Sunday 26 February 2017

Desert shifting away from Dubai

Karl MacGinty

Rory McIlroy tries the new rides 'Burj Surge' and 'Tantrum Alley' at the Jumeirah Wild Wadi Waterpark in Dubai ahead of the Dubai Desert
Classic which begins on Thursday. Photo: Getty Images
Rory McIlroy tries the new rides 'Burj Surge' and 'Tantrum Alley' at the Jumeirah Wild Wadi Waterpark in Dubai ahead of the Dubai Desert Classic which begins on Thursday. Photo: Getty Images

Cash-strapped Dubai deserves enormous credit for somehow fulfilling its three-year commitment to underwrite the European Tour's season-long 'Race to Dubai' in 2011.

Yet strong whispers from the Gulf suggest that Europe's golfers will be competing in the 'Race to Abu Dhabi' from 2012. Dubai's rich neighbour is expected to host next year's season-ending showpiece on the new Gary Player-designed course at Saadiyat Beach, which is owned by the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority.

Dubai will continue to host the Omega Desert Classic on the Majlis Course at the Emirates Club, the original and arguably still the best of the four tournaments on the Tour's ever-expanding Middle East Swing.

With its economy in severe difficulty, Dubai no longer has as much money as Abu Dhabi, Qatar or even this year's newcomer, Bahrain, to dole out in appearance fees. While it costs around $3m (€2.2m) a time to bring Tiger Woods to international venues, he plays in this week's Classic to honour a contract signed and sealed prior to the economic slump.

It's a sign of hard times that a plan for Woods to design his first golf course in the Emirates is among many ambitious ventures that have been shelved -- with six holes already completed.

Yet in 22 years since Mark James won its first staging in 1989, the Desert Classic has built a tradition and atmosphere which rivals many of its more established counterparts in Europe.

It will remain a keystone in the European Tour's expanding operation in the Middle East; talks have already taken place with officials in Riyadh to stage an event in Saudi Arabia, while the Omani capital Muscat also has potential.

It was fascinating at the inaugural Volvo Champions to see the oil and gas pipes running across Royal Bahrain Golf Course and a 'Nodding Donkey' pump at work to the rear of the 17th green.

With its metronomic 'swing', that solitary pump sucks 150 barrels of oil a day out of the ground. Working up to five days a week and with oil valued at €66 per barrel, that adds up to €2.6m per annum -- good enough for sixth place ahead of Robert Karlsson in last year's Race to Dubai!

That's the three wishes sorted -- 1) To be able to strike a golf ball like Rory McIlroy; 2) To sink putts like Padraig Harrington, and 3) To have a 'Nodding Donkey' running at full tilt in the back garden.

Irish Independent

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