x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Dubai WC is better, stronger, greener

Concept of Race to Dubai and the depth of field in the championship has helped rake in sponsorship despite economic climate.

The Dubai World Championship has greater commercial pull since Lee Westwood won last year.
The Dubai World Championship has greater commercial pull since Lee Westwood won last year.

Just as Lee Westwood was handed the oversized winner's cheque worth US$1.25m (Dh4.6m) at the end of the first Dubai World Championship (DWC) last year, a voluble "booing" noise emanated from some wags in hospitality around the 18th green.

It was a sharp satirical pun on the parlous state of the global economy at the time. By the following weekend, it seemed more like gallows humour.

While the European Tour's finest were still reflecting on the maiden campaign of the flagship Race to Dubai, Dubai World announced it was seeking to delay debt repayments on its $59 billion of liabilities.

The fallout would be felt most keenly far beyond the greens of Jumeirah Golf Estates. The hindrance felt by the good luck gang who hit a ball around a course for vast sums of money would only ever be relatively small.

However, some predicted there would not be a second DWC, and that the Race to Dubai itself would be a short-lived concept.

But Westwood's cheque did not bounce. His wife, Laurae, is unlikely to have missed out on the new pair of Jimmy Choos he said she had already picked out in the aftermath of his victory.

And, according to the DWC organisers, the tournament now has even greater commercial pull, as evidence by an expanded portfolio of corporate partners.

"Having got the inaugural tournaments under our belts and with people seeing it was a success, it has enabled us to expand even further," Colin Smith, the director of the DWC, said.

"In terms of the commercial programme, our number of partners is stronger than last year. In terms of the number of companies we have filled out from last year.

"The main reason for this is that the Race to Dubai as a concept has really gathered pace. Whilst these sponsors are for this event, not the Race to Dubai itself, the build-up to the Dubai World Championship has added much in the way of media coverage and exposure for the sponsors of this tournament as well."

To support Smith's point, the tournament organisers yesterday announced an agreement with Toshiba, the Japanese electronics company.

Toshiba's presence in the UAE's sporting community is growing, having signed a deal to become the shirt-front sponsor of Fabio Cannavaro's Al Ahli Pro League club earlier this season. Now they have added the European Tour's richest golf tournament to their portfolio.

"The Dubai World Championship is a tournament that allows Dubai to attract global attention and make headlines in Europe and around the world," a spokesman for the company said.

"It's a great platform for Toshiba and we would like to leverage the power of this tournament to accelerate awareness building for Brand Toshiba all over the world."

Toshiba's official status is as a "supporter" of the tournament, the lowest of four tiers of corporate partnerships for the event.

At the apex of the sponsorship pyramid, DP World are the official "presenting partner", while on the next rung down, BMW, Rolex and Emirates are premium sponsors.

The attendance at this weekend's tournament is, on the basis of online applications for season tickets, expected to exceed the 60,000 which attended the Earth Course's maiden tournament, a year ago.

The $7.5m purse, plus the same again for the pool of top 15 players in the Race to Dubai, is the same as it was back then. That means it can still be considered the richest tournament on the European Tour, although not in all of golf.

It is still 25 per cent less, though, than the initial deal announced in 2007, which was renegotiated last year in order to be "reflective of the new economic environment".

"We were confident it would carry on and we could still build on the momentum we had," Smith said.

"It is great that we have been able to do that for at least the next two years. As a concept, it has gone from its first year into at least two more years, and we were always very optimistic that would happen."

Despite the economic challenges faced in its as yet brief lifespan, Smith is certain the Race to Dubai format has been a boon to golf.

What is for certain is that the European Tour has rarely been in such rude health. This weekend's field accounts for four of the most sought after trophies in golf.

Martin Kaymer, Louis Oosthuizen and Graeme McDowell are in possession of three of the four major titles, while Europe are the Ryder Cup holders.

Westwood is the world No 1 while he, Kaymer and Rory McIlroy each provided a boost to the European Tour when they relinquished their membership of the PGA Tour in favour of the Race to Dubai from next season.

After announcing his decision, last year's Race to Dubai runner-up, McIroy, was quoted saying: "I was turning on the television, watching the European Masters from Switzerland and thinking, 'I'd rather be playing there'."

"They enjoy playing on it and they are committed to it," Smith said. "They have obviously seen what level they can get to by playing on the European Tour. It is great they are continuing to commit to that. I think [the Race] has added a lot more momentum to the season. There is a lot of talk about who is going to be in the top 60 going to Dubai, and this has captured the imagination for the last half of the season."