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Rory McIlroy practises at the Emirates Golf Club, and is watched on by girlfriend and women’s tennis player Caroline Wozniacki.
Rory McIlroy practises at the Emirates Golf Club, and is watched on by girlfriend and women’s tennis player Caroline Wozniacki.

Dubai Desert Classic is not competing with Abu Dhabi

Organisers stress Tiger Woods' absence will not affect numbers and cite the rich history of the event is bigger than the famous golfer.

DUBAI // Organisers of this week's Dubai Desert Classic are confident the tournament's 23-year history means its position as the Middle East's premier European Tour event is safe.

The Classic, which starts tomorrow at Emirates Golf Club, was the Tour's first competition in the region, but has found itself sharing the regional spotlight with the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship and the Qatar Masters in recent years.

The UAE capital's contest this year featured its strongest ever field, while the event in Doha offered a larger prize purse than Dubai, its neighbour across the Arabian Gulf.

Last year's contest in Dubai featured Tiger Woods, the game's biggest draw, but this year the American opted to play in the UAE capital and will not be at the Emirates Golf Club.

The 14-time major winner's absence is almost certain to affect crowd numbers - Abu Dhabi's attendance this year doubled on last year's record largely in part to Woods's presence - but Mohamed Juma Buamaim, the vice-chairman and chief executive of Golf in Dubai, said there are no envious glances being cast down the Sheikh Zayed Road.

"I don't want people to start making comparisons between us and Abu Dhabi because we both do it for the same purpose and that is to promote the country," he said.

"If Dubai does it better than Abu Dhabi, then it's good for Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

"When I see Tiger playing in Abu Dhabi, I am very happy because he is on my home turf. It is great; certainly better than him playing somewhere else."

Juma Buamaim said the presence or absence of the former world No 1 Woods will not have as large an effect as people might expect.

This week's field features both Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood, ranked No 2 and No 3 in the world respectively, as well as Fred Couples, who recently captained the United States to victory in the Presidents Cup.

"The thing is, this tournament is older than Tiger in the sense that this tournament started before Tiger started playing," Juma Buamaim said. "This tournament has its own history. Tiger and other players do make a difference when they play, but it does not mean that when Tiger is not here the tournament is any less.

"It is still a famous tournament and we have some good names here. Of course, Tiger has his own appeal, but we have always said that the tournament is not about the players. We have never said a tournament is better because of a certain player."

The 1989 Dubai Desert Classic was the first European Tour event to be held in the Middle East and Thomas Bjorn, the Tour's tournament committee chairman, said such heritage remains a key factor in the competition's appeal.

"It is unfair to compare any of them [Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha] because all three have their own rights," Bjorn said.

"Abu Dhabi at the moment probably has the strongest field, but this one has the history and is the one that kicked it all off in this region.

"Abu Dhabi this year had an unbelievable field. They have the field that Dubai used to have every year, all of the time, but these things go in roundabouts and it will come back so Dubai has the strongest field."

Couples won in Dubai in 1995 to collect a cheque for US$112,500 (Dh413,223) and since then the purse has been increased to $416,660. On announcing his participation in Dubai, he said the "roll of honour" was a "tribute to the growing profile of the event".

Woods, McIlroy, Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal, the current European Ryder Cup captain, are all previous winners in Dubai.

It is such history that has Juma Buamaim relaxed, despite the game's growing profile in the Middle East.

"There are a lot of players who want to put this on their CV and we keep bringing different characters and different types of players," he said.

"We are not in competition with anybody, but put it this way, whoever comes along is fighting against history."

Juma Buamaim added the unique set-up of the Emirates course also makes it appealing to players and spectators.

"Nobody can compete with us anywhere in the world because we are different," he said.

"We produce the best tournament not just because of our history, but also our tournament structure is completely different from everyone else; this course is probably the only course where you can see the ninth and 18th greens together."

 

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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