The outlook is fine
With the rising mercury marking the end of another Middle East season, a coolheaded stocktake of the region’s place in the bigger scheme of golfing things seems timely.
Sadly we’re not immune to the game’s most pressing conundrum, an alarming worldwide participation slide that is especially acute at junior level where take-up and retention rates must keep the game’s gatekeepers awake at night. The distance debate rages on apace as well, a cohesive response to which seems about as likely as a silver bullet for waning club memberships.
Indeed, clubs here continue to sweat on innovative green fee and membership offers, a fiscal tight-rope that will surely only become more precarious once Dubai Hills, Tiger Woods’ new course at Al Qudra and the long overdue Living Legends nine-holer (see p.42) open soon.
That we are even talking of new layouts is a hugely positive sign, however, especially in an era where closure signs seem inevitable in some of the game’s most mature markets. You have to wonder where all the new golfers are going to come from to fill Dubai tee sheets that are not exactly bursting at the seams as it is. Still, the country’s visionary leadership continue to build it and we continue to come to work and play with sunny abandon. Dubai has prospered through mark darker times.
The European Tour certainly like the desert. In fact, you wonder where they’d be without the region’s resources, course riches and guaranteed sunshine.
A new Saudi tournament tagged onto the Desert Swing brings to eight the number of top flight men’s events now hosted in the region. A mixed gender event pitting Ladies European Tour (LET) pros against Challenge Tour hopefuls and Staysure Tour seniors also looks likely in Jordan from next year and there’s reportedly talks on-going in Bahrain and Kuwait as well.
Likewise, events in Abu Dhabi and Dubai remain beacons of hope for the embattled LET. At the amateur level, the grow the game work Sandy Meyer is doing with her Women’s Golf Middle East programme is also to be applauded.
Yet nothing has been more encouraging in the past year than the emergence of a growing number of gifted youngsters, lead by the ridiculously talented Josh Hill (pictured centre above and see p.36). Much work is still to be done on junior development and the collaboration of efforts and many of the youngsters will eventually be lost to the region as they head to universities or their families head home. But the Middle East is at least pulling its weight; Abu Dhabi Golf Club were even awarded for their Future Falcons initiative recently, further proof the outlook is fine providing the hard work continues. Few of the youngsters exposed to golf here will achieve the stardom seemingly awaiting the likes of Rayhan Thomas and Hill but that’s beside the point. As long as the majority are hooked on the game of a lifetime, the threat of extinction facing clubs back in their home lands might well be quelled. That’s a job well done in the Middle East, yet one that’s only really just beginning. We look forward to championing the good fight for many years to come.