Golf, a game of patience and precision, has long been associated with the wealthy, a means for business and political schmoozing.
In the past few years in Egypt, the sport has gradually begun to spread more widely, after the increase in the number of golfing facilities.
Golf courses have also become a valuable selling point for real estate developers keen to promote their residential projects. As a result, it has slowly turned golf from just a hobby that tended to be played outside the country to an investment.
But the question remains – is golf still a sport for the wealthy, or can it become a sport played by anyone with access to a few clubs?
Mohamed Atallah, a board member of the Egyptian Golf Federation (EGF) and the representative of Talaat Mostafa Group (TMG) at its Madinaty Golf Club, said that the federation’s budget remains low.
It currently does not exceed EGP 1m, excluding the support from the International Golf Federation (IGF) which the Egyptian federation uses to organise tournaments.
Atallah told Daily News Egypt, that the EGF’s sources of income are from subscriptions paid by those wishing to participate in tournaments, which are EGP 400 for one-day tournaments and EGP 800 for two days. This comes in addition to support from the Ministry of Youth and Sports.
He believed that classifying golf as a game for the wealthy “only occurs in Egypt,” as it has previously been solely available at Cairo’s Gezira Club and Alexandria’s Sporting Club. However, he adds that any person, regardless of economic or social levels, can easily learn and play golf.
Cost of learning golf is equal to football
Atallah revealed that he has undertaken studies proving that the cost of educating young people on golf is equal to the cost for international football academies in Egypt, such as Liverpool, which is worth EGP 300 per session.
He said that there are more than 20 golf courses across Egypt, eight of which are in Cairo. Other courses can be found in Alexandria, Sharm El-Sheikh, Hurghada, and Ain Sokhna. The cost of building golf courses is high and requires large areas, which governorates generally lack.
Atallah added that he organises golf tournaments in Egypt and abroad, where golf is an important source of national income through sports tourism, generating revenues of €2.7bn annually in Europe.
He added that there is one company specialising in the maintenance and management of golf courses, but in most cases, contractors hire companies for construction and they take over the management and maintenance after that.
It is important to develop the golf industry over a period of three or four years through the use of foreign expertise, and during this period, Egyptians can learn from them.
Atallah noted that in Egypt, the game is played by amateurs who receive trophies for their efforts rather than financial awards.
“There are talks with the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities and the Ministry of Youth and Sports in order to work on a plan to revitalise golf tourism in Egypt, and we are working to develop golf tourism,” he said.
Atallah also said that Egypt currently boasts more than 2,500 golf players, with a plan in place to develop this and bring the number to 10,000 players within five years.
He added that about 12 golf championships take place every year in Egypt, of which eight are organised by the EGF. Egypt will also host the African Golf Championship for juniors and adults in March 2021, with the Madinaty Golf Courses to host the Republic Championship next April.
He noted that Egypt is among the top five countries, Africa-wide, in terms of golf competitions, and is the Arab world’s foremost golfing destination alongside Morocco.
“We currently have one professional golfer, Issa Abou El-Ela, the first Egyptian golf professional since the 1950s, and he is ranked about 1,500th worldwide,” Atallah said.
A game for all ages
He pointed out that golf is a game that has a special family character, as it is not restricted to any specific age group, although he average age of the player is between 30 to 40 years. Because of this, it is possible to find a grandfather competing against his grandson, which is not found in any other sport.
He explained that TMG has always been keen to use leading international expertise to implement its work, which can be seen in the Madinaty Golf Courses. The international standard course at the TMG development took more than two years of work before it opened.
The Madinaty Golf Courses were designed according to the latest international standards and specifications by Robert Trent Jones Jr, one of the foremost specialists in golf course design in the world. Jones has designed more than 270 golf courses in about 40 countries.
The courses are managed by Troon, one of the foremost companies in the world specialising in managing and maintaining golf courses.
Sources have told Daily News Egypt that the TMG development’s golf course and green spaces are irrigated using water from the triple treatment plant established in Madinaty, which was constructed at a cost of over EGP 1bn.
Golf is not game for only the wealthy
EGF President Ayman Hussein said that the belief that golf is a game only for the wealthy is a belief that can be found anywhere in the world, rather than being a specific problem to Egypt.
The lack of access in Egypt, however, is in no small part due to the fact that, up until the mid-1990s, golf courses could only be found at the Gezira Club in Cairo and at Alexandria’s Sporting Club, ensuring golf’s status as a sport more for foreigners.
Hussein told Daily News Egypt that golf courses in Egypt began to spread along with the emergence of new urban communities in the mid-1990s, including the facilities in Katameya.
Plans to reduce building density by reducing buildings to only 20%-25% of the land area, as well as the desire for green spaces and landscapes, has contributed to increasing the number of courses. Egypt now boasts 24 such golf courses nationwide, which aim to encourage the practice of the sport. It is hoped that the beauty of golf course designs and the ideal nature of Egypt’s climate will contribute to this.
Hussein added that with the increase in the number of golf courses, players increased and society began to know that it is not an expensive game as imagined.
Egyptian former golf champion Amr Abou El-Ela, father of Issa Abou Al-Ela, who is currently the only Egyptian professional player, revealed that his son had mastered the game while obtaining a scholarship at a US university. This ensured that learning and honing his skills did not cost Issa much financially.
He added that he does not know the reason for linking golf with the wealthy, stressing that the new residential complexes, such as Madinaty, in which courses have been established, provide a free lessons to young people. With this service available, there is now a good opportunity to increase the base of practitioners.
Egyptian national golf team player, Hassan Ismail, said that it is untrue golf is only for the wealthy, and is not even based on reality. This is because the cost of learning golf needs about EGP 200 with which players can receive some initial training on the game.
He added that the game for him is a hobby that he cares very much about, and that he also does not profit from it financially.