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1972Sports in the Arab World

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Golf In The Arab World

The Players

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

The men who brought golf to the Arab countries were mostly British and American: diplomats, soldiers, oilmen, salesmen and teachers. Although a few well-to-do Arabs took to the game enthusiastically, participation of the kind seen, for example, in Japan, was limited by several socio-economic and climatic conditions. The most obvious is that golf is a costly game, requiring expensive equipment and large areas of specially-prepared and tended ground.

Originally, Arabs who could afford the game found little appeal in it. And the policy of exclusiveness practiced by some foreigners was hardly encouraging, either to the rich or to the caddies who inevitably grew interested in the game. And although golf was played in Egypt since World War I and the annual Egyptian Open Championship was inaugurated in 1921, it was not until 1947 that Khattab Hassan, a former caddy from the Alexandria Sporting Club, became the first Egyptian to win. Hassan's victory, however, was a turning point. His triumph was matched soon after by other Egyptian victories. The most notable were those of the late great Hassan Hassanein, who became the most famous of all Egyptian golfers and thus far the best produced in the Arab world. (See box.) Hassanein, in turn, was followed on the international scene by Cherif El-Sayed Cherif, his former assistant at the Gezira Sporting Club in Cairo, who beat him by one stroke in the 1955 Egyptian Professional Championship, and Mohammed Said Moussa, who beat him in the 1955 Desert Open.

Cherif was a protege of Britisher John Plant, nine times Egyptian amateur champion. Both Cherif and Moussa have played for Egypt 13 times in the Canada Cup/World Cup tournaments in Europe, Asia, the Americas, Australia and, most recently, in 1971, at Palm Beach Gardens. Moussa has won the Egyptian Open ten times since 1958, including the past three years running, and Cherif won twice, in 1959 and 1968. The very popular Cherif, 48 and father of nine children, is particularly adept at maintaining and developing courses. He was at the Golf Club of Lebanon from 1969 to 1971 on loan from Gezira, where he is head professional, supervising development of the new Ouzai course. He now divides his time between the two courses. Moussa, known familiarly as "Doche," started out as a caddy at the old Heliopolis Golf Club in Cairo. Now 38 and head professional at the Alexandria Sporting Club, he is clearly the best Arab golfer today.

Cherif, Moussa and Hassanein all came from the caddy ranks. And so, too, have all the assistant professionals at the Egyptian clubs. In fact, the Egyptian pros at the two leading clubs in Lebanon, Ibrahim Yussuf, at Ouzai near Beirut, and Farouk Yussuf (no relation), at Delhamyeh, both started as caddies in Alexandria. In Morocco and Libya also, today's native-born professionals are all former caddies.

Morocco has played in the World Cup tournament every year since 1965, with the exception of 1966, represented at different times by four professionals: Omar Ben El-Harcha, Benrokia Massaoud, Malouki M'Bark and Meskine Hajaj. El-Harcha and Massaoud played together in 1971 at Palm Beach Gardens. Assaidi Bouazza, 19, is a promising youngster said to have pro potential, who represented Morocco in the International Grand Prix at Rabat last December.

Libya, playing in the World Cup tournament first in 1970 and again in 1971, was represented both times by 36-year-old Muftah Salem and 49-year-old Hussein Abdulmullah. Salem, who used to caddy at the Wheelus Air Force Base course, is now the pro at the Tripoli Golf Club. Abdulmullah, formerly at the Smouha Sports Club in Alexandria, is at the Benghazi Golf Club. A third Libyan professional is Mafud Wali, at Tripoli's Tajura Golf Club.

But important as the pros are to the game, the world of golf revolves on the axis of amateur play, around the millions of amateur golfers who have handicaps in the medium-to-high range, who play primarily for recreation and exercise, and who support their clubs in spirit and in funds.

In Egypt, the first notable amateur was Dr. Zakaria Taher, a Cairo ophthalmologist, the former Gezira Club champion, twice runner-up to John Plant in the Egyptian Amateur Championship, and 1960 Eisenhower Cup player for Egypt. Others were Edgar Agami, Habib Sursock and Charles De Zogheb. Sursock, a Swiss-educated, all-round athlete from a wealthy Egyptian family, played on the British Olympic ice-hockey team in the 1936 Winter Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. De Zogheb, former champion at both the Alexandria Sporting Club and Smouha Sports Club, was one of Alexandria's best players.

Currently, Egypt's best amateurs are Marwan Djeddaoui and Ayman Faransawi, both from Cairo. Djeddaoui, 36, who has won the amateur championship several times and played for Egypt in the 1960 Eisenhower Cup matches at Merion, near Philadelphia, has a 1 handicap. He works as Middle East representative for an American optical equipment manufacturer. Faransawi, who is a private in the Egyptian army, also has a 1 handicap. He is, at 32, the current amateur champion.

On the distaff side, Beatrice Stergiou, now a teaching professional at the Glyfada Golf Club of Athens, won the ladies' championship of Egypt repeatedly before moving to Greece after 1956. The best lady golfer in Egypt today is Anissa Tarraf. She is a doctor and married to a man who shares her enthusiasm for the game, Dr. Nur El Din Tarraf—the president of the Egyptian Golf Federation.

Morocco claims the most prominent amateur Arab golfer, of course, in the person of King Hassan, who, according to former U.S. Open and Masters Champion Billy Casper, who plays with the King frequently, scores between 72 and 85 on the palace courses and encourages an active amateur program, including free training for juniors and a full calendar of national and international competitions.

Libya, still without a grass course, is not nearly as far along, but still managed, in 1971, to send players to open and amateur events in Egypt, Lebanon and Greece.

Hadi Sassi, 23, a mechanic from Tripoli who played for Libya in the 1968 Eisenhower Cup matches at Melbourne, is the 1971 amateur champion of Libya. He was also medalist in the International Amateur Championship of Greece played at Athens last October. Abdullah Zakhouzi, 25, a mechanic; Milad Gamoudi, 23, a technician; and Abdul Saddeq, 25, with the Libyan Air Force, are other members of the Eisenhower Cup team. All are from Tripoli and, like Sassi, are former caddies from Wheelus.

Lebanon, which next to Morocco is moving most rapidly in the Arab world of golf, has approximately 400 active amateur players, including ladies and juniors, but less than a quarter so far are actually Lebanese. Most are resident foreigners. Still, this reflects considerable progress in a country which before 1967 had very few indigenous golfers.

Tom Schuller, the American president of Beirut's International College, and Tom Hauff, an American insurance executive living in Beirut, are current champions at the two clubs. The ladies' championship at Ouzai has been won either by Claude Bulos or June Zananiri in the six times it has been played since the 1967 inaugural. Both originally come from Egypt.

Probably the best Lebanese golfer today is Dr. Marcel Prince, 44, chief surgeon of the Lebanese Army, with the rank of major. Prince was formerly medical director for Tapline in Saudi Arabia, based at the company's hospital at Badanah from 1957-65. He learned golf on the sand courses of Arabia, improved in the United States while on a medical training program, and plays today from a handicap of 9. Among the foreign players, by comparison, Hauff is handicapped at 4, Schuller at 5 and Richard Adham, an 18-year-old senior at Beirut's American Community School, the lowest in Lebanon at 2.

In Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait, Dave Worsham of Aramco at Ras Tanura, Dr. Peter McGregor of the Bahrain Oil Company at Awali, and Tony Redshaw of the Kuwait Oil Company at Ahmadi, seem to be the three best. Worsham, with a one handicap, was formerly an assistant pro at Kansas City. He took second place in the 36-hole 1972 Aramco Invitational tournament held at Surfside in Ras Tanura this April, which was won by Barry Davetta, British pro at Rolling Hills. Several indigenous players show rising promise. Among these are Mohammed Ahmed Abdullah, handicap 3, at the Rifa'a Golf Club in Bahrain, winner of the 1972 Bahrain Open; Abdullah Zayid, handicap 5, and Khalil Ali, handicap 11, of Aramco at Dhahran; and Suliman Othman, handicap 14, of Tapline at Rahfa.

No account of the spread of golf in the Arab world would be complete without referring to the contribution of the oil companies operating between the Mediterranean and the Arabian Gulf. Back in 1953 sports-minded management in several of the companies formed the Middle East Oil Industry Golf Association to promote the development of golf in the area through inter-company tournaments. Members included Aramco and Tapline, and oil companies operating in Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar. The organization was eventually disbanded, but not before it had introduced golf to many new players and spectators around the Middle East.

This article appeared on pages 22-23 of the Sports in the Arab World print edition of Saudi Aramco World.


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