2002: Amateur - Team UAE talent pool not as rich as region

The World Amateur Team Championship attracted teams from 62 nations in 2000. Among them were five first-time entrants: Bahrain, Lebanon, Slovenia, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates.

Participation is likely to be down for the Oct. 24-27 renewal in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The global war on terror and the remote location will be factors. In 2000, eastern European teams with modest funding were able to drive to the championship in Germany.

But one newcomer planning on a second attempt to win the Eisenhower Trophy is the oil-rich UAE (comprising the emirates of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Qaiwain).

Golf in Dubai has exploded since the Emirates Course, home of the PGA European Tour’s Dubai Desert Classic, was constructed in the late 1980s. There are now more than 20 golf facilities in the UAE, ranging from the top-notch Emirates Club to nine-hole courses played on sand and oil-based greens. Still, most of the people who play golf are tourists or expatriots living in Dubai.

More UAE nationals are playing the game, but it has been a slow education process, according to Raimund Legnar, nonplaying captain of the 2000 UAE Eisenhower Trophy team, the first UAE entry to compete in the international event.

“Participation among UAE nationals is progressing, but it’s a slow process, as it is for all emerging golf nations,” Legnar said. “Don’t forget, golf in the UAE is only 10 or so years old. . . . There is an 80 percent/20 percent imbalance in terms of expats to UAE nationals in Dubai, so that makes it a lot harder to get a team of nationals together.

“We have a really good junior development program in Dubai which encourages youngsters under the age of 16 to play. Over the last four years, we have started to see a lot of youngsters come through with fairly good handicaps, whereas eight years ago . . . there was nobody.”

The UAE finished 51st out of 59 teams that played for the Eisenhower Trophy in Germany. (Even though the UAE is a relatively liberal Muslim federation, there are not enough female golfers in the emirates to field a team to compete for the women’s Espirito Santo Trophy.) This year’s UAE nonplaying captain, Saeed Khalfan, says duplicating that result in Kuala Lumpur will be a challenge.

“I know it will be difficult to improve on the 2000 performance,” Khalfan said. “Because of United Arab Emirate regulations, you cannot represent the UAE if you are not local. But it is not a problem getting a team together. We currently have a squad of 16 players to choose from, and we will have a qualifying tournament to see which players we take.”

But none are world-class performers.

“We have one 4-handicap player, a 5-handicap player, then we have a 6, 8, 12 and so on,” Khalfan said. “So we’re obviously not going there to win. That doesn’t matter. Even if we come in last, we don’t care. We want to take part so that our boys go in the right direction. It is important for them to play against good teams like the United States and England. It can only help us to improve.

“I think it is only a matter of years before we can compete with the rest of the world, but we need this sort of experience to help us get to that stage.”

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