x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Golf's swing on the rise in Middle East

More tournaments and bigger rewards for players is making the region more attractive as the Desert Swing will now be played over four weeks.

Martin Kaymer in action at this year's Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, which he won for a second time. The German will be back in January to defend his title, with the tournament's new sponsorship deal with HSBC meaning there will be a larger prize fund.
Martin Kaymer in action at this year's Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, which he won for a second time. The German will be back in January to defend his title, with the tournament's new sponsorship deal with HSBC meaning there will be a larger prize fund.

Yesterday's significant step up in status by the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, courtesy of funding from HSBC, adds more weight to the long-held view that the Middle East has become a golfing hotbed in every sense of the word. For the first time next year, the Desert Swing will be played over four weeks, rather than the three it became when Abu Dhabi followed Dubai and Doha on to the European Tour calendar in 2006.

The arrival of Bahrain into the big league next January will mean that some of the most famous names in the game will be spending a full month enjoying the playing conditions of the Gulf Region winter. Those globe-trotting luminaries will inevitably be implored to state a preference. Supplying an answer will not be easy. The Dubai Desert Classic has traditionally been the flagship event, partly because of having a much greater history than its neighbours but principally because it was the one to which Tiger Woods has nailed his colours.

Doha, a testing venue for the Qatar Masters since 1998, has proved a tough test for the top professionals and thus has become a genuine rival to the Majlis course at Dubai's Emirates Golf Club. Now it is Abu Dhabi's turn to go tub-thumping. And with good reason. With a venue as impressive as the National Course and the plaudits of the players, organisers are justified in making the boasts that were made at yesterday's lavish sponsorship briefing in the Emirates Palace hotel which the touring players will call home in four months' time when the 2011 tournament takes place.

And Abu Dhabi's hand has become even stronger since the completion of the two excellent courses - one a local version of Pebble Beach, the other a fantastic effort to bring links golf to the Gulf - on Saadiyat and Yas islands. The Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority now has three world-class ways of accommodating European Tour visitors and, unlike its Golf in Dubai counterpart, which is content to keep the Desert Classic on the Majlis, it is keen to capitalise fully on those exciting options.

While the National is the confirmed venue for the 2011 Abu Dhabi tournament, Gary Player's Saadiyat Beach and the Kyle Phillips-designed Yas Links are swiftly being promised a piece of the action, possibly as early as 2012 and possibly simultaneously. Indeed, Dayne Lim, a spokesman for ADTA, said that one day he would like to see the tour event played on two of the three courses on alternate days, subject to approval by European Tour bosses.

A precedent has been set at the Dunhill Links in Scotland, but few tournament directors have followed suit in showing a desire to settle 72-hole events on more than one course. The ambitious plans demonstrate that Abu Dhabi has no intention of resting on its laurels, especially with Bahrain now in the battle for supremacy.

A week before one of the most eagerly awaited Ryder Cups in recent memory, there is little doubt which of the two teams is getting the better warm-up for the Celtic Manor confrontation in Wales. All eight of the American players who qualified automatically for their 12-man team have endorsed qualified for the lucrative PGA Tour Championships which offers a restricted entry to the top 30 Fed-Ex Cup points scorers in these lucrative end-of-season play-offs. Only Luke Donald of Colin Montgomerie's European team has made it into this illustrious bunch who will be competing for a first prize of US$1.35m (Dh4.96m) out of a prize pool of $7.5m.

You can argue both ways in advance of the sport's biggest matchplay event about whether it is preferable to put the mind and body through so much stress a few days before having to play up to five rubbers. That said, Corey Pavin is likely to feel his men have a match-sharpness edge over Montgomerie's dozen ahead of the big match. @Email:wjohnson@thenational.ae