More than a quarter century ago, I spent four years working as an accountant for an American multinational in Saudi Arabia.
The construction project upon which I worked was the new Riyadh airport, a spectacular, $4 billion, in-your-face facility.
The airport’s grand opening was several years in the planning and as D-Day drew nearer, so a new group of officials began making regular visits.
The Saudi Ministry of Royal Protocol made a number of quirky requests, amongst them that half-a-dozen people, drawn solely from the American project management company, should drive golf trollies, ferrying VIPs between the airport’s royal terminal and Arabia’s largest mosque where the opening ceremony would be completed. I was selected to drive a trolley and so, with the temperature pushing 110F, I waited for guests to emerge before transporting them along an open walkway to the mosque.
After several trips, I scurried back to the terminal and spotted an opportunity to grab a cigarette. I lit up while backing out of the glare and unexpectedly bumped into a burly figure emerging from a side door.
It was His Excellency Crown Prince (later King) Abdullah. My career prospects had, I believed, taken a sudden turn for the worse. I apologised but he graciously waved my apology away. “I’ll drive,” he said, so I handed him the golf trolley keys. One of his guards hopped in and I walked behind towards the mosque.
The incident remains the closest I’ve ever come to royalty, at least the non-sporting variety, though I’m hoping to improve the sporting hit rate later this year. A sizeable number of golfers will also attempt to win the opportunity to rub shoulders with true sporting greats when they tee-up at Nailcote Hall in Warwickshire on Sunday.
The Ladies’ and Men’s Open qualifying tournament for the Farm Foods British Par 3 Championship promises to be a challenging event. Sunday’s prize is a place alongside a professional in the Par 3 Championship on August 7-8, plus a seat at the VIP player/celebrity party on August 9.
Three former Ryder Cup captains (Woosnam, Jacklin and Torrance) are amongst the sporting royalty who will be in attendance in August. In addition, there’ll be a field of professionals competing for a prize pool of £100,000.
Warwickshire’s August temperature may not be quite as stifling as Riyadh, but the competition promises to be white-hot. Competitors and visitors may even get the chance to catch a glimpse of sporting royalty whizzing around on a golf trolley. After they’ve finished their round, of course.
* Peter Sharkey is playing in the Farmfoods British Par 3 Championship, staged at Nailcote Hall between August 6-9. We’ll be following his progress as he prepares for the event.