Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Paddy's Sports View 31st July 2002

When your team has just been knocked out of the World Cup it is easy to empathise with the words of the great Bill Shankley "Football is not a matter of life and death, it’s far more important than that." But when the emotions have cooled, and reason returns, most of us can philosophically reflect that it is only a game. Sadly, and sometimes tragically, the passion that sport arouses can create gross over-reaction to the outcome of events. The cricket followers who in their disappointment burn down stands. The football supporters who can only deal with bad results by going on the rampage and destroying property. The disappointed cricket fans in India or Pakistan who take their own lives because the national team has lost.

Sporting support should be passionate, but it should also be fair and take place in a context which recognises that, at the end of the day, all sport is ephemeral and trivial. If we agree that sport is ultimately unimportant (albeit that it can be the modern opium of the masses) then this can lead to the creation of a moral framework within which it takes place. Formula One (F1) motorsport is an interesting case in point. When the commercial imperative dominates then you get the amorality that we saw from Ferrari at the Austrian Grand Prix. And you also get the unsavoury bowing to pressure of the British and other governments when the F1 dictatorship threatens to take away their national Grand Prix unless they allow tobacco advertising and sponsorship. On the other hand the huge increase in money in F1 has made it an infinitely safer sport, and the organisers are to be congratulated for ensuing that F1 does not kill drivers or spectators as regularly as it did in the days when I was first a fan.

F1 is a sport that has used its financial strength to ensure that safety is the number one priority. All motorsport is dangerous, but so are many other sports where speeds are high and participants are exposed. Skiing and other winter sports are not free of risk, and contact sports such as rugby can have freak accidents in which players are injured or killed. As with F1 every precaution must be taken in all sports to protect participants and spectators and ensure that risks are minimised. This usually happens today, and whilst no sport can be completely risk-free, with one glaring exception, sports are generally played in a context that recognises that it is “only a game”. The exception to this is, of course, boxing.
All sports reward those who are stronger, faster, and more skilful than their opponents. When Sachin Tendulkar scores a century he has won the battle with the bowling attack. When the Brazilian football team triumph over the opposition it is talent, team work and mental strength that produces the result. I would be the first to accept that a great boxer like Mohammed Ali was also a supremely talented athlete – one of the greatest of all time. But Ali’s “sport” is unique because what boxing is about is causing brain damage to your opponent. To win a boxing bout the best way is to knock your opponent out cold - and knocking somebody out will damage the brain. Sometimes the brain will recover- more often not. Repeated attacks on the brain over a boxing career cause permanent damage – as we see today with Ali. And all too often there is death in the ring. When the Japanese boxer Akira Taiga died during a fight in October 1997 he was the 27th Japanese professional boxer to die from wounds inflicted in the ring since 1952. Around the professional boxing world death and injury is the norm, and has been since the sport began. Hardly surprising because that is the object of the game. To physically harm your opponent in such a way that he collapses or gives in – or dies.
In the Emirates, and across most of the Middle East, there is no real boxing tradition. Let us hope that nobody tries to create one. The plan to stage a boxing world title fight in Dubai between Roy Jones and Vasily Jirov should be resisted and the evils of this so-called “sport” should be brought to the attention of the authorities. There is room for many sports in Dubai, but professional boxing is a barbarism where life and death are in the balance in every bout. Dubai doesn’t need it.

Wednesday, July 10, 2002

Paddy's Sports view 10th July 2002

The last time India played in England in a Test series was in 1996 and I was at the Lord’s match of that series when two young players made their debuts in the Indian side. Rahul Dravid was one of them and he came close to the very rare feat of scoring a century in his first Test match – and the even rarer one of doing this at Lord’s. The other player was Saurav Ganguly, and he went one better than Dravid by scoring a superb hundred, thereby getting his name on the famous centurion’s board in the dressing room at his first attempt. It is good to see these now mature masters back again this year.

