Golf has been a feature of life in Qatar for more than fifty years. As with many things in Qatar, strange as it may seem, “oil” played a part.
In the late 1940’s, following the end of the Second World War, the oil boom occurred in what is now the Gulf Cooperation Council Countries (GCC) that drew oil industry specialists from all over the world. During this period golf was introduced to Qatar and the Arabian Gulf states, mostly as a means of recreation for the American and British expatriates working on the onshore facilities in the petroleum sector. Over the years golf became a very popular sport in Qatar, initially for small groups of dedicated players but in recent years as a part of the growing tourism industry.
The first golf course was built in the late forties at Dukban. It had nine holes and two sets of tees, running adjacent to the foot of Jebel Dukhan next to the residential area of the oil camp. At the time the course was known as the “Qatar Golf Club”, but was later changed to “Dukhan Golf Club”. With the expatriate population growing in Umm Mesaieed south of Doha, attention shifted to that location and a new dub was established next to the old Airport. Old aerial photographs show more than nine holes. Some of them were changed while others were abandoned; some were lost with the expansion of the runway. Although it doesn’t exist anymore the Umm Mesaieed Golf Club was there for many years.
The international oil companies operating in the Arabian Gulf states, such as Iraq Petroleum Company, Kuwait Oil Company and Aramco, used the professional relationships between them, and an almost universal common interest in golf to create supporting competitions. The “Middle East Oil Industries Golf Association* was formed with the sole purpose of organizing tournaments for the various dubs. The first tournament was held in Tripoli, Lebanon in 1952 and proved to be a big success. In 1959, Qatar hosted the tournament in Umm Mesaieed and although it was Bahrain’s first participation, Bahrain Petroleum Company won the event
Following 1959, political events in the region prevented further tournaments and MEOIGA’s activities came to halt. The Urnm Mesaieed tournament, however, had been directly responsible for golfs development in Qatar. It came at a time when an 18- hole course and clubhouse were needed and the efforts that endeavor proved to be very successful for a number of years, to be abandoned as the Umm Mesaieed expatriate community started to dwindle in numbers. The eighties saw some improvements in course design and layout and although the MEOIGA tournaments were suspended, other championships began to take place.
The Open Championships have now become very popular in all Gulf Cooperation Council Countries. The annual events host some of the best international and regional players around. National players have come a long way in terms of performance, and are currently dominating the regional golf scene. The Qatar Open was first played in 1983 and took piaci-at both Duklian and Unun Saieed courses! For the next 11 years it continued at Umrn Saieed and then after a break found a new home in 1997 at the new championship all grass course at the Doha Golf Club with a field from 15 countries. With the Qatar Open now attracting a field from 25 countries, including a large number of professionals looking to win the automatic berth in the PGA European Tour, Qatar Masters tournament golf in Qatar can be said to be “Coming of Age”.
Today, Qatar boasts three active 18 hole courses, two sand and one fully grassed. The 9 hole academy at the Doha Golf Club and Qatar Petroleum’s 9 hole sand course at Ras Abu Aboud in Doha continue to have full attendance. The latest addition is the 9 hole course at Ras Laffan which, with sand fairways but grass tees and greens is a challenge to both sand and grass course experts. On the books is Qatar’s second fully grassed course. Locations at 7.akteet in the west near to Dukhan and north of Doha at Al Khor continue to be examined.
The Qatar Golf Association, also known as the QGA, was founded by the President of the General Authority for Youth and Sports in 1991, and continues to grow and attract a lively interest from Qatari’s in taking up the game. Mike Shoueiry, QGA’s Director of Golf advised that there are now over 50 active Qatari members of the QGA of which fifteen can be described as “good” players with handicaps in the low single digits, which is an excellent percentage. The Qatari national team has performed well in international events including the last two Asian Games.
Add together the interest of Qatari’s in all things sporting; the honor of hosting the 2006 Asian Games looming (in which golf will be one of the events); the new facilities at existing clubs; new courses, clubs and golfing societies being formed… and the prospects for Qatar becoming a golfing hub for the region seem secure.