ABU DHABI // The 2011 UAE golf season begins today in tandem with "the introduction" of the first links course in the Gulf at the Emirates Airline Invitational Pro-Am at the new Yas Links Golf Club.
Lee Westwood, the world No 1, and Graeme McDowell, the reigning US Open champion, lead the 52 professionals, who will be paired with amateur players, in the fifth staging of the event which was known as the Abdullah al Naboodah Invitational when it was played in Dubai the past four years.
Al Naboodah is now the "host" of the event, which has raised more than Dh2 million for UAE charities.
Al Naboodah will again be paired with Westwood, the Englishman who replaced Tiger Woods at the top of the world rankings.
The duo won the four-ball event a year ago, and al Naboodah said with a laugh that he was not looking to gain an upper hand by allying himself with the best player on the planet. "As defending champion, I thought we ought to defend our title," he said.
Other leading professionals who have committed to the event include Retief Goosen, Ross Fisher, Darren Clarke and Matteo Manassero, the 17-year-old Italian who last year became the youngest player to win a European Tour event. Among the celebrities are several retired sportsmen, including footballers Ruud Gullit, Jamie Redknapp and David O'Leary as well as Michael Vaughan and Allan Lamb, the former England cricketers.
Professionals compete for a US$500,000 (Dh1.83 million) purse, and half of the winnings of the four top finishers will go to charity. Local charities will benefit from a gala, invitation-only banquet at the club tonight.
The tournament begins at 10am. Spectators are welcome, and will not be charged admission.