Six years on the tyros are Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh. I saw Sehwag in the Lord’s One Day International and he looked superb scoring 71 runs off 65 balls and putting on over a hundred with his captain. But it was Yuvraj who really caught the eye. First he bowled seven overs of attacking spin taking the successive wickets of Flintoff, Thorpe and Hussain and reducing England from 201 for 2 to 222 for 5. When India batted Yuvraj came in with India struggling at 141 for 4 chasing 271. He then hit 64 runs at a run a ball and, together with Dravid, saw India home to an excellent victory with an over to spare. Yuvraj deservedly won the man of the match award and his form has continued in the other matches in the series – including an amazing 40 runs off 19 balls in the next England match - as well as significant “ship steadying” innings in the two Sri Lanka games.

India look to be the form side in the One Day series and will now play England in the final at Lord’s next Saturday. England are a strong batting outfit at the moment scoring over 500 runs in an innings in each of the Sri Lanka Tests, and also batting well in the one-dayers. But so far this English cricket “summer” has been marked by an absence of top class bowling. Murali was the only bowler high in the world rankings in the Test series, and he was less than fully fit. In the one day series none of the three teams has a bowler of real class playing (except for Harbhajan Singh, who seems unsuited to English conditions). So for the batsmen it is “help yourself time” and many of them have relished the opportunity. My guess is that it may be the same in the Test series and I would not be surprised to see some high scoring draws amongst the four matches. From an English perspective the key is whether Darren Gough will be fit and whether Matthew Hoggard can regain the form that seems to have deserted him for the moment. These two at full pace could cause some problems for the Indian batsmen. If we get a spell of decent weather, and some hard pitches, then the Indian spinners will be on more friendly terrain and England’s notorious vulnerability to spin might be tested. But at the moment it does look like the Tests will be more agreeable for the batsmen on both sides, than the bowlers.

This has been a damp old summer so far and my guess as to why Sri Lanka have so under-performed is that they are fed up with grey skies and constant interruptions to play – and who can blame them. The Lankan team has been here since mid April and they have rarely had conditions that suit them. The spirit seems to have gone out of the side and even Sanath Jayasuriya has found it hard to motivate them. They look like a side that cannot wait to get home – their first long tour to England has not been a happy one.

For India their tour has only just begun and it is very much “so far so good”. But any lover of Indian cricket knows that it would be premature to claim that the corner has been turned and that a consistently performing side has now emerged. Amazingly it seems that their new star Yuvraj Singh will not be staying on for the Test series - Sunil Gavaskar says that Yuvraj is “not yet ready for Test cricket”! From what I have seen he looks ready for any sort of cricket – I am sure that England supporters will breathe a sigh of relief when he boards the flight back to India next week!

Paddy's Sports view 10th July 2002

The last time India played in England in a Test series was in 1996 and I was at the Lord’s match of that series when two young players made their debuts in the Indian side. Rahul Dravid was one of them and he came close to the very rare feat of scoring a century in his first Test match – and the even rarer one of doing this at Lord’s. The other player was Saurav Ganguly, and he went one better than Dravid by scoring a superb hundred, thereby getting his name on the famous centurion’s board in the dressing room at his first attempt. It is good to see these now mature masters back again this year.

Six years on the tyros are Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh. I saw Sehwag in the Lord’s One Day International and he looked superb scoring 71 runs off 65 balls and putting on over a hundred with his captain. But it was Yuvraj who really caught the eye. First he bowled seven overs of attacking spin taking the successive wickets of Flintoff, Thorpe and Hussain and reducing England from 201 for 2 to 222 for 5. When India batted Yuvraj came in with India struggling at 141 for 4 chasing 271. He then hit 64 runs at a run a ball and, together with Dravid, saw India home to an excellent victory with an over to spare. Yuvraj deservedly won the man of the match award and his form has continued in the other matches in the series – including an amazing 40 runs off 19 balls in the next England match - as well as significant “ship steadying” innings in the two Sri Lanka games.

India look to be the form side in the One Day series and will now play England in the final at Lord’s next Saturday. England are a strong batting outfit at the moment scoring over 500 runs in an innings in each of the Sri Lanka Tests, and also batting well in the one-dayers. But so far this English cricket “summer” has been marked by an absence of top class bowling. Murali was the only bowler high in the world rankings in the Test series, and he was less than fully fit. In the one day series none of the three teams has a bowler of real class playing (except for Harbhajan Singh, who seems unsuited to English conditions). So for the batsmen it is “help yourself time” and many of them have relished the opportunity. My guess is that it may be the same in the Test series and I would not be surprised to see some high scoring draws amongst the four matches. From an English perspective the key is whether Darren Gough will be fit and whether Matthew Hoggard can regain the form that seems to have deserted him for the moment. These two at full pace could cause some problems for the Indian batsmen. If we get a spell of decent weather, and some hard pitches, then the Indian spinners will be on more friendly terrain and England’s notorious vulnerability to spin might be tested. But at the moment it does look like the Tests will be more agreeable for the batsmen on both sides, than the bowlers.

