Once again, the spotlight is on the Emirates Golf Club this week as the popular venue hosts this year's Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
The event, which was first held in 1989 and became the UAE's first grass golf course, goes from strength to strength every 12 months with the world's best competing for the prestigious trophy.
The golfing environment is one that continually attracts stellar names, with the course, climate and central location of EGC in Dubai making it a must-stop event for many on the European Tour.
"For the players, the Majlis course is one that provides challenges on every hole but it's also quite playable," tournament director Graham Glynn told Sport360.
Known as ‘The Desert Miracle’ when the course opened to world acclaim in March 1988, Emirates Golf Club continues to impress all those who visit – not least the star-studded field that will tee off on Thursday at the 29th Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
With a winners list that includes the likes of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Ernie Els and the legendary Seve Ballesteros, it’s a tournament that welcomes the very best from around the world, as the players bid to make a positive start to the year.
Two-time Omega Dubai Desert Classic winner McIlroy ranks Emirates Golf Club – and its annual tournament – as one of his favourites.
“Dubai is perfect at the time of year that we’re playing. I’ve won there twice and I love the golf course at the Emirates. It’s a great place to start the year,” the Northern Irishman said recently.
But why do the likes of McIlroy find the Omega Dubai Desert Classic so enjoyable?
“Part of the lure for the players is the history of the tournament, which is so rich with stories,” said Tournament Director Graham Glynn. “It was the first European Tour event outside of Europe in 1989, and we have a wonderful list of previous champions.
“For the players, it’s one of those courses that provides challenges on every hole, but it’s also quite playable. It’s a fair golf course. There’s nothing there to catch them out, but if you’re not at your best, you’ll get punished.”
The first grass golf course in the Middle East when it opened 30 years ago, Emirates Golf Club continues to innovate and revolutionise, with the introduction of state-of- the-art floodlights overlooking the combined ninth and 18th green ahead of this year’s tournament the latest example.
While the Emirates Golf Club facilities and the surrounding Dubai landscape have transformed in the years since its inception, and will continue to do so year-on- year, the course itself remains very much the same. Technological advancements and the players’ ability to strike the golf ball further have not stopped this from being a course that provides a unique test at every hole, but rewards those who play smartly, and crucially, play well.
As Glynn explains: “I think it’s a testament to the design by Karl Litten, that players can hit the ball 60 or 70 yards longer now than when the course was built back in 1988, but this course still challenges them.
“The players can’t hit 350 yards straight on every hole, so sometimes they have to leave the driver in the bag, take out an iron and think about their shot. Too many courses nowadays don’t challenge players that way.
“The front nine is very tough. When you come to five and six, then eight and nine, players are happy to get through there with par, but they’ve got opportunities to make birdies on the back nine. That’s exciting for everybody, because fans want to see players going for it, and this course gives players that opportunity.”
But Glynn also believes the off-field support provided by Emirates Golf Club staff is another key reason why the Omega Dubai Desert Classic attracts such a strong field every year.
“Not only are the facilities excellent here, but we provide a top courtesy car service, great hotel accommodation through Jebel Ali Resorts and Hotels and we are on hand to assist players and their families with whatever they need,” he added.
“Whether it’s tickets to the opera, swimming with dolphins or desert safaris, we will book them in and organise all the arrangements to ensure players take home the best memories of their time in Dubai.”
Over 50,000 fans attended last year’s tournament, which was won by Sergio Garcia, and Glynn is expecting that number to increase this time around. What’s more, they are hoping the attendance of McIlroy’s close friend and global superstar Niall Horan, will help attract a new crowd for the first time.
Everyone who purchases a ticket for the tournament will be entered into a prize draw to join the duo for an Omega Constellation Clinic on the Friday evening.
“Anyone involved in golf these days understands the pressure to grow the game,” Glynn added.
“Niall does give us opportunities to target a market that were perhaps not golf-orientated in the past and we’re going to appeal to a younger audience. He’s not just a singer who is coming to a golf tournament, he’s got a genuine interest in golf and a real passion for it. His fans will hopefully come down and get involved, and if we can convert even one per cent to pick up a golf club and play golf then that would be great.”
Ahead of the Dubai Desert Classic that starts on Thursday, we look at six star players set to shine.
Who do you think will win?
World Ranking: 11
2017 Dubai Desert Classic result: DNP
Best results in 2017: Runner-up (BMW SA Open, British Masters)
Last five tournaments: MC-T58-2-T63-T3
Last five years at Dubai: DNP-T9-1-T6-DNP
Few would bet against McIlroy to win his third Dubai Desert Classic title given his impressive third place finish in Abu Dhabi last week following a three month break due to injury.
The Northern Irishman trained in Dubai in the off-season and loves conditions here, and will be a key contender to win again this weekend.
World Ranking: 9
2017 Dubai Desert Classic result: Winner
Best results in 2017: Winner (Dubai Desert Classic, The Masters, Andalucia Valderrama Masters)
Last five tournaments: 1-T4-T19-T24-1
Last five years at Dubai: T17-DNP-MC-DNP-1
The reigning Masters champions had a strong start to the season with a win in Singapore.
His adaptation to his new Callaway clubs has been easy and he looks high on confidence after a successful 2017 campaign.
Expect a strong title defence from the Spaniard.
World Ranking: 12
2017 Dubai Desert Classic result:
Best results in 2017: Winner (Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, HNA Open de France)
Last five tournaments: T10-T21-6-T3-1
Last five years at Dubai: T10-MC-T47-T50-MC
Fresh from his win in Abu Dhabi last week, the Englishman has to be considered as one of the top five players in the world over the past twelve months – based on form and confidence in pressurised situations.
If he doesn’t finish in the top five, the European No1 is going to embark on the season of his career in 2018 regardless.
A class act.
World Ranking: 10
2017 Dubai Desert Classic result:
Best results in 2017: Winner (Wyndham Championship)
Last five tournaments: T51-T2-T35-17-8
Last five years at Dubai: T26-T29-T13-T6-2
The 41-year-old finished second last year on a course he knows like the back of his hand.
A top ten finish in Abu Dhabi last week has sharpened his game and his ball-striking will be a menace as he bids to win the title for a second time.
World Ranking: 28
2017 Dubai Desert Classic result: T5
Best results in 2017: Winner (Omega European Masters)
Last five tournaments: T11-T8-12-T19-T3
Last five years at Dubai: DNP-DNP-MC-T45-T5
Fitzpatrick made a strong start to his season with a third place finish in Abu Dhabi and his game looks in outstanding shape.
The 23-year-old may have missed the cut in 2015 but played superb at the venue last year, finishing in a tie for fifth.
Expect the Sheffield man to finish in the top 10 on Sunday.
World Ranking: 17
2017 Dubai Desert Classic result: DNP
Best results in 2017: Winner (CIMB Classic)
Last five tournaments: T5-T24-T34-T4-T21
Last five years at Dubai: DNP-DNP-DNP-DNP-DNP
A late bloomer, 41-year-old Pat Perez is playing the golf of his career.
Having clawed back from shoulder injury, the Arizona native posted seven top-10 finishes in 2017, including victory at CIMB Classic in Malaysia – and recently moved up to 17th in the world rankings.
Could he be a surprise inclusion in Jim Furyk’s Ryder Cup team this year?