Young Emirati up against world greats

Saadiyat's home hero drives bid for local support in Beach Classic

The professional golfer Gary Player is one of the first people to play a few holes at the Saadiyat Island Beach Golf Club November 17, 2009. His company designed the course. Sammy Dallal / The National
Powered by automated translation

ABU DHABI // Some of the world's greatest golfers will descend on the capital tomorrow for the Saadiyat Beach Classic, and in their midst young Emirati Faris al Mazroui will be hoping to show his best form for his country.

The player, who has a place on the UAE national team, said the event was more than just a chance to play alongside world-class pro golfers.

"It will help promote the sport of golf among nationals and Arabs who have never considered trying a sport that, in my view, is worth trying because it teaches you self-discipline, honour, appreciation of nature and patience," said al Mazroui.

His inclusion in this year's tournament reflects efforts by organisers to make the charity event more attractive to a regional audience in its second year. Golf is growing in popularity across the Emirates, which has more than 20 courses - five of which are in Abu Dhabi.

"Because it's a small city, everyone in Abu Dhabi knows each other, and golf is a very social sport," said Saaed al Budoor, the general manager of the Emirates Golf Federation, which works to promote awareness of the sport in the UAE. People come play golf until they're 70. Golf is one of those sports that attracts people."

In addition to more than 8,000 registered golfers, the UAE is home to a large population of unregistered players who contribute to local golf clubs, according to the 2009 Golf Benchmark Survey compiled by KPMG Advisory. The number of unregistered golfers in the country is estimated at more than 15,000.

Promoting the sport is a top priority in the UAE, with free golf lessons offered on the Corniche and youth and school programmes across the capital attracting more than 400 participants.

"The message is to have the Arabian style and culture here when people see this destination," said Faisal al Sheikh, the events manager at the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority. "All these initiatives will create and enhance another generation of people who will play golf and make Abu Dhabi a destination."

The Saadiyat Island event is banking on local enthusiasm for the sport by drawing in more Emirati participants this year. The event's companion black-tie gala, scheduled for tomorrow night at Emirates Palace, will include live performances by both western and Arab musicians, including Malek Jandali, a Syrian composer and pianist.

Robert Shuttle, a senior project manager for the Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC), which is overseeing the event, said the golf tournament was the "perfect, no-pressure, low-key introduction" to golf for local residents.

"This is a chance for Emiratis to come down and really walk the course and get out in a no-pressure environment and enjoy," Mr Shuttle said. "The local community, maybe they'd like to know a little bit more about golf, and the real attraction for them is knowing that the event goes to helping local charities."

The proceeds from this year's event will go to the Emirates Autism Centre and the Ability Centre for Special Needs.

Lee Tabler, the former TDIC chief executive and now adviser to the chairman, said tailoring the Saadiyat Beach Classic to an Arab audience was not a decision anchored solely in tourism, economics or marketing.

"It just makes sense," Mr Tabler said. "The Saadiyat Beach Classic will be held here in Abu Dhabi, so it has to speak much more to a GCC audience than an international audience."

More golf, pages s3-5