This has been a damp old summer so far and my guess as to why Sri Lanka have so under-performed is that they are fed up with grey skies and constant interruptions to play – and who can blame them. The Lankan team has been here since mid April and they have rarely had conditions that suit them. The spirit seems to have gone out of the side and even Sanath Jayasuriya has found it hard to motivate them. They look like a side that cannot wait to get home – their first long tour to England has not been a happy one.

For India their tour has only just begun and it is very much “so far so good”. But any lover of Indian cricket knows that it would be premature to claim that the corner has been turned and that a consistently performing side has now emerged. Amazingly it seems that their new star Yuvraj Singh will not be staying on for the Test series - Sunil Gavaskar says that Yuvraj is “not yet ready for Test cricket”! From what I have seen he looks ready for any sort of cricket – I am sure that England supporters will breathe a sigh of relief when he boards the flight back to India next week!

Wednesday, July 03, 2002

Seve Ballesteros - In Memoriam



In the early years of the Dubai Desert Classic there was no more popular competitor than Severiano Ballesteros. Seve was usually a contender to the last – and indeed was the winner of the tournament in 1992. He has continued to take part over the past few years despite the obvious fact that his golfing powers were waning. In recent years, in contrast to the smiling Seve of before, we have seen a man clearly not at peace with himself, or with his golf. I remember at Creek two years ago watching him struggle off the tee, and on the greens. His face was grim and he seemed older than his years. He was still courteous and professional, but the easy smile which used to signify how simple he found the game was gone.

Seve recently had to withdraw from the Irish Open having signed for the wrong score on one hole (a 10 instead of a 12!) - and he has now announced that he will not take part in this year’s “Open Championship” at Muirfield. Is this the end of his great career? Seve’s slump in form has lasted so long that one perhaps must accept that he will never again play at the highest level. On the other hand Nick Faldo, only a couple of years younger than Seve, seems to have a new lease of life and is competing very close to the top again. Faldo’s performance in the U.S. Open was superb, finishing in the top 10 and also scoring the lowest single round of the championship. It would not be a total surprise if Faldo won at Muirfield, a course on which he has already won two “Opens”.

It would need a highly skilled sports psychologist to explain why Ballesteros has so lost his form and why Faldo has regained much of his. I would like to suggest one reason. Nick looks as if he is enjoying his golf again. Reunited with his long term caddie Fanny and newly married (again!) Faldo looks at peace with the world and with himself. Those who bumped into him during this year’s Desert Classic commented how charming he was (not a word always associated with the rather brash young Nick Faldo)! Seve, on the other hand, looked tired and drawn. When things went wrong (as the always will, at any level, in this diabolical game) Seve looked as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders. Any smile was forced - more to mask despair than as a natural reaction.

What can the ordinary golfer learn from the trials and tribulations of Severiano Ballesteros (and the contrasting better fortunes of Nick Faldo)? First and foremost we must learn that golf is only a game. Those of us who pay money to play do so (presumably) because we want to. Because we enjoy the experience. When it becomes a burden if we lose our form, or if we think that we always get the wrong rub of the green, then the enjoyment goes with it. This can then lead to a vicious circle of golfing depression. We play badly. The luck goes against us and we play even worse. We don’t enjoy the experience and so we play even more dreadfully! When we play well then we can enter a virtuous circle. A couple of good holes and we begin to believe that, yes, we can play the game. So on the next tee we drive with confidence, and not with worry. And so we may carry on playing better.

