With a plethora of golf courses sprouting everywhere, we head to the breathtaking 27-hole course at the JW Marriott Hotel Cairo to find out when the sport was introduced in Egypt and why it isn't producing champions, despite having professional trainers and plenty of places to practice.
Egyptian athletes suffer from the large shadow cast by this nation's obsession with football. With Egypt failing to enter the World Cup for over 25 years, the question becomes why hasn't the nation shifted its focus to incubate athletic talents outside of football. One of the sports that have been forgotten and underdeveloped is golf, even though it debuted in Egypt over a century ago. In this time Egypt has failed to produce international champions. Looking to learn how to play and understand the state of the sport, we headed to one of the finest championship golf courses in Egypt; the JW Marriott Hotel Cairo.
What many do not know is that golf was first introduced to Egypt in 1899, at the Khedive Ismael's logging house known today as Mena House. At the time it was the only sandy course available and one could argue that there simply weren't enough places to develop Egyptian champions. Fast forward over a century later and that excuse no longer seems valid as golf courses are multiplying at an exponential rate. Sparking this growth is the trend of gated compounds and the desire of Egypt's wealthiest to live near beautifully landscaped open green spaces. The decision to live in these areas has little to do with the sport and more to do with escaping the barrenness that is Egypt's predominantly desert landscape. This continues to bolster one of golf's biggest problems in developing into a widely played sport, as many believe it to be an elitist sport that only the rich can play. However, these claims are not entirely accurate as a set of golf clubs and training is comparable to the amount of money spent developing tennis players or footballers.
This notion was directly challenged when we arrived at the JW Marriott equipped with a mind boggling and breathtaking 27-hole course. At first we assumed that all the instructors would be foreigners, but to our surprise that wasn't the case. Under the watchful eye of David MacMullen, who heads up the golfing department at the hotel, a team of skilful Egyptian golfers were on hand to give pointers, and within the span of an hour all of our swings had drastically improved. Even though MacMullen's background is vastly different than his support staff, it was abundantly clear that they all were passionate about the sport, and that wealth had little to do with mastering a golf swing. We thought it would take months to overcome embarrassingly swinging without making contact with the golf ball, but quickly learnt - after cursing out the universe and receiving a few pointers - that the key to good contact isn't in the power behind the swing, but rather in developing a smooth motion and focusing on the follow through of the club and ultimately one's hips.
After applying this knowledge, we seemed capable of hitting the ball every time. Thinking we were ready to go pro, we decided to take on the gorgeous terrain and apply what we learnt in an actual round of golf. Impressively, each hole at the JW Marriott was unique, complete with challenges from avoiding sand traps to water hazards, leaving us at no time feeling bored trying to play this refreshingly scenic sport, but we came to the realisation very quickly that hitting the ball isn't as simple as learning how to place the ball.
Always providing encouragement even in the face of mediocracy, MacMullen and his support staff continued to provide helpful tips that had us performing infinitely better by the time we reached the back nine. Sadly, there were no hole in ones, eagles, or birdies to victoriously report, but at one point we were able to reach par. Although we had a lot of fun, we also understood that becoming a champion isn't something that can be achieved overnight, but through years of practice.
Sadly, Egypt's sporting federation seems to continue to overlook a variety of sports that could develop champions if they were supported. As it stands, there is little competition on this continent or regionally in terms of golf, and an Egyptian golfer with enough dedication could make a name for themselves regionally, and leverage that to one day play internationally. For this to become a reality, Egyptians will have to overcome the stereotype that it is an elitist sport reserved only for the wealthiest, and/or business men looking to finalise deals. The truth is that it is a fun challenging sport that any gender can play and is set in some of Egypt's most beautiful green spaces. After seeing improvements in our game in only one session, we were totally hooked, and know that if Egypt does develop a golfing champion then chances are they have at least played or trained at the very helpful and extremely beautiful greens at JW Marriott Hotel Cairo.
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