship golf course designed by Scottish golfing great Colin Montgomerie.
For golf's popularity to really take off at the local level, the UAE must produce an indigenous talent. This would immediately alter the Arab perception of golf being merely a sport played by foreigners. According to Mohamed Juma Bu Amin, chairman of the UAE's Junior Development Golf Program, "you need a champion, someone to look up to. We need people...to represent us at an international level." There is now a core of young golfers in the UAE who show tremendous potential and possess unlimited aspirations to go along with their talent. If one of them does manage to achieve international success, interest in golf in the UAE and throughout the Arab world would spread briskly.
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)