What makes a golf destination special? Is it the golf course? How long a golf course is? How pristine it is? The overall atmosphere of the course? The heritage of the club? What draws golf tourists to a destination?
These past two weeks, I have been on a golf pilgrimage; well, only to two very contrasting destinations. The UK golf story is focused on tradition, heritage; the courses in Scotland are not the most aesthetically correct golf courses in the world, but they have an allure that money just cant buy.
Some of the golf courses on the Open Championship rota hardly irrigate their fairways, they are rugged, the rough is well.. rough, really rough. So, for the UK, heritage and tradition triumph over aesthetics.
On the other hand, in Dubai, its all about what money can buy you. Everything, from the airport to the golf courses speaks to opulence. Can money buy irrigation? Get it. Can we get a 5-star clubhouse? Get it.
Can we have a cooling system under our greens? Get it! Buy it! The golf courses in Dubai are relatively new, the best money can buy, and now perhaps what is left is an injection of heritage and history.
Great financial rewards
Events like the Dubai Desert Classic were formed for exactly that purpose and unspecified amounts of dollars were spent ensuring the likes of Tiger Woods played at the Classic. No monies were spared putting on a great show. And the same has been replicated at the Abu Dhabi Classic.
And in the last eight seasons, the European Tour has included the Race to Dubai, a season long contest through the 47 events on the Tour as staged in 27 different countries. Styled along the same tenets as the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup, the Race to Dubai comes with great financial and other rewards.
For starters, the winner of the Race to Dubai wins The Harry Vardon Trophy, seven years exemption on Tour, and I can assure you that that is priceless and Category One Membership of the European Tour. In many ways, winning the Race to Dubai is like winning one of the golf majors.
The Final Series of the Tour, includes the Turkish Airlines Open, the Nedbank Golf Challenge in S.A and the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. At stake, a total prize kitty of $22m; $7m each in Turkey and S.A and $8m in Dubai.
Lee Westwood was the first winner of the Race to Dubai in 2009, Martin Kaymer was champion in 2010. Luke Donald was the winner in 2011 – and he won the FedEx Cup in the same year, a feat Henrik Stenson would duplicate in 2013.
Rory McIlroy has won all other Race to Dubai contests, in 2012, 2014 and 2015. McIlroy currently lies third in the 2016 Race to Dubai, behind Danny Willets and Henrik Stenson. Spain’s Rafa Cabrera Bello is fourth and the South African pair of Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace are fifth and sixth respectively.
But will all these investments give Dubai and UAE golf soul? Where will the investment in culture and heritage come from? Only time will tell. For now, Dubai continues to behave in the one way it knows best – going big, really big and throwing huge amounts of cash at every problem.
But I guess staring with great golf courses and magnificent clubhouses is not a bad way to start – the Tour seems to agree anyway.