From its inception 12 years ago to now welcoming the best golfers in the world, the event has come a long way in a short space of time.
Peter German: Tournament director on the remarkable rise of Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship
As the long-standing tournament director of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, presented by EGA, Peter German has been instrumental in its remarkable growth.
He was there at the event’s inception in 2006, and 12 years on feels it has succeeded in its primary purpose. Chiefly, putting Abu Dhabi on the golfing map.
“That was the overarching objective and it’s certainly done that,” German says this week, sitting in the players’ lounge at Abu Dhabi Golf Club ahead of No 13. “Looking at the number of people it attracts, in terms of not only coming to watch, but the television audience and the number of countries around the world who pick up the tournament and view it.
"And just the general attitude of the players towards it. Overall the indicators are we are being very successful.”
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That much is evident again this week. In its 13th year, the tournament will once again welcome some of golf’s best players to the National Course, with world No 1 Dustin Johnson back for the second successive season and four-time major champion Rory McIlroy making his return following almost four months away from competitive action.
They are just two participants in a 126-man field that boasts 16 major-championship titles, 370 European Tour wins and 86 PGA Tour victories. Six past champions are competing.
That has been finessed through time, though. Initially, they were obvious challenges. They were swiftly overcome.
“Getting people to think about Abu Dhabi, because they didn’t know too much about it,” German says. “In the first year, we put all the players up for free in Emirates Palace [Hotel]. They came here and got absolute Rolls Royce treatment. It kind of knocked their eyes out.
“And they not only got great treatment off the golf course, but at it as well. I remember our first champion Chris DiMarco was absolutely amazed and he went back and spread the good word. He couldn’t stop talking about what was happening over here.”
In 2006, the course required refining. A good resort track, and the only golf course in Abu Dhabi, it “lacked a little bite for professionals”. It was enhanced and the pros have come ever since, including a steady flow of elite players across the Atlantic, such as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Johnson.
The appeal is such now that, for the past few years, extra coverage of the first round is beamed into homes on America's west coast during their Wednesday prime time.
“It’s a huge fillip for the tournament, for our sponsors HSBC and EGA, and for Abu Dhabi itself,” German says. “It’s been really good news.
“So we’ve gone beyond those original objectives. We’ve gone beyond making it just a great golf course, and with the help initially of the tourist board and now the Sports Council, by having one of the strongest fields on the European Tour.”
That explains why Abu Dhabi continues to thrive. Typically, the tournament offers eight invites, allowing non-members of the European Tour to tee it up. All the while, the demand increases.
“It’s becoming easier to sell to players because of the reputation of the tournament,” German says. “And the players love competing against the best. So the better the top-level players you have the easier it is to fill up the field.
“Everybody’s aware of it now. That’s one of the indicators of how successful it’s been: the number of people who want to play. We’ve had some marvellous players and they've all been so supportive of the event. We’ve very lucky in that respect. But then, we treat the players very well here, too.”