With a silky smooth swing Nawal al Sharif hits the golf ball with a satisfyingly loud “thwack” and sends it soaring into the distance, watching it carefully as it lands and rolls on the lush green grass.
From her small nod and smile, it’s clear that Nawal is happy with the shot. Her coach, Steven Troup, is also pleased, giving her some words of encouragement to do even better next time.
When you bear in mind that Nawal’s pink golf club (a driver) is almost as tall as her, her play is even more impressive. The fact that she’s a girl is irrelevant on the course, where everyone is equal.
At the age of eight, The Sultan’s School pupil is one of the younger talents being groomed on an intensive junior golf programme at Almouj Golf in Muscat, where the aim is to eventually turn out a golfer from Oman capable of competing for the majors on the world professional stage.
While Nawal and her older cousin Nadine al Barwani, 12, have some way to go before reaching these dizzy heights, it’s not an impossible leap to imagine them some day being decent golfers playing off low handicaps, if not representing the country at national level.
“I like swinging and hitting the ball, that’s the best bit. I even teach my mum how to play at home,” says Nawal.
“She is very competitive,” laughs her coach Steven, a PGA professional, who is excellent at handling his young and sometimes extremely lively protégées. His job is not only to teach them the techniques of the game, but also the finer points of golf etiquette such as sportsmanship and integrity, all essential components of the sport no matter your age.
“We are teaching them to be good golfers and good human beings,” agrees Steven, who is originally from Aberdeen in Scotland, known as the “home of golf”, and previously worked in Doha, Qatar, before moving to Muscat.
He’s been playing golf since the age of 12, so knows a thing or two about motivating yourself as a youngster and learning to love the game.
Almouj Golf takes its junior programme, held in partnership with Oman Golf Committee (OGC), very seriously. Children with diverse nationalities from Finnish to Canadian have signed up and most encouraging of all, is that 50 per cent on the programme are Omani, helped by the OGC, which subsidises fees for local kids. And if all goes to plan, one of these young Omani talents could follow in the golfing shoes of Azzan al Rumhy, Oman’s top golfer and the national champion, who first picked up a club seriously at the age of 14 and, five years later, won the Muscat Open Golf Championship.
Whichever hero they may be trying to emulate, Steven Troup’s young charges at Almouj Golf seem to be enjoying themselves.
“I like it; it’s fun and entertaining and I think it will make me better at other sports at school, too,” says Nadine. “I need to learn more. To get better at golf, you have to practice.”
As Steven explains, the programme is not just about teaching the children how to swing a golf club, but focuses on improving their fitness in areas such as core strength and flexibility, to give them the edge in all sports, not just golf.
“We have a level structure with coloured caps for the kids,” says Steven. “There are nine levels and they start off wearing a blue cap and work up to black, similar to martial arts.
“It’s a great way for them to see their progression and it’s important for the parents too.”
Scattered around the private tuition bays near The Academy, Almouj’s coaching hub, and the driving range, are different “stations” for the children to try, all with an emphasis on fun. Freddie Briston-Smith, who just turned six and is the youngest on the programme, seems to love the “Sumo” game, which involves “wrestling” an opponent with a gym balanced ball on the chest.
It’s play but, at the same time, building his upper body strength, which is vital for a good golfer to have the power to swing the club through.
Brothers Julian and Vincent Vansteenkiste show an eye for the ball on the putting station, skills that will stand them in good stead when they’re out on the golf course for real one day.
Of course, the golf striking station, where they all get to actually hit the balls onto the range is also a big favourite.
“It’s possible to make a fantastic golfer out of anyone,” says Steven, who is one of three golf coaches working with The Academy.
“We have got the best chance here, taking the children from grassroots level. The multi-skilled programme we have is not about just making top golfers but top athletes.”
Producing another top Omani golfer would be an achievement. The Sultanate’s national team, made up of the cream of Omani amateur golfers, is 55-strong, the youngest aged 19.
To encourage take-up, Steven goes into local schools, including two Omani girls’ schools, to introduce golf to the pupils and give them an opportunity to try “The World’s Greatest Lifestyle Game” for themselves.
“Golf has the highest drop-out rate for children who start learning,” says Steven.
“It’s challenging, especially with girls, as golf is not seen as the sort of sport girls play.”
Not that Nawal sees it that way. “I think girls are better than boys at golf because girls focus, but the boys just want to play about.”
Almouj Golf will soon be introducing full junior membership and hosting tournaments for the mini players on the club’s Par 3 Course.
In the future, we could well be seeing male and female players who have honed their craft on the fairways and greens at Almouj playing at the highest level, proudly flying the flag for Oman as their own or adopted country.
Do you have a budding Tiger Woods or Annika Sorenstam at home? The next Junior Development Program starts week commencing November 8 and runs for six weeks. Cost is RO60 (RO30 for Omanis). Open to age five, up to 17. Email email@example.com or visit almoujgolf.com