x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Pro-am is dreaming of Tour status

The organisers of today's fourth Al Naboodah Invitational say expanding the Emirates' range of tournaments is inevitable.

Lee Westwood, right, and his caddy Billy Foster discuss a shot during the weekend at the Abu Dhabi Championship.
Lee Westwood, right, and his caddy Billy Foster discuss a shot during the weekend at the Abu Dhabi Championship.

DUBAI // Despite a hat-trick of European Tour events, including the season-ending Dubai World Championship, already being staged on UAE courses every year, the organisers of today's fourth Al Naboodah Invitational say expanding the Emirates' range of tournaments is inevitable. In its largest staging to date, this year's Invitational sees more than 40 European Tour professionals, including the continent's No 1 golfer Lee Westwood, reigning Dubai Desert Classic champion Rory McIllroy and the Spaniard Sergio Garcia, tee-off alongside local corporate partners of the Emirati business and golf fanatic Abdullah al Naboodah - the tournament creator.

Novelty, however, is far from the principal objective of what is now the region's leading stand alone pro-am event. The goal is to evolve into a 72-hole Middle East version of golf's two other pro-am mainstays: the European Tour's Alfred Dunhill Links and US PGA Tour's Pebble Beach National. "We're looking to progress to official Tour status within three to five years," said James Bowring, Al Naboodah's director of golf.

"We believe it can. Tournaments are increasingly looking for ways to give back to their sponsors and our format, which is similar to the Dunhill Links event, does that. People want to be involved and savour the full experience." Persuading the European Tour's schedulers to include another regional date to a calendar that already takes in early-season rounds in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Qatar, should not, believes Bowring, prove too difficult in the long term.

"We'd look to position the Invitational at a different time of the year, away from the Desert Swing - there's too much going on with those three events already," he said. "But there is no reason why the Invitational cannot become an event, like Dunhill Links or Pebble Beach, in its own right. "We can be the regional equivalent of those tournaments. "The European Tour are very interested, as they see the region as a progressive and developing part of the world."

While the Invitational's evolution rumbles on, Bowring maintains that the desire shown by some of Europe's leading players to help turn the event into a globally-renowned pro-am, indicates their approval of another UAE test. "Pre-tournament pro-ams, which are not competitive, are not always enjoyed by professionals," said Bowring. "And yet we have guys wanting to play ours. "Next year we'll be a two-day warm-up event before the Abu Dhabi Championship and we're aiming to become a four-day tournament where the pros can play in an official Tour-sanctioned event in coming years."

emegson@thenational.ae