The landscape of golf in Dubai is set for a massive change with Falcon Golf, a subsidiary of Falcon and Associates, taking over the ownership and management of Omega Dubai Desert Classic and the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters, as well as sponsoring the Race to Dubai on the European Tour.
An agreement has been signed between ‘golf in DUBAi’ and Falcon Golf, and will become effective April 1, 2017. An understanding with the European Tour has already been reached, which saw the launch of the new Race to Dubai logo during the season-ending DP World Tour Championship last year.
While Falcon Golf’s main objective is to tell the Dubai story internationally with these properties, they will also help with innovative methods to increase golf tourism to the emirate, and assist Emirates Golf Federation in developing junior programs and increasing participation locally.
Peter Dawson, former Chief Executive of The R&A and former Secretary of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, will chair the new organization.
In an exclusive interview with Sport360, Dawson said: “Falcon and Associates was asked to have a look at golf by the Dubai leadership because they recognize that golf is a very important element in the sports economy of the city. I was approached just as I was coming up for retirement with the R&A in the late summer of 2015 and asked if I would agree to help them. So, here I am.
“Trying to keep in line with everything Dubai does, the objective at Falcon Golf is to have everything world-class and to use golf to tell the Dubai story to the world.”
Professional golf in Dubai will experience the biggest change from the move, with plans that will affect the Dubai Desert Classic and the Dubai Ladies Masters.
“We have three top-level golf tournaments in Dubai. We have reached an agreement with ‘golf in DUBAi’ that Falcon Golf will take over the hosting and organizing of their events. We will have David Spencer on board with us in a consulting capacity, and Mohamed Juma Buamim (vice-chairman and CEO of ‘golf in DUBAi’) will be the honorary president of the tournament. We very much recognize the role he has played in laying the foundation of these great events,” said Dawson, who played a critical part in golf getting back into the Olympics.
“The idea with the event is that we organize it to the highest standard. Don’t get me wrong…these two events are already very good. But we do have some ideas about investment in infrastructure and so on to make them even better. They are great events on the respective Tours, and we intend to make them stronger.
“I thought the Race to Dubai was an asset that was not being utilized properly. It is a great vehicle to tell the Dubai story internationally, because the European Tour visits 26 countries. It’s something that is fantastically well named that we can at Falcon Golf use and also allow some Dubai companies, who see a benefit in telling their stories to these markets, to come on board and be part of the Race to Dubai.
“The season-ending tournament is run by the European Tour and will continue to do so.”
The 11 golf courses in Dubai are also expected to benefit from the formation of Falcon Golf.
Dawson added: “The other leg of this, is to coordinate incoming golf tourism to Dubai a bit better. Really, I don’t know any other place where all golf courses are of such high quality. But it isn’t all that easy for a tourist to book tee times, know everything about the courses, etc.
“We have had discussions with every venue here. We have engaged Peter Walton of International Association of Golf Tour Operators (IAGTO). He has submitted an excellent report and all the venues are buying into it. We will be hiring a manager for golf tourism to help the golf courses here to coordinate the story, and then eventually develop an integrated booking system for them.
“And the last piece, and this is something that is very dear to my heart, is to work together with Emirates Golf Federation in helping with junior development programmes and help increase the local participation. That will be very much an assistance role.”
Dawson said the two golf courses owned by Dubai government – Emirates Golf Club and Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht club – will not come under the purview of Falcon Golf. They will be continue to be operated by Dubai Golf, a subsidiary of wasl.
It was a bittersweet week for Rayhan Thomas as he ended his Omega Dubai Desert Classic debut with a final-round 74 that tied him for the 60th place at three-over par.
The 17-year-old Dubai-based schoolboy said he was delighted with how the four days went at Majlis course, but admitted he could have done better.
“Great week. Obviously, making the cut was nice but played some really good golf and was good to see I was around there in the mix,” said Thomas, who made it to the tournament after winning the MENA Golf Tour Amateur Order of Merit.
