The Faldo Series Asia comes to Bahrain in October, inspiring youngsters to take up golf
Time Out Bahrain staff
It was 1976 that Englishman Nick Faldo became a professional golfer. In the 33 years that followed, he achieved much through the game, winning six majors, three Open Championships and three US Masters. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, he was considered the best golfer in the world, and took the top spot in the Official World Rankings for a total of 98 weeks. More recently he has begun designing courses, writing instructional books, offering golf commentary for CBS Sports and the Golf Channel, and in 2008 even captained the European Ryder Cup team (they lost unfortunately). Earlier this year he received a knighthood, becoming Sir Nick Faldo, to honour his services to the sport. ‘For me it’s really more about the honour than it is about the title,’ he tells Time Out. ‘It’s great for your efforts to be recognised like that, and I’m very proud to have been chosen.’
Sir Nick’s desire to take the game to today’s youth has been shaped into the Faldo Series, something he started back in 1996. The competition for eleven-21-year-olds began in the UK, but quickly spread to the rest of Europe and even South America. In 2006, it branched off to create Faldo Series Asia, and now 30 annual tournaments take place in more than 20 countries. ‘The original concept was to combine top-level competition at world class venues with golf-specific education on every aspect of the sport,’ Faldo explains. ‘Our aim has always been to identify and nurture emerging talent, and to help prepare these young golfers for the reality of life as a professional.
Players in Bahrain are just one tournament away from a place in our annual Grand Final – held at the home of the Faldo Series Asia, Mission Hills Golf Club in China – as all age category winners qualify. There they’ll have the chance to compete against their peers from around the world, and I’ll be on hand to pass on the experience that I’ve built up over 30 years in professional golf.’
The original Faldo Series season begins its tournaments in April, with this year’s final happening later this month in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. The Faldo Series Asia begins a little later in June, with this season’s final taking place in China next March. ‘We’re currently creating opportunities worldwide for around 5,000 young people each year,’ Faldo tells us. ‘There are some very talented players coming out of Asia at the moment – not least of all our recent back-to-back Faldo Series Asia Grand Final winner Rashid Khan from India – and I’ve been very impressed with the standard and attitude of quite a number of players.’
The Faldo Series has already produced a number of well known international golfers – Nick Dougherty and Oliver Fisher, who are both now professionals on the European Tour, started as back-to-back winners in Faldo Series finals. ‘No one’s ever gone three-in-a-row,’ Faldo reveals, reflecting on Khan’s potential. ‘It would be a real achievement.’
The Bahrain round of the competition takes place at the Royal Golf Club early this month. So why has Faldo chosen this venue for the first time? ‘I’m keen to expand the initiative to as broad-reaching an audience as possible, and many of the areas that we work in aren’t necessarily considered to be traditional golfing nations,’ Faldo reveals. ‘Golf in Bahrain has real potential for growth, and we hope that we can play a part in that process through our efforts.’
The day will see the main competition taking place, but there is also the Faldo Mini Series taking place on the par 3 course. ‘We’re running a number of grass-roots activities at the event, and the Faldo Mini Series tournament is part of those efforts,’ Faldo explains. ‘It’s aimed at offering access to the sport for a new generation of young golfers. Hopefully they will be inspired to return one year as a competitor in the main Faldo Series field.’
With his increasingly busy schedule, however, it’s impossible for Faldo to attend all of the events in the calendar himself – so if you want to meet him, you’ll have to play well enough to get to the final. ‘We appoint experts to attend all of our Faldo Series tournaments and spend time with the players off the course, covering areas such as the physical, mental and technical sides of the game,’ he reveals. ‘At the finals, I will spend as much time with the players as I possibly can and pass on my own advice and support. Where possible, I also work with a number of leading players at other times of the year to offer specific advice and coaching.’
So if you know of any aspiring young golfers in the kingdom, looking for a way to improve their game and maybe even one day reach a professional level, send them down to watch the Faldo Series Asia this month. Perhaps they will even follow Nick to course design (‘There are more than 20 Faldo Design projects either on the drawing board or under construction around the world,’ he says), commentary and knighthood.
And if they haven’t signed up for the tournament this year, there is a chance it will return in 2010. ‘We want to carry on expanding as much as we can,’ Faldo reveals, ‘and with the continued support of corporate sponsors like UBS, golf clubs like Mission Hills, and governing bodies like the R&A, we should certainly be able to continue doing so. We’re beginning to see some real talent emerging from the programme, and I hope this is a reflection of the fact that we are helping to make a genuine difference through our efforts.’