The extremes I have sketched out do not, generally, happen like that, of course. In any one round we will have the highs of good holes mixed in with the lows of the disasters. The challenge, which every golfer knows, is always to move on to the next shot, the next hole, and the next round and forget what went before. Easier said than done.
But for Seve it does look as if (in the words of Grantland Rice) that the “last game may be done” and that his “last score may be in”. If so then we can all, without question, say - in the words of the same poet - that he deserves to enjoy his retirement and to be the one who “in the night, beyond the fight …finds his rest at last”. With Seve we will remember his great triumphs, but we will also remember with great affection “how he played the game”. He has earned his rest.

Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Paddy's Sports View 19th June 2002

The massive expansion of golf around the world in the last few years is such that the choice for the golfing aficionado has never been greater. The construction of golf courses, and the associated leisure facilities, is a potential source of considerable revenues for the developed world and the developing world alike. If you have a good climate, available water, reasonable access to an international airport and suitable land then a golf course can be a very profitable investment. And in many ways Dubai is a model for other parts of the world. From the early days when the construction of the Emirates “Majlis” course from out of the desert seemed almost miraculous, we now take for granted the fact that a bare desert landscape can be converted into rich green fairways.

The burgeoning of golf tourism and the opportunistic creation of new golf courses to meet the demand not only widens choice, but also makes golf far more accessible for more people. When I was young in England in the post war years golf was a traditional, and rather elitist game. The courses dated back fifty years or more and all of them were member’s clubs which only tolerated non-member players with great reluctance. The club in Kent that my father was a member of used pricing and prejudice to keep out players who were “undesirable”! I remember driving to the club one day and as we approached the road which led to the clubhouse I noticed a prefabricated, metal roofed building on the course. I asked my father what it was and he said (somewhat shamefacedly) that it was the “Artisans” hut. He explained that the Club committee some years earlier had decided that there was a potential source of revenue available from “Artisan” (working class !) players. These players paid a small subscription for which they were allowed to play on the course on weekdays (when it was not so busy) - but they were not allowed to use any of the club’s member’s facilities or to play at weekends. Whether this golfing “caste” system still exists I doubt (I certainly hope not). Hopefully the massive growth of new facilities in Britain over the past few decades (including the construction of some excellent new “public” courses) has made such socially divisive systems unnecessary.

The need to keep a balance between the needs of members, and the requirements of casual players (especially holiday makers) is a tricky one to achieve. Many Emirates members feel that there are too many visitors on their courses and they resent the fact that it is not always easy for the members to get a tee-off time on popular days. But it is at Nad Al Sheba that some of the members are most aggrieved at what they see as an excessively commercial focus in recent times. A few months ago my wife and I were playing with a friend in a three-ball and as we reached the twelfth hole a marshal zoomed up in a golf cart and dumped a new player on the tee. This player was a visitor (paying cash no doubt) and on a busy afternoon the only way that the Club could accommodate him (and take his money) was to insert him into our three-ball. The fact that we were more than halfway into our round, and that we had developed a pace and style of play, was irrelevant. Now any golfer knows that the quality of a round is hugely affected by the interaction with your playing partners. You establish a way of playing, and to have it disrupted in this way was very unsettling.

Nad Al Sheba has become much less of a member’s club and much more of a commercially driven business in recent times. Indeed it is difficult to see what the advantages of membership are (other than the right to play in club competitions). The new membership structure is so complicated that even the club officials don’t really understand it. And one of the basic rights that members of gold clubs around the world enjoy (the right to sign for purchases and receive monthly accounts) has been taken away and you actually have to deposit money with the club if you want to have signing privileges!

The golfer (including the Dubai golfer) has never had more choice. Nad Al Sheba and the other clubs need to make sure that they cherish their members if they want to keep us in the future!

Wednesday, June 12, 2002

Paddy's Sports View 12th June 2002

An hour or so after take off on EK003 from Dubai to London last Friday the pilot came on the public address system with an announcement. “Ladies and Gentlemen, here is an important message for passengers…’England 1…Argentina 0 is the final score!’ Now I am sure that this column’s loyal Argentinean readership will forgive me if I tell you that my customary dispassionate objectivity was cast aside for a moment and that I leapt from my seat and cried out “Yippee!!!”

Long standing rivalries are a key element in sport and without them one’s enjoyment would be lessened. In football England’s two greatest sporting enemies are, of course, Germany and Argentina. For England to have beaten these two in “World Cup” matches in the last six months has been sweet indeed!

