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Emirates sees a strong future

The United Arab Emirates is not untouched by the recent financial crisis, but despite a few obvious aftereffects, golf in the emirates continues to thrive and progress.

 

In the past one year, not only did the UAE add four new golf courses to its landscape, it also hosted a brand new event on the European Tour. The prize purse of the $7.5 million Dubai World Championship, held in November last year as the finale to the season-long Race to Dubai, may have been reduced from the original $10 million, but it still happened to be the richest tournament on the European Tour.

According to a latest report from KPMG, while most of the European golf courses suffered from a loss of revenue, with Western Europe down 8 per cent and Great Britain and Ireland down 6 per cent, the UAE formed the bulk of Middle East and North Africa region, which clocked higher revenue by almost 4 per cent.

Leading that charge was Abu Dhabi, the oil rich capital city of the UAE which made a clear statement of its intent of becoming a major golf tourism destination by unveiling two distinctly different golf courses – the Gary Player-designed Saadiyat Beach Golf Club and the Kyle Phillips-designed Yas Links Abu Dhabi – this year.

Dubai, which initiated the growth of the game by introducing the first 18-hole grass course in the region just over two decades ago, continued to make news because of its association with the European Tour. Jumeirah Golf Estates launched both its Earth and Fire courses, while the Faldo course at Emirates Golf Club, the sister course to the well-known Majlis, added floodlights on all holes to become the only 18-hole championship-size facility in the country to offer night golf.

Dubai also remains a favourite holiday and practice destination with several Tour players around the New Year. Given the freezing weather in Europe, several players including Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie and Rory McIlroy head to Dubai around Christmas and spend time with their families. They can also get some meaningful practice in glorious weather ahead of the new season, which starts for most of the top stars with the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, the Desert Swing opener.

The congregation of players during the pre-season time also means you can find some of the best golf coaches in town during that period. While Pete Cowen and his academy at Emirates Golf Club remains a favourite with many players like the Dubai-based Henrik Stenson, the Butch Harmon School of Golf at The Els Club in Dubai Sports City is becoming extremely popular because of its high-tech equipment, advanced swing studios and a fully-loaded Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) facility. Claude Harmon, son of Butch, personally oversees the Dubai unit.

Also making a difference to UAE as a golf tourism product is the increasing spread of the golf courses across the various emirates. With the introduction of Yas Links and Saadiyat Beach, there are now five courses in Abu Dhabi, including the recently refurbished Abu Dhabi City Golf Club. Palm Sports Resort in Al Ain is now an 18-hole facility with the recent opening of the back nine.

Sharjah Golf & Shooting Club in Sharjah is an excellent 18-hole course and proving to be a good economic alternate for Dubai golfers. Ras Al Khaimah has two golf courses – Al Hamra Golf Club and Tower Links.

With the worst of the financial crisis behind it, the UAE is looking ahead to 2011 with renewed hope and confidence, and the golf industry is not untouched by this optimism.

Chris May, General Manager, Emirates Golf Club, the premier golf club of the region and the permanent host of Dubai Desert Classic, said: “2011 will be a very exciting year for golf in the UAE in general and the Emirates GC in particular. We have invested heavily in improving our facilities with the assistance of wasl (the asset management group of Government of Dubai, owners of EGC and Dubai Creek). These improvements, like introducing floodlights on the Faldo course and renovation of the clubhouse, will further enhance our reputation as the premier golf club in the region.

“I think we will start to see a recovery in the overseas market and the corporate market throughout 2011 which are the two areas which have been affected by the economic downturn.”

 

Mark Chapleski, Area Managing Director and Vice-President, Troon Golf Middle East, operators of four of the biggest golf clubs in the UAE, including the Saadiyat Beach, is sure the catalyst to this process would be better golf packages.

“Attracting tourists from developed golf markets like the UK, the USA, Japan and Korea is a challenge for all of us. I am not throwing the blame on one segment of the market, but in trying to develop golf packages for the tourists, the hotel rates were completely off the charts. Compared to what rates and packages these tourists get in places like Spain, Turkey, or even Scotland and Ireland, it’s almost half of what they have to pay to come to Dubai and play,” explains Chapleski.

“However this pricing has changed dramatically in the past 18 months for economic reasons and there is a much greater hotel room supply in the UAE, which is very positive for the consumer.

“We really did not have specifically designed golf packages from tour operators. You had golf rounds advertised with desert tours and boat tours as an add-on to airline and hotel packages, but no customized golf packages as such were being marketed for Dubai, and the UAE.   It is changing now – a couple of companies have started offering exclusive golf tours, SNTTA being one of