x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

'Desert Swing' creates surge in golf tourism

A higher UAE profile, drop in prices for hotels, dining and flights combines with the intrigue of six of the world's best players, to create a surge in golf tourism in the Emirates.

Phil Mickelson of the US warming up on the driving range as the sun rises before the pro-am as a preview for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship
Phil Mickelson of the US warming up on the driving range as the sun rises before the pro-am as a preview for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship

ABU DHABI // A surge in golf tourism is on course to make this year busier for the UAE's links than any since the recession.

Both Emirates Golf Club and Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club have seen a surge in last-minute bookings. Chris May, the general manager of Dubai Golf, which manages both courses, said that between them the two courses had around 70 last-minute bookings a day over the new year.

"We've never seen that before," he said. "A lot [of guests] are renting clubs and some will pre-book two or three games and decide to play a specific course again."

The Gulf leg of the PGA European Tour - the "Desert Swing" - starts today with the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

The world's number one golfer, Lee Westwood, will compete against all four 2010 Major champions - Phil Mickelson, Louis Oosthuizen, Graeme McDowell and Martin Kaymner - in the US$2.7 million (Dh9.9m) tournament. Organisers expect 30,000 spectators over four days.

The players will then head to Bahrain and Qatar before returning to the UAE for the Desert Classic on the Majlis course at Emirates in Dubai.

"With the Desert Classic coming up, the course is in fantastic condition," said Mr May. "People want to play what the professionals play."

Among them have been the former US president Bill Clinton, who played twice last year. Hugh Grant played three times, and England's football manager, Fabio Capello, has also teed off. "A lot of celebrities come through."

After what Mr May tactfully describes as 2009's "hiatus", the recovery is well under way. In 2007, Dubai Golf had 23,000 online bookings from overseas, falling to 17,000 in 2009.

Although they were only slightly better, at 18,500, last year, he says numbers this year, so far, is beating 2010 by around 50 per cent.

He puts that down to a general fall in prices for tourists, including hotels, eating out and flights - and a much higher profile for UAE courses.

"The profile of Desert Swing is becoming a big thing not just European golf but in international golf.

"With the quality of golfers coming for the tournaments - golf tourists like to come and play where the best play."

Four new courses have opened in the UAE since October 2009, including two in Abu Dhabi: Saadiyat Beach and Yas Links.

Yas Links has already collected a number of awards, and was named last year by the US Golf Magazine as the fifth best new course in the world.

According to Chris White, its general manager, that has reduced the need for expensive advertising.

He expects the broadcast this week of the Emirates Invitational on the European satellite channel Sky Sports will reduce it still further.

"People have seen Abu Dhabi and Dubai on TV and it almost becomes a must-play. It's recognised," he said.

Similarly, this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship has lifted the profile of the Abu Dhabi Golf Club. Its general manager, Ken Kosak, says golfers here are spoilt for choice.

"You don't attract six of the world's top 10 players without it being a great course," he said.

eharnan@thenational.ae