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For Euro Tour, It’s Still Game On In Middle East

Timing is everything in golf – and not least with regard to the PGA European Tour’s Middle Eastern excursions. Where the Tour played their so-called Desert Swing in Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Qatar and Dubai before the start of the recent troubles, the world of motor racing had to cancel the Grand Prix, which was due in Bahrain this month.
The Volvo Champions at the Royal Bahrain GC was a new arrival on the Tour’s schedule and there is no question that it went down well. The professionals heaped praise on the island in general and the tournament in particular, while they met with nothing more hostile over the week than a few wickedly undulating greens.
Yet, no more than three weeks later, five people were killed as a peaceful protest in Manama, the capital, became anything but.
Keith Waters, the European Tour’s director of International Policy, was aghast when he saw pictures of the bloodshed in the same streets where he and his wife had holidayed in the days after the tournament. But, as he said, this was not the first time that the European Tour had come uncomfortably close to tangling with political upheaval – and it would probably not be the last.
There was that occasion in the 1970s when the professionals had to leave Nigeria in a hurry because of a military coup in a camp adjacent to the golf course in Lagos. And a worrying week at the 2001 Qatar Masters when the tournament went boldly ahead in the knowledge that the Gulf War would be starting two days later.
Waters said that he was confident that all would be well by the time the Tour returns for the end-of-season Dubai World Championship in December and for the 2012 Desert Swing.
“Hopefully,” he said, “things will have settled down by the time we’re due back. In the meantime, we will be monitoring the situation week by week.”
IMG, which runs the events in Abu Dhabi and Bahrain, concurred. They had had no option but to cancel a meeting regarding the 2012 Volvo Champions, which had been set to coincide with the Grand Prix, but they are not anticipating any further hitches.
“We are remaining in close contact with everyone concerned and one just has to hope and believe that the troubles will be resolved,” said IMG’s Guy Kinnings. “Yes,” he continued, “they are going through some difficult times in that part of the world but we need to look at the bigger picture. If the golf carries on as planned, it will be as good a way as any of reminding people that this part of the world is a great place to come and play sport.”
Even now, the Royal Bahrain GC is working on spreading that message. “It is business as usual,” confirmed Susan Stephenson, the club’s spokesperson.
In the more immediate future, there is no sign of the professionals wanting to pull out of this April’s Trophee Hassan II in Morocco in spite of the protests that took place in a series of the cities on 20th February.
These were peaceful protests but, even if there had been violence, you have to doubt whether it would have made any difference to the professionals. They go where the money is, their feeling being that the tournament they miss might be the one they would have won.
What is more, on those occasions when they can sense that it is a tad obscene that they should be playing for the proverbial king’s ransom when there is angry poor all around, they can always console themselves with the thought that golf can be a force for good … for locals no less than for the tourist industry.
In which connection, there was never a more marked example than the 2008 Indian Masters at New Delhi. The New Delhi Golf Club and course represented a glorious oasis in this colourful and bustling city. However, not too far away, desperately maimed children were begging on the pavements around the tournament hotel and banging on the windows of the buses taking players to the course.
Ernie Els was the favourite to make off with that week’s £211,000 first prize but, in the event, the winner was SSP Chowrasia, a former caddie who had been brought up in a hovel on the edge of Royal Calcutta, where his father had been among the legions of green-keeping staff.
It was a result that gave hope to every would-be Chowrasia. What is more, the caddies’ dreams have been revived and enhanced as this hugely gifted golfer won the title for a second time last month.
Recently, there has been news that the Middle East and North African countries, as from 2012, are going to benefit from the equivalent of the local Indian tour where Chowrasia honed his play.
In other words, golf in the Middle East no longer consists of a handful of star-studded tournaments served up in isolation. The game has taken firm root in the desert and a shifting of sands on the political front is unlikely to spell its destruction.


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