Nevertheless, Shaikh Mana is optimistic—about spectacles, if not homegrown talent. "Someday we will host an Olympics here. England estimated that it would cost them $2 billion to put one on. Soon, who can afford it but us?"
Golf, introduced years ago by the British, is also in line for an infusion of petrodollars. For example, the Awali Golf Club in Bahrain is an 18-hole, par-71 sand trap—there is no natural-grass course in the lower Gulf. "Hell, I've never even played on grass," says Clarence (Howitzer) Lambeck, a Texas oil worker. "You hit every shot from a strip of plastic grass about two feet long and 10 inches wide that you carry around with you. You can tee up or hit right from the plastic, and you always know where your ball lands by the puff of dust."
The "browns," as they're called, are sand mixed with crude petroleum, brushed down around the pin. "They're really fast if they've just been oiled, but when they dry out, they're murder," says Howitzer. "Still, you never have to worry about replacing divots."
Fairways are outlined in crude oil, and the course has its unique problems. Howitzer ticks them off. "If you don't play at 5 a.m., the heat'll get you. I mean, when you're out there in 115° in August, you can get real worried that they haven't filled the water jugs [Igloo coolers of ice water lashed to scrub trees around the course]. There are stories of foursomes that never returned."
All the camels on the island are the property of the amir, and they can roam at will. "One of them was using the No. 7 brown for a bedpan one morning," recalls Howitzer, "but I put a drive right under that old boy's neck, and he wheeled around and took off out of there like lightning. Haven't seen him since. And goats. You get a stroke off if you hit one. And on the 15th there's the water hazard. Of course, it's bone dry, but it keeps your spirits up."
Shaikh Esa has built a course with real grass greens near the Bahrain Equestrian and Racing Club. The Saudis, never to be outdone, are planning a multimillion-dollar, 18-hole, artificial-turf course in their country's eastern province.
Fittingly, the sport in which the Arabs have won some world recognition is the one that relies most heavily on oil. Saudia, the national airline of Saudi Arabia, co-sponsors one of the hottest Formula I race cars on the circuit, the Saudia-Williams. With Arab petrodollars backing the design of a youthful Britisher, Frank Williams, and the driving talent of Australia's Alan Jones, the team has won 10 Grand Prix and this year's Formula I World Driving Championship. So pleased are the Saudis, not only with the car's record but also with the resultant publicity, that they intend to host a Grand Prix within a few years.
Dubai has sponsored a series of "Golden" track events at various locations over the past three years. In one of them, in Oslo in 1979, Sebastian Coe set a mile world record of 3:49.
For all their costly involvement with race cars and ice hockey and swimming pools and real grass, the Gulf Arabs have by no means lost interest in those sports most profoundly their own—camel racing, horse racing and falconry, but in the latter two. Western influence has grown.
By December the new Bahrain Equestrian and Racing Club will be finished, complete with two two-mile racetracks for the international circuit (with irrigated grass infields), two polo fields, an irrigated jumping and show arena and stables for 300 horses. Racehorses from places like New Zealand, Hong Kong and England are expected to compete for purses equaling the largest anywhere.