Golf, like all other professional sports, is losing characters. Social media scrutiny has made both Tour and club professionals very conscious about how they are perceived by the public.
Just look at Netflix’s Full Swing documentary, all very nice, but except for Joel Dahman, most just came across as being spoilt and a little dull. I’m sure many of these players are far from dull once the cameras are turned off but the fear of putting a foot wrong with their sponsors or employer prevents them from being a free spirit. This understandably applies to coach and club professionals, where one complaint or negative comment could have serious implications.
Which is why many of us have enjoyed the company of Simon Payne. The colourful PGA Professional, renowned for seeing the fun in life and a beaming smile, has certainly been a huge asset for the local golf scene. After nearly two decades on from first landing in Dubai, he’s homeward bound and set for a new challenge. The UAE golf scene has changed dramatically since Simon first arrived, so we caught up with him to look back on his time in the Emirates, which will hopefully give you an insight into the character of our friend Simon Payne.
When and why did you first come to the UAE?
This is an easy one, albeit a little dusty, I arrived the day after the Melbourne Cup (The race that Stops the Nation) which was Wednesday November 2nd in 2005.
What did you like the most about the region and especially RAK?
For myself, what I loved about the region was the diversity, the ability to move out of one’s comfort zone and engage with people of various cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, this is also the beauty of travel and being an expat, well in my eyes at least. Having lived in Ras Al Khaimah for the best part of 14 plus years I steadfastly regard Ras Al Khaimah as my second home, not only for the reasons listed above but for the familiarity I felt with where I grew up on the north side of Brisbane, something which could not be replicated in a big city.
How have you seen the golfing landscape change since you first arrived?
The golfing landscape has in my opinion changed in the way of it being far more inclusive. The demographic was, or was at least perceived to be, wealthy and predominantly British expats having a “Jolly Good Time” on some of the finest fairways in the world. I am glad to see and have witnessed the turn of the tide so to speak where the game and the mentality has changed to that of a sport reaching out to the greater populous, breaking down race and cultural barriers and engaging the youth into the game. I think golf in the UAE is in a great place and this is testament to the hard work and vision of the Emirates Golf Federation coupled with the support from the golf clubs in the country.
What are the standout memories you will take away with you?
It is difficult to outline all the stand-out memories for me, personal achievements would be winning the UAE PGA Order of Merit three times I believe, as well as representing the UAE PGA at the PGAs of Europe Team Championship several times. Outside of the personal moments, it would be Tower Links hosting the Inaugural MENA Tour back in 2011, one of four courses at the time in the Tour’s infancy, this lasted until 2017.
Why did you decided to leave Tower Links and where are you going?
My decision to leave Tower Links was not an easy one, but I felt that the time was right to move on and challenge myself, I didn’t want to be one of the statistics that 20 years from now I would have been more disappointed by the things I didn’t do rather than the things I did. My new role is that of General Manager at Moree Golf Club, which is in Northern NSW, approximately 7 hours southwest of my hometown of Brisbane in Queensland. Moree is a rich agricultural centre and is Australia’s largest cotton producing region.
You’ve worked close with YouTubers Golf Mates; will this continue in Aus and did social media help in getting your new position?
I have been extremely fortunate to have formed a very close friendship and golfing relationship with the Golf Mates team headed by Liam Harrison. As far as this exposure went in assisting me in securing my new position, I certainly don’t think it hurt, my true character is on show for all to see, staying true to yourself is my philosophy. As far as a Hidden Gems Series Down Under, you will have to watch this space, but I do have it on good authority that 2024 could see the Barmy Army paying these shores a visit.
What courses did you enjoy playing the most in the UAE and why?
As golf has grown in the UAE, we have seen quite a diversity in golf course designs, which is great for the avid golfer and visiting golf tourist. Stand-outs for me, and this is simply my opinion and in no particular order are:
Tower Links -Obviously my home away from home, but aside from that, it’s a very fair yet challenging course, where the premium lies between your shoulders, not on your shoulders, don’t be fooled by the lack of length. The unobstructed back drop of the Hajar Mountain Range coupled with the natural spectacle of the migratory bird life through the winter months make Tower Links a must visit for those that love birdies, on, and off the course.
Els Club – Elevation and run offs, clever design with the use of slopes, humps, and hollows to bring you undone, your depth perception is tested on every hole, and you need a wicked short game if you are to challenge your handicap.
Saadiyat Beach – I just love the natural feel, flow, and elevation changes of the course. I particularly like the firmness of the course, views over the Gulf, native grasses, and sedges, as well as the abundance of wildlife, namely the Arabian Oryx.
Emirates Golf Club – What can you say, this Majestic Lady has played host to the Dubai Desert Classic since 1989. Somewhat traditional in its layout with its array of dog legs, with length being added over the years to keep up with the modernisation of the game, this iconic venue possesses one of the greatest vistas of a city skyline anywhere in the world.
What did you miss the most about Aus?
I could get a little sentimental here, but the things I missed about Australia, in particular my home state of Queensland and city of Brisbane was the greenery, we have amazing corridors of green scape all through the city and outer suburbs. The smell of rain on a summer’s afternoon, cricket at the Gabba, footy at Suncorp Stadium, meat pies, my family, my mates, and of course my mother’s roast dinner on a Sunday night.
How do the courses differ between the UAE and Aus?
There is a huge divide between the courses in the UAE and Australia, the countries are so vastly different in not only size but population and more importantly golfing population, with approximately 22 courses in the UAE and some 1,500 courses across Australia. Most of the courses in the UAE have a famed golf course architect attached to them with many having a housing development bordering all boundaries of the courses, this is not so the case with many courses in Australia being standalone public courses. Additionally, the courses in the UAE all seem to have attached the moniker of Championship Course, where in Australia this term is more carefully selected.
Thoughts on LIV Golf and how would you fix the pro golf scene?
I love that fact LIV has shaken things up and ironically how the PGA TOUR has reacted. I don’t necessarily think the Pro Golf scene needs to be fixed, I do however think that with the exorbitant amounts of money now in professional sport, in particular golf, players have become more static, stayed and are less reluctant to express their true feelings, thoughts and emotions, golf needs characters again, but I think it is too late, progression is the art of moving forward as they say.
I do think that the NETFLIX Series Full Swing paints professional golfers in a bad light, a bunch of overpaid, characterless, private jet setters with a myriad of “yes men” by their side, the only relatable guy on that series was Joel Dahman, he owned it…. “someone’s got to be the 70th best golfer in the word” TOUCHE!!!