Now I am sufficient of a realist to know that there is a long way to go in these “World Cup” finals (and that England may not even qualify for the next round if they blow it against Nigeria in the final group match). But from what I have seen so far, it is shaping up to be a tournament to remember and there is no reason why there could not be a surprise winner – maybe even England! We shall see. But what is pleasing is that many of the matches in the early stages of the finals in Japan and South Korea have been worthy of the description that all-time-great Pele used for the sport – he called in “The Beautiful Game”.

The beauty of football is its absolute simplicity of purpose and its instant accessibility. I have written recently about the awesome task of trying to explain cricket to someone who has grown up somewhere where the game is not played. With football no such problem arises. It is not just the ubiquity of the game which makes it so great, but the fact that there is really only one objective - to get the ball in your opponent’s net more often that they get it in yours. And there have been many great matches where there has been no scoring at all. Can you imagine the idea of a goalless draw in Baseball, American Football or Basketball? Indeed these sports don’t allow the possibility of a “tie” at all – there always has to be a “tiebreaker” in American sport – there always has to be a winner.

Whilst there is simplicity to the task in football that makes it unique (and sometimes “beautiful”) this is not too say that the game never disappoints. Football can sometimes be drab and dull or be blighted by cynical fouls - often when the stakes are too high or the discipline is too lax. But the game more often delights, than it disappoints. Part of the delight is that the form book is upset far more often than in other team sports. Senegal beats France. Croatia beats Italy. The USA beats Portugal. And any of the sides which reach the last sixteen could win the tournament - and that greatly adds to the general enjoyment of the spectator.

In referring to the simplicity of purpose of football I am not at all meaning to suggest that the tactics of the game, at the highest level, are simple. The best coaches develop football strategies worthy of the great generals in battles or military campaigns. Alf Ramsey, who managed England’s “World Cup” winning side of 1966, was the first coach to play a team without wing forwards. Before Ramsey the line up had always been 5:3:2 – with the front five having two wingers, two inside forwards and a centre forward. How ancient these terms sound today! As with many sports improved fitness levels, and a far greater requirement for all-purpose players who can attack as well as defend, have changed football a lot. But notwithstanding these changes the game itself is in many ways much as it always was. And the rules have hardly changed in a hundred years either – a time traveller from a century ago could go to one of this year’s “World Cup” matches and understand it immediately.

Beauty and simplicity, combined with fact that all you need to play the game is a bit of waste ground and a ball, have made football by far the world’s greatest sport. And the “World Cup” is football’s greatest tournament. Which is why I will continue to leap out of my seat if England wins – providing, of course, that the “fasten your seatbelts” sign is not illuminated!

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

Paddy's Sports View 22nd May 2002

Regular readers will recall how I shared with you the first foray that my wife and I and two friends made onto the brand new “Montgomerie” course. It was a humbling experience for us all. Well I am pleased to report that, like golfers through the ages, we returned recently confident that our first attempt was an aberration and that the next time it would be a whole lot better. Well so it proved. We all played far more respectably and even I had a reasonable round in prospect as I strode confidently to the 18th tee. Three balls in the water later I had to settle for a rather more modest card! This experience set me thinking about opening and closing holes on our Dubai courses.

I don’t really know how course designers work but you can certainly sometimes see a rather sadistic intent in what they do at the 1st or at the 18th. The opening hole of any course is always the most nervous\and the start that you make sets the tone for the round. A par will clam the nerves and get you going in a positive frame of mind. Blow it and all the nagging fears that come with the game may bubble to the surface. So what does the designer try to do when he lays out the 1st? At the “Monty” it is a fairly kindly hole. A very wide fairway to aim for. No nasty hazards in view and not too long for a par four either. What about the “Majlis” down the rood? Again a fair start is in prospect. No real horrors off the tee and even if you are a bit wayward you will probably not be too heavily penalised. The green is ringed with bunkers but it is not a hole to give you too many nightmares. The same at Creek and Nad Al Sheba where the opening Par fours are not too mean. Surprisingly it is at the otherwise fair Jebel Ali course that the 1st is a bit of a nasty surprise. It’s a Par five and a long one with a final carry over water. I cannot recall having ever played the hole well and so my Jebel Ali rounds have never got off to a good start. I hope that when Jebel Ali gets another nine holes that they will make the current 1st the tenth and create a fairer opening hole.

