Tom Green and Marcus Dunning are confident Golf DXB can grow the number of UAE golfers
This month, two young PGA professionals will embark on a business venture that bravely vows to steer the UAE’s domestic golf market into unchartered waters. Englishmen Tom Green and Marcus Dunning have taken over the former Grass Roots Golf business, an initiative launched five years ago by Mark Gregson-Walters to provide sophisticated golf coaching for school children. Rebranding the company Golf DXB, the pair (who were both active coaches on the Grass Roots program) have widened its scope to encompass a broader target for growing the game across the board.
For all its global prestige and incredible blend of courses, facilities and top rank tour events, the number of people taking up golf in the UAE has remained static over the past 10 years of otherwise extraordinary growth. It’s a curious anomaly. In a recent Golf Digest Middle East survey, only 2.8 percent of respondents were under 21 years of age, and just 6.8 percent had been playing the game for less than two years (compared with nearly 60 percent who had been playing for over 10).
Even these fairly basic statistics tell a clear story: that uptake of golf in the UAE has not kept pace with either the proliferation of courses or the levels of investment in the industry. Through Golf DXB (launching this month), Tom Green and Marcus Dunning want to set about changing the status quo. We sat down with the pair to find out how.
First things first, how do you guys plan to grow golf in the UAE?
MARCUS DUNNING: Clearly getting more children involved is a key area. We find that many kids who would never have dreamed of taking up golf but do so through taster sessions, end up loving it. So getting more youngsters exposed to it is the starting point.
TOM GREEN: We’d like to take golf to different communities, to get it noticed in non-traditional places. Whether that be with inflatable nets down at the beach, or at major local sporting events, we need to put golf in front of people who haven’t previously thought of giving it a go.
How will you go about ensuring that beginners stick with it?
TOM GREEN: We want everyone to achieve their potential. Whether that means becoming a social golfer who enjoys a game with friends, a competitive amateur or a tour player, we want people to go as far in the sport as they can. I think for a lot of people who try golf, they end up getting a little lost and unsure where to go next, which is why we have implemented a structure whereby provided the player applies themself, it provides a clear path to becoming an EGF member or even a club member at the end of it.
Tell us about your decision to take on grass roots golf and rebrand it golf DXB.
TOM GREEN: Having followed Grass Roots since it launched five years ago and subsequently worked for the company, I knew that it was a fantastic product that gave children the opportunity to learn golf in a very accessible and friendly environment within their schools. Everything about the model, from the use of plastic equipment to the fundamental movement skills, is proven to be highly effective and we’re looking to take that forward, while broadening the scope of the operation to cater to adults as well.
MARCUS DUNNING: It was an opportunity to be involved in something that has the potential to change the way things are in the UAE with golf. We want to put things on a large scale, and attract new golfers to the program. There’s been a shortage of people taking up the game in the UAE and that’s something we feel we can change.
Where will your efforts be directed as we approach another new season?
TOM GREEN: We’re focusing on building mass-participation through large upscale activations. Our two main initiatives are firstly, the Tee it Up scheme, which we’ll be rolling out in 20 to 25 schools in Dubai starting this month. Every pupil aged between five to 18 will be given a free taster session during their P.E. time. From there, we’ll divide those who sign up into either a golf team, squad or a Get Into Golf program. So it’s a way of exposing almost 18,000 children in Dubai and a similar number in Sharjah to the game. For adult coaching, we have a program called Learn Golf DXB, which offers a first session free of charge, and then takes participants through three stages, from Learn Golf in a Week to Advanced. We’re giving people a pathway to getting out on the course and ultimately getting a handicap.
How will the adult coaching programs differ from your junior ones?
MARCUS DUNNING: The way we teach adults will certainly be more traditional. With the juniors, learning the fundamental movement aspects is so important. This year has only underlined again how athletic golf has become. Guys like Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson are all incredible athletes. Golf coaching has evolved a tremendous amount. For adults, it’s going to be more about them getting the necessary playing skills and teaching them the basics of the game, giving them the right foundation from which to build on and develop their golf.
How will you handle the development of juniors who show talent?
TOM GREEN: Creating a team ethos for golf here is one of our main objectives, because that’s something that’s currently lacking in schools. Golf needs to be something you do with your friends at school, not something that only a handful of kids in each year play. So we’re looking to make it more social for the younger kids. Our vision for the juniors is to add to our existing strength for the ages up until the start of secondary school, by creating a program that sets kids up for a career in golf, whether that be as a player, a qualified instructor or working elsewhere in the industry.
Getting more Emiratis into golf has traditionally been difficult. What are your plans for introducing more locals to the game?
TOM GREEN: It’s hugely important. We were approached by the Emirates Golf Federation, who have got some great ideas as to how we can work together. The EGF National Junior Development program will be powered by Golf DXB going forward. There are 15-20 children at the Shaikh Rashid School who now have a vested interest in golf thanks to the support of golf in DUBAi, and we’re looking to grow that number dramatically.
Why do you think uptake of golf among Emiratis has been slow?
MARCUS DUNNING: It has never been brought to them. Despite all the amazing courses and facilities that we have here, the nationals have never truly been exposed to it properly. That’s why it’s our job to get people started as soon as possible, both in schools and out.
Photographs by Farooq Salik