ABU DHABI //Retief Goosen, the two-time US Open winner, will join Lee Westwood, the world No 1, and Graeme McDowell, the current US Open champion, at the Emirates Airline Invitational at the Yas Links Golf Club on Monday, organisers said yesterday.
The participation of Goosen, the South African - as well as that of Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland and the 17-year-old Italian prodigy Matteo Manassero - was confirmed for the fifth edition of the event.
The one-day charity tournament previously known as the Abdullah al Naboodah Invitational, bills itself as the world's leading Pro-Am event and will feature 52 professionals linking up with an equal number of amateurs to test the rugged course built across the road from Ferrari World.
Among the amateurs expected to play the Gulf's first links-style course are the former footballers Ruud Gullit, the 1987 World Player of the Year; Jamie Redknapp and David O'Leary; as well as the retired England cricketers Michael Vaughan and Allan Lamb.
The Invitational moves to Abu Dhabi after four years in Dubai, two at the Four Seasons course and two at Dubai Creek.
Al Naboodah, still the tournament host as well as the chairman of the Al Ahli football team, said he knew he wanted to stage the invitational event at Yas Links even before the Kyle Phillips-designed course was finished.
He said he toured the links with Chris White, the general manager, when only a few holes were completed, last year, and was impressed. "I was always pushing Chris, 'When are you going to finish?' It's a great venue. I've always been a fan of Kyle Phillips's designs and played some of them and enjoyed the playability of them.
"When I came here, I thought, 'This is the right place.' I loved the sea around us and the mangroves, and the whole setting is brilliant."
Phillips, the South African designer, is credited with taking a stretch of flat, desert scrub fronting an arm of the Gulf and turning it into a rolling layout with wide fairways, deep bunkers and big, sloped greens reminiscent of thelandscape from seaside Scotland.
Yas Island will never generate weather as raw as St Andrews, but it would appear to be a greater challenge than a typical desert course.
"The other thing special about the course is the wind," al Naboodah said as a zephyr blew through an outdoor briefing. "With this flat sea, with the shamal winds, it's very tricky to handle this golf course with high winds."
He smiled and added: "I hope we have high winds on Monday that keep the players from getting course records."
Al Naboodah teamed with Westwood to win the event last year, and will be paired with the Englishman again.
"As defending champions, I thought we need to defend our title," al Naboodah said.
Other professionals who will take part in the event include Ross Fisher, Rhys Davies, Henrik Stenson, Thongchai Jaidee and Paul Lawrie, the Scotsman who won the 1999 British Open.
The event this year takes on Emirates as the title sponsor. Nadim Lahad, the Emirates manager for Abu Dhabi and Al Ain, said: "This event is renowned for attracting a world-class field with leading golfers and celebrities. It already has a reputation as one of the most prestigious in the world, and we look forward to taking it further."
The event kicks off the European Tour's 2011 Desert Swing, which includes the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship in Abu Dhabi beginning next Thursday, followed by events in Bahrain, Qatar and Dubai, the latter from February 10-13.
The prize purse for the professonals is US$500,000 (Dh1.83 million). The top four will donate half of their winnings, $150,000 in total, to charities of their choice.
Charities will benefit from funds raised at the gala banquet on Monday night. According to organisers, more than Dh2m was raised in the first four years of the event.
Spectators will not be charged admission to see the event, and can register for free tickets at emiratesairlineinvitational.com.
Where: Yas Links Golf Club
Who: Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell, Retief Goosen among 52 professionals; Ruud Gullit, Jamie Redknapp and Michael Vaughan among 52 amateurs.
Format: Four-ball, best two from four