Now although I don’t like Jebel Ali’s opener, I do find their final hole an ideal finishing hole. Again it is a Par 5 but although you need to play straight to avoid trouble it seems a decent way to finish the round – and a very beautiful one as well (the line to the green is the million dollar yachts in the Marina!). But my adventures at the Montgomerie indicate that their 18th is much less benign! Also a Par five the tee seems to have water in every direction and you play onto an island. Thereafter it’s not too bad – but what an intimidating tee shot. Many a round is going to come to grief at the “Monty’s” final hole! As it does at Nad Al Sheba. Once again we have a long Par five 18th with a carry over water to the green. To me it’s a reasonably fair hole and I have parred it from time to time. But for the ladies it is much more of a challenge. I know quite low handicap ladies who find the final shot to the green over water virtually impossible unless they are very close to the water’s edge for their shot. I don’t think that Nad’s course designers were very charitable to the fairer sex when they designed this final hole. But the really great 18th to me is at the Majlis at Emirates. We saw at the 2001 Desert Classic how it can catch out even the great Tiger Woods. And a few years earlier the same thing happened memorably to Ian Woosnam when he took on the water, and lost. But there is nothing unfair about this closing hole for the pros and the high handicappers alike have the option to play it conservatively if they want to.

So to me the ideal solution is a not too demanding Par 4 to open the round and a fair test at the closing hole. Maybe next time I play the “Monty” I’ll conquer my nerves at the 18th and triumph. Next time it will be better – the cry of every golfer!

Thursday, May 16, 2002

Paddy's Sports View 16th May 2002

I try to get to one Formula One event a year, and this year, as luck would have it I was invited to go to the Austrian Grand Prix – quite one of the loveliest locations for a circuit . It is apparent that Ferrari has a huge advantage this year and that they should be able to win the Drivers’ and the Constructors’ championships comfortably – unless the other teams make rapid progress to catch up (which looks unlikely). As guests of Ferrari’s sponsors we were able to see very close at hand what the main reasons for the team’s current superiority are. Over the past few years Ferrari technicians have been designing and making a new gearbox for the car – in conditions of great secrecy. This gearbox is now part of the 2002 model, and it seems to be working well. The really clever thing is that the gearbox is quite a bit smaller than the previous model (and smaller than the boxes in the other teams). This has allowed modifications to be made to the overall car design and, crucially, it has allowed the car to be more aerodynamically efficient.

In Formula One it is the hundredths of a second that make the difference - tiny changes to one part of the set up of the car can give performance advantages. Another area where Ferrari has recently got an advantage is with the fuel. The team’s fuel supplier, Shell, has been working hard to achieve some horsepower advantage from reformulating the fuel mix. This is no easy task as there are very tight specifications applying to the fuel formulation. Nevertheless, and entirely within the rules, Shell has achieved a breakthrough which gives a discernable advantage.

The supremely technically able Ferrari organisation also has the best funded operation in the sport. This not only enables them to push the design limits (as the gearbox story shows) but also, of course, to hire the best drivers. Michael Schumacher is head and shoulders above the rest in 2002. And the week before the Austrian Grand Prix, Ferrari announced that the number two driver in the team, Rubens Barrichello, had signed a new two year contract and this was well received by the Ferrari fans and team members alike. Rubens is a fine driver, a likeable man, and a good team player.

The above is by way of background to show that Ferrari’s advantages are considerable and the results of the Grand Prix so far this year have demonstrated this beyond any doubt. Whilst nothing in this sport is wholly predictable it was clear Schumacher was likely to be able to win the championship for a record equalling fifth time without too much trouble.

On the Saturday of the Austrian Grand Prix weekend I was with the other sponsors’ guests who met with Rubens Barrichello shortly after he secured pole position. He had a big wide smile on his face and he was warmly received by all of us. The Ferrari host said how pleased that they all were that Rubens had signed for another two years and also said how appropriate it was that he was on pole position. So although Michael Schumacher was only on the second row of the grid, another good day for the team was in prospect.

