ABU DHABI // Gary Player's breathtaking new golf course on Saadiyat Island is likely to become the new principal home of the Abu Dhabi Championship, which has been staged at the National Course on the outskirts of the capital since it was launched in 2006.
Faisal al Sheikh, the head of the major events division of Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA), made the disclosure at yesterday's launch of the fifth running of the European Tour event which, along with the Dubai Desert Classic and the Qatar Masters, makes up the highly popular "Desert Swing" at the start of the new season. Speaking from the clubhouse at the National, where preparations are under way for the tournament which starts on January 21, al Sheikh said: "When you are in the process of hosting a top international event you try to showcase the best golf courses that you have.
"We are glad to have the National Course here in Abu Dhabi but when you talk about a golf course designed by Gary Player next to the Gulf ocean then it is bound to be something spectacular. "Abu Dhabi Golf Club is a mature club that has been established for 10 years and it has proved to be an excellent venue for a European Tour event. The new clubs being constructed nearby will be another milestone in the history of golf in this emirate. As soon as those courses are ready to host this kind of tournament, believe me we will shift it immediately."
Al Sheikh pointed out that any switch of venue would involve the consent of Tour officials, but he expected that to be a formality after they visit the Beach Club, the latest course to be designed by the legendary South African and due to open at the end of this year as the UAE's only links course. "Saadiyat Island provides an excellent lifestyle for players and spectators," said al Sheikh, who believes the emirate of Abu Dhabi is steadily becoming a world-class golfing destination.
"I see Gary Player's course as being so exciting," added al Sheikh, whose ADTA body are also monitoring the new development on Yas Island with a view to making that one of several possible future venues for the Abu Dhabi Championship. "We are waiting for the launch [of the Player Beach Club course] and then we can make a judgement about its suitability to host a professional tournament." That judgement will be made in late January after the completion of the 2010 Abu Dhabi Championship which, as yesterday's launch indicated, looks like attracting a high-quality field.
World No 4 Paul Casey, who took part in yesterday's launch through a televised link-up from London, is expecting to face at least four others from the top 10 of the world rankings when he defends the title he won for a second time at the start of this year. Sergio Garcia, the flamboyant Spaniard, and Australia's Geoff Ogilvy, the former US Open champion, were announced as definite starters in the 120-man line-up and they are set to be joined by three-time major champion Padraig Harrington and Henrik Stenson, the Swede who has a home in the UAE.