DUBAI // George O'Grady, the chief executive of the European Tour, has credited the Race to Dubai for the health of the game on the continent and revealed he is keeping a close eye on the situation in Bahrain, which is due to host the first tournament of 2012.
The Race to Dubai, which combined with the Dubai World Championship, offers more prize money (US$15 million, Dh55m) than any other golf tournament and has proved a determining factor in preventing European players migrating to the USPGA tour.
The European Tour, which culminates with the Dubai World Championship, boasts all four reigning major champions and five of the top seven in the world rankings.
"The Race to Dubai model must be given credit for the performances over the last few years of the leading European Tour players as well as many of their players' decisions to remain members of the European Tour," O'Grady said yesterday.
"It is now possible to get to the No 1 position in the world rankings by playing the European Tour plus the majors and WGC events."
The Dubai World Championship and the Volvo Golf Champions event in Bahrain will bookend the European Tour calender next year. O'Grady said a decision will not be made "for several months" on whether the tournament at the Montgomerie Course in Riffa will start the season in 2012 following the recent unrest.
"Bahrain is being monitored all the time," O'Grady said. "If we are advised not to go, we would do the same as F1. I don't think anyone fully knows. It's just too early to say. It will be up to the golf federation in Bahrain and the king as our hosts. We started in Bahrain and we hope we can continue."
O'Grady played down the long-term implications of the unrest, noting that the European Tour has navigated political challenges before, including the Gulf and Iraq wars as well as terrorist attacks in the UK.
He also said the Nigerian Open in the 1970s was disrupted by an uprising in the African country that forced players to remain housebound.
"You have had terrorist attacks in Britain but you continue the tournaments don't you?" he said.
"You don't run scared. When the Gulf War was on, we came to Qatar when a lot of other sports wouldn't come. We reckoned we were safe there. Some players were worried but we honour our agreements."
Abu Dhabi formed the first part of the four-event Desert Swing this year, and Dubai Golf have welcomed the increased competition provided by the capital.
"Abu Dhabi has done fantastically well over a short period of time and really enhanced what Dubai has to offer," Christopher May, the general manager of Dubai Golf, said.
"It has really brought the focus on this part of the world, making it a real centre of golf with all the very best players in the world playing in the region over the course of a month.
"I see the competition from Abu Dhabi as nothing but positive and can only help us improve what we do. We can learn from what they do and vice versa. Dubai has been the trail blazer and the pioneer in how to promote a destination though the vehicle of sport."
The 1989 Dubai Desert Classic was the first European Tour event in the Gulf and the calender has snowballed since, with 44 events - 22 in Dubai, 14 in Qatar, six in Abu Dhabi and one in Bahrain - taking place since. These tournaments have offered a combined prize fund and bonus pool of more than Dh450m.
"I remember Rod Bogg, then general manager of the Emirates Club [in 1989] visiting us at the European Tour headquarters and extending the invitation to us to stage a tournament in Dubai," O'Grady said. "We agreed and it is a decision that we have never regretted.
"This visionary move heralded the birth of a most significant stage in our development and the global expansion of world golf."
* With Agency