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1972Sports in the Arab World

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Golf In The Arab World

The Events

Written by Dick Severino
Photographed by Robert Azzi
Additional photographs by Nik Wheeler

Among the 46 countries that sent teams to the 19th annual World Cup tournament in Florida last November, only three were Arab.

And when the tournament ended, the Scoreboard showed that Egypt, playing for the 17th time, finished 26th. Morocco, in her sixth World Cup appearance, was 40th; and Libya, playing only the second time, was 42nd. At no time, obviously, were winners Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino in any danger of an Arab upset.

The final standings, however, are not important. What matters is not how the Arabs placed, but that they played. Participation in this prestigious event is by invitation only, and through participation, Arab identification with the game was projected worldwide. Even better, the International Golf Association, which sponsors and conducts the World Cup, is considering an invitation to a fourth Arab nation—Lebanon—this year or next.

But although the World Cup tournament serves as an important showcase for Arab golf, it is the golf events within, between and among the Arab nations which do most to foster the growth of the game in the area, and such events are more numerous every year.

Without question, the most spectacular golf happening within the far-flung boundaries of Arab geography is the International Grand Prix of Morocco which, last year, was played in December at the Royal Golf Club Dar-es-Salam near Rabat. Only the Egyptian Open Championships and related events of 1954-56, when golf in Egypt reached its zenith, were remotely comparable.

The Grand Prix was a $50,000 72-hole professional tournament, $12,000 first prize, with a 54-hole celebrity pro-am included. An invitational affair patterned on the celebrated Bob Hope Desert Classic, it was hosted by King Hassan II to publicize the opening of the new course. The 25 invited professionals from the United States, Great Britain, Europe and North Africa included tournament stars Sam Snead, Billy Casper, Tony Jacklin and winner Orville Moody. Arab entries were Cherif El-Sayed Cherif from Egypt and Morocco's promising young pro, Assaidi Bouazza.

This tournament, the richest ever held in Africa or Continental Europe, was such an all-around success that King Hassan, with a business eye focused on the international golf-tourist market which nearby Spain is tapping so successfully, plans to make it an annual event; he wants the world to know what Morocco has to offer.

The only other professional tournament in the Arab world is the Egyptian Open. Played annually since 1921, except for World War II years 1940-44 and 1957 following the Suez War, this once-colorful championship has fallen on hard times. It still carries on the tradition, but as the faintest shadow of what it was. The 1971 event won by Mohammed Said Moussa at the old Smouha Course in Alexandria, bore little relation to the pre-1957 Egyptian Opens which attracted strong fields of foreign professionals. Those fields included South Africans Bobby Locke, already three-time British Open Champion when he won the 1954 Egyptian Open and Match Play Championships, and Gary Player, winner of the 1955 Match Play Championship; and England's Ryder Cup player Bernard Hunt, who won the Open in 1956 at the Gezira Sporting Club in Cairo.

These and other quality professionals came to Egypt for two reasons: the prize money, though not exceptional, was worthwhile; and the Egyptian climate and hospitality were inviting to sun-seeking tournament players from colder and gloomier winter climes. When Locke won the 1954 Open, total prize money was 2,000 Egyptian pounds, 350 to the winner; when Hunt won in 1956, first prize was 500 pounds. And in those days the Egyptian pound was on a par with sterling.

In contrast, total prize money in 1971 was 290 Egyptian pounds, 80 to the winner. It was only a pittance, but it showed the near-destitute Egyptian Golf Federation's determination to keep the Open alive. It was no wonder, therefore, that Moussa, winning his 10th Open by 12 strokes, had only to prevail over a field which, except for several players from neigh boring Libya, was entirely Egyptian. At those prices, foreign professionals were not interested in the Egyptian sunshine.

Among the amateurs, who are the backbone of golf worldwide, competition in the Arab countries follows the same basic pattern as elsewhere: club, interclub, national and international championships, and an assortment of special events, both individual and team, for men, women and juniors, scratch and handicap. Here, too, though lacking Egypt's years of tradition, Morocco leads the pack with the best organized and most colorful competition—the International Amateur Championship of Morocco, a combined individual and team tournament.

Egypt and Libya both have annual national championships, but no international championships. Lebanon, with no golf federation, no 18-hole course, and unfortunately what often seems to be a vacuum of coordination and competition between the two leading clubs, lacks even a national championship. Competitions in Lebanon are limited to individual club championships, regular monthly medal handicap programs, and a variety of annual events, mostly handicap, sponsored either by the clubs or by individual or company members.

