Callum Nicoll, the 33-year-old Operations Manager of The Els Club in Dubai Sports City, has an enviable record that any professional golfer in the region would like to have against their name – in the five years he has been a member of the UAE PGA, he has won the Order of Merit crown in each of those seasons.
We caught up with the affable Scotsman, who has been in the region since 2009 after earlier stints with Turnberry and Prestwick Golf Club, about his triumphs, ambitions and on the general state of golf in the UAE…
Five Order of Merit wins in a row… it must be getting a bit boring for you?!
(With a slightly embarrassed smile) No, not really. Not boring at all. Like last year, this year too the Order of Merit battle was down to the last tournament. As it happened, I needed to win or finish second in the UAE PGA Championship to win the Order of Merit. Because there are more points for the PGA Championship, there were a couple of others who could have caught up with me.
— Emirates Golf Club (@EmiratesGC) May 17, 2015
It was a fight with Anthony (Buchanan, of Yas Links Abu Dhabi). And like last year, I ended up winning the tournament and the Order of Merit.
I shot a two-under par on the first day and Anthony was something like three or four-over. That gave me a nice cushion, and by halfway through the second round, I knew the Order of Merit was pretty much sealed. So, I concentrated on the tournament. But it was exciting for it to be down to the last tournament. That’s what you want.
Do you feel you have improved as a golfer since you moved to the UAE almost six years ago?
My golf was pretty good when I was in Scotland, and I feel it has got better after moving here. Obviously, the practice facilities and the weather out here are great. The golf courses are great and we do play a lot of competitive rounds as part of the UAE PGA season. And not to forget, I get a lot of encouragement and support from Troon and Chris Brown, who is the general manager here at The Els Club.
Are you happy with your decision to move here? Or is there still some ambition left to try and play some of the bigger tours?
Absolutely. Very happy. As I said, what I love most is that I get more quality time to practice. Back home, the weather can be a bit hit and miss on a daily basis.
There is always an ambition to play competitive golf, but I don’t think I am going back to any Q Schools again.
It’s probably past me. But luckily, in this region, we get some chances to play competitively. We can even play European Tour events and I have played in both the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship and the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
— Joy Chakravarty (@TheJoyofGolf) May 16, 2015
I played the Challenge Tour event in Oman, and then there is the MENA Golf Tour.
It’s difficult when you are working, and I think I am at a very good place with my job. My career with Troon Golf and Els Club is getting stronger and stronger. So, I won’t give up competing, but playing on the Tour is no longer a possibility.
Talking of the European Tour events, are you guys in the UAE PGA frustrated that those qualifiers have been taken away?
Look, I can understand the thinking behind the formation of the MENA Tour, and I think it is great for the development of the game in this region. So, the spots have gone to MENA players. But we can always play on the Tour and try to qualify.
None of us have made the cut in the past, but we do have the quality and we can post low numbers on our day. But none of us have any Tour ambitions. So, I think it is good in a way that these spots are going to players who need it more.
What about the UAE PGA? Do you think it’s heading in the right direction? Is there anything that you guys are planning in the future that we should know?
When I came here, Julian (Danby) and Jeff (O’Brien) did some great work with the UAE PGA initially, and then Greg (Holmes) took over. Steven (Munro) is doing a great job with it now. We restructured it a bit and we now have a committee, and I am part of that.
— David Gray (@dggolfdubai) May 17, 2015
We’re in the early stages of talks now, but we want to simplify the process of learning for the guys. And we want to do something that most PGAs want to do – grow the game. Hopefully, we will have a junior league by next year. That is something we are very serious about.
You have an amazing golfing background, in that you have worked at Turnberry, which is easily the most spectacular venue on the Open Championship rota, and Prestwick, where the first Open was played way back in 1860. What about that?
Well… I turned professional and joined the PGA when I was 18, and Turnberry was my first job for almost five-and-a-half years. I was not there during any of the Open Championships, but the hotel, the golf course, the lighthouse… it really is a magical place.
Later, I switched to Prestwick, which is the area where I grew up. I worked part time and played on various mini tours part time. There is so much history associated with the club. It hosted its last Open in 1925, but you just can’t miss the history with all these old pictures on the walls of the clubhouse.
It’s quite a unique golf course too, with lots of blind shots. The first hole, when the first Open was played there, was 567 yards long! Can you imagine that length with the equipment they had then?