On the Sunday all went according to plan. Both Rubens and Michael made good starts and the race soon settled into another Ferrari field day. Despite the safety car having to appear twice, nothing was going to interfere with the expected victory. Rubens drove beautifully and the pit crew supported him with their usual efficiency. Michael was also driving well, but it was clear that barring accidents he was going to have to settle for second place.

What happened just before the end of the race was an absolute disgrace. It was not just the neutrals who were offended by Ferrari’s cynical tactics. Indeed the loudest protest came from the grandstand where most of the flags were red. And in the Ferrari sponsors area (from which I watched the race) the main colour was red as well. Red faced with near rage from those (like me) who found the decision to hand the race to Schumacher indefensible. And red faced with embarrassment from the Ferrari hosts who could see the trouble the decision had caused, and realised that this was one cynical and unsporting action too far. We have not heard the end of this whole affair by a very long way!

Wednesday, April 17, 2002

Paddy's Sports View 17th April 2002

“The Montgomerie” at Emirates Hills (designed by Colin of that ilk) is now, at last, open for business and I played in the first corporate golf day to be held at this remarkable course. Every Dubai golfer will welcome, but with some trepidation, the “Monty” as an extraordinary addition to the local golfing scene.

The “Monty” is extraordinary in the same way that (say) the “Burj Al Arab” is extraordinary. What I love about the Burj is that when you take guests there for the first time they never say “This reminds me of …” The Burj is not like any hotel that you have ever seen - and whether you like the d├ęcor or the architecture personally is not really the point. It is a spectacular achievement in a genre (international hotels) often characterised by uniformity and blandness. And with the “Monty” it is just the same – there is nothing quite like it anywhere.

At the end of our golf day at the “Montgomerie” most of the participants looked shell-shocked. The bankers who comprised the winning team strode in shirtsleeves and white socks to collect their prizes at the dinner like members of the SAS who had completed a particularly dangerous mission. The rest of us looked on, applauded generously, but (in most cases) tried to find a glimmer of comfort from our terrible rounds. My wife and I had played with the delightful Bob Conner and his wife. Bob is the silver-haired and golden-voiced chap who introduces the players on the first tee at the Desert Classic. Both he and Angela are good golfers and they had a few moments to treasure in their rounds. But in the main they were as startled by the “Monty” as the rest of us.

If we keep hold of the analogy with the “Burj Al Arab” for a moment you will see why even a golfer of yet to be revealed talent like me can welcome the “Monty” – difficult and bizarre ‘though it undoubtedly is. The course is unique in concept and execution. As with the Burj somebody had the vision to create something that you won’t find anywhere else. Compare this with (say) the thirty or so courses on the Costa Del Golf around Marbella in Spain. If you play these courses will you actually remember any of them? Valderama, perhaps, because of its fame and it history - but aren’t most of the other courses much the same?

If you play the “Montgomerie” you will certainly never forget it. 6753 yards off the Blue (sorry “Sapphire”) tees with Par fives to close the front nine and the back nine of 565 and 567 yards respectively. The 18th is actually 656 yards off the championship tees – and this gives a clue to what might have been in the mind of Colin Montgomerie when he worked with Desmond Muirhead to design the course. Monty knows that big hitters like him, armed with modern equipment, will regularly drive 350 yards. So for a Par five to be worthy of its name (instead of being an automatic birdie for the pros) you have to make it impossible to reach in two. Mind you I would not put it past Monty, the Tiger or Ernie Els to reach the green on the 18th with a 380 yard drive and a 275 yard second – but I don’t think that too many Dubai golfers will be trying this!

But it is not just its length that makes the “Montgomerie” unique. Take the 13th for example. This amazing Par three is on an island, shaped like the map of the UAE, with, allegedly, the largest green in the world. Now it may have a large green but when we played it all four of us put at least one ball in the lake and one or two of us have deferred to another day the pleasure of putting on its huge surface. Another aspect of this hole’s original design is that there are no less than five tee boxes each of which has a completely different shot to the green. One day you could be approaching the hole from one side of the lake – the next day from the other side!

So play the “Monty” as soon as you get a chance. But you will probably go straight to the 19th hole when you leave the course and remain speechless until, after a stiffener or two, you begin to return to some kind of normality.