In the absence of a golf federation, Delhamyeh has taken the lead in promoting inter-club competition. Each spring the club hosts the Dunlop Spring Cup, a stroke-play handicap event, and in the fall the Wilson Cup, a Stableford team competition. Both events, open to members of all golf clubs in Lebanon, were inaugurated in 1970. The Korea Cup, another individual handicap event open to all clubs, was played first in 1971. It is sponsored by Minister Hogan Yoon, chief of mission for the Republic of Korea in Lebanon. Looking abroad, last year the Delhamyeh club introduced the General Electric tournament, sponsored by that company's local agency, an annual scratch international amateur championship open to all amateur golfers in the world.

In contrast to Delhamyeh, the Golf Club of Lebanon has no open competitions. It does, however, have the McAuley Cup tournament, an event steeped in local sentiment and named after Noel McAuley, an Irish pilot who, with compatriots Bluey Gardiner and Rex King-Hall organized a St. Patrick's Day party at the old Beirut sand course in 1963. The program included a Greensome (green for Ireland) golf competition for teams representing individual countries. Included, too, were Irish stew, Irish coffee and Irish songs. It was to be a real party, an Irish "do."

But Noel McAuley never made it. Two days before St. Patrick's day he crashed in Teheran and died.

When the news reached Beirut, first reaction was to cancel the party. Then McAuley's friends, deciding he would rather be remembered with laughter than tears, announced that the party would go on. And so was born a tradition. In 1972, 54 teams representing 14 nations played in the 10th annual McAuley Cup tournament, including 14 Lebanese teams. This is a measure of the spread of the gospel of golf in Lebanon.

Looking to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain, these desert and oilfield countries have a 20-year history of company and intercompany competitions on the various sand courses. Most important today are the Bahrain Open, inaugurated in 1964; the Aramco Invitational Tournament, inaugurated in 1965; and the Kuwait Open, inaugurated in 1966. All are played annually. Though the Bahrain and Kuwait events are open, they are, in effect, international amateur championships, since professionals seldom participate, and there is negligible prize money if they do.

The Rahfa Golf Classic is the most recent addition to the competition schedule in Saudi Arabia. Played at the Bedouin Hills Golf Club at Rahfa on the pipeline, it is unique because Bedouin Hills has the only grass golf course in Arabia. The first Classic, played in November 1971, attracted 33 Aramco and Tapline personnel and guests and was won by Ed Ritter, a six-handicap Tapline golfer originally from Oklahoma City.

A special event of particular note was last fall's exhibition appearance in Lebanon by Roberto de Vicenzo of Argentina. One of the world's master golfers, extraordinarily popular, de Vicenzo is winner of 166 tournaments in 30 years of professional play, including 40 national open championships in 15 different countries, among them the 1967 British Open. He twice won the individual International Trophy in the World Cup tournament, in 1962 and 1970.

Visiting Lebanon under the joint auspices of the Minister of Tourism, the Golf Club of Lebanon and Delhamyeh Country Club, with cooperation from Middle East Airlines, which actively promotes golf in Lebanon, de Vicenzo conducted clinics and played exhibitions at both clubs, generating publicity for golf as a developing tourist attraction.

Most important of all golf events in the Arab world, however, are the thousands of rounds of everyday social play by club members every year. Many of these never play in formal competitions; others compete only occasionally and most casually; the majority are high-handicap players who bear the frustrations of the game with an enormous sense of propriety. To them, the most important thing about golf is that it is their game and they are playing it, even if not particularly well. Many play and enjoy it as though they are addicted. And if the course and weather are not ideal, well, never mind, it's golf, the game which Andrew Carnegie once described as an "indispensable adjunct of high civilization," and golf historian Herbert Warren Wind described as "the best game man ever devised."

Dick Severino is one contributor to this issue who has actually indulged in sport as well as writing about it. He boxed and played football at Cornell, drove bobsleds in six world-championship races and was on the U.S. bobsled team in the 1952 Winter Olympics. Now living in Beirut, he writes regularly for Golf Features Service and Golf World magazine.

This article appeared on pages 24-25 of the Sports in the Arab World print edition of Saudi Aramco World.


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