“I made 18 birdies in the tournament, which is good. But I also made a lot of mistakes. I could have definitely done better if I was slightly better in handling my mistakes.”
On Sunday, he got off to a poor start with two bogeys in his first four holes, but fought back to one-under par at the turn, having started from the 10th tee. On the front nine of the golf course, which was playing decidedly tougher, he made three bogeys.
“The final round was good. I started off a bit rough with two over after four, but then made three birdies on the way and was one-under,” he added.
“But my putting went cold over the back nine to finish two-over for the day. Otherwise, was pretty happy with it. Played pretty good but didn’t putt great.”
Asked about the lessons he learnt from a week like this, Thomas added: “I learnt just how to manage the golf course. These guys are obviously great players and I played with some really good players this week. So, learnt a lot – course management, how to deal with it, the routine, how to deal with external pressures.
“Obviously, you got to go here and there, talk to the media, sign autographs, which is new. I was just dealing with all that and I enjoyed it a lot. Being the centre of attention is always nice.”
Thomas played the final round in the company of last year’s winner and reigning Masters champion, Danny Willett, and enjoyed his time with the Englishman.
“It was great. He is a great guy and he really played well. I mean, he didn’t play great but he was still able to shoot two-under, which was something good to watch and learn,” said Thomas.
“I learnt a few things about the way he played the course. And he’s a great guy to play with.”
The class of Sergio Garcia was never in doubt. But following his dominating win at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic this week, that same question is bound to be raised again: when will he finally win a major championship?
The simple answer is: if he plays the way he did at the Majlis course for the four days, that is very much within the realms of possibility.
Garcia was simply imperious at the tournament. He hardly put a step wrong, and if he made mistakes, he quickly rectified it. His ball-striking was brilliant, evident by the fact that he led the greens in regulations stat, and his famous short game was on song. The Spaniard was the complete package.
When you have won so many tournaments, you also cannot be accused of not being strong mentally. Garcia, as well know and love, is an emotional person, but when it comes to golf, he is not weak-hearted.
A lot of things go into winning a major championship. Luck and timing plays a huge role, unless you happen to be as blessed with talent as Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy. Obviously, Garcia has also been a little unlucky that he is playing in the era of the last two mentioned.
But Garcia is in a happy zone right now outside the golf course, and that is bound to show on his performance inside the ropes.
Golf swing and form are dependent on so many different things that it is hard to keep everything intact over a protracted period of time. Hopefully, Garcia has found the secret of keeping it together for the foreseeable future.
Stenson would be disappointed on not picking up his second Dubai Desert Classic trophy, but his early-season form is pleasing.
For the past few years, he seemed to struggling in the Desert Swing a bit, but that was definitely not the case this year as he finished inside the top-10 in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and runner-up here now.
One of the biggest success stories of the week, undoubtedly, was the 17-year-old Dubai-based amateur Rayhan Thomas.
He qualified for the tournament by merit as the Amateur Order of Merit winner of the MENA Golf Tour, and cemented his place as the poster boy of the Tour by becoming only the second UAE-based amateur to make the cut.
There were three phases in the tournament when his world-class potential stood out.
The first when he showed absolutely no nerves in his opening round four-under par 68. The second was when he made played his first three holes of second round in par in howling wind conditions. And the third when he made at least three crunch putts on the back nine on Saturday to ensure he made the cut after a terrible start to his remaining second-round holes.
The home-grown star has given the MENA Tour, and the UAE golf fans a lot to cheer, and he is surely the one to watch for in the future.
Also deserving of applause during the week was the superb work by the maintenance staff of Emirates Golf Club.
Following the high winds that forced suspension of play on Friday, that uprooted trees and blew tonnes of debris on to the greens and fairways, Craig Haldane and his team somehow managed to work through the night and when play resumed on Saturday, the course looked spick and span.
With the tournament, another successful Desert Swing has come to an end. Here’s looking forward to the next year.