The Egyptian Golf Federation (EGF) is the sports federation of golf in Egypt, working much like federations that govern football and other sports to regulate official aspects of the game such as rules and its players.
Since the advent of new golf courses in Egypt, Khaled Abou Taleb has headed the EGF, during that time he has also been head of the Arab Golf Federation. The year of 2008 saw Khaled stepping down and the government which holds the responsibility of appointing the new head selected Ayman Fathi.
Golf is unlike any other sport in Egypt. Until 1997, there were just three courses in Egypt, some more than 100 years old: Gezirah Sporting, Alexandria Sporting and the Mena House Oberoi s which witnessed British army officers playing in front of the Pyramids.
Over the years, some of the greens have slowly eroded or diminished as is the case in Gezirah Sporting Club which decreased its once 18-hole green to nine holes, forfeiting space for the youth club now adjacent to Gezirah Club. The greens were not fit for serious play, or serious competition. Golf for a short while was in danger of losing its appeal for both players and spectators, until resurgence in interest occurred.
Since 1997, 15 new private courses have been built as part of real estate or tourist developments. As of today, seven new courses are under construction, and at least eight more are in their initial stages of planning.
The game is popular among a growing number of Egyptians, an equal number of expatriates, and a rapidly growing number of tourists. In 1996, 10,000 rounds of golf might have been played on the three courses. In 2008, the number of rounds is approaching 200,000 on the 18 courses currently operating, about half the rounds played by tourists.
What will be Ayman Fathi’s priorities as the new head of the Egyptian Golf Federation?
Ayman would like to see a ‘culture of cooperation’ develop among the courses. It is evident from the numbers of courses and their potential to attract tourist golfers that a cooperative effort among the courses would have a significant impact on tourist income for both the courses and the country.
With 25 courses, the potential number of golf rounds in a year in Egypt is more than 1 million. The potential tourist income alone is hundreds of millions.
“Unlike other sports, golf is largely a business, Ayman points out. “The new courses are built around privately-owned real estate or tourist developments, and the courses need at least to break even as a business proposition.
Another high priority is youth golf. “As a sport in Egypt, golf is now mainly played by middle-aged or retired people, says Ayman. “Let’s be honest, we are no longer young nor have the fitness to be top golfers. The sport will not grow unless we encourage more young golfers. From now on, I would like to see all the major amateur tournaments in Egypt won by young golfers. When this happens, we will guarantee that the sport is growing.
At one time, Egypt dominated golf among the Arab countries. Egyptian teams in golf tournaments would bring home winning titles. This is no longer the case; Morocco, Bahrain, the Emirates, and even Saudi Arabia are winning titles. This is because they have invested in golf for young people.
“Egypt needs to recapture the dominance of golf at least amongst the Arab countries, says Ayman.
At present, most young golfers are the sons and daughters of those whom already play, many living in the new golf developments. “I would like to see a program that expands the number of young golfers, at least to include the children of the thousands of persons who work at the golf clubs says Ayman. Later on, the sport can potentially be introduced into the schools.
There are some ‘housekeeping’ matters the EGF needs to attend to, such as the handicapping system. In golf, par is the score a golfer should make on each of the 18 holes. The total par for the course is usually 72. A golfer’s handicap is the number of strokes more than par the golfer normally makes when he or she plays an 18-hole round. In Egypt, the maximum handicap is 36.
“Golf is a potentially dangerous game, Ayman points out. An errant shot can seriously injure another player, or a spectator. When someone takes up the sport, it is necessary to reach a certain level of proficiency before he or she is allowed to go out onto the course. In Egypt, that would be 72 plus 36 or 108. A golfer normally playing more strokes than 108 should not be allowed to play on the course.
“We need to have handicaps that are recognized throughout all the clubs in Egypt, Ayman says. To achieve this, the EGF will require slope ratings for the courses, followed by centralized handicapping. “Eventually, no golfer should be allowed to play in a competition without an EGF handicap, says Ayman.
To launch his term as EGF Chairman, Ayman plans to develop a master plan for golf in Egypt, including these priorities. It is a tall order; yet Ayman’s enthusiasm, dedication, and commitment to the game make it one that he and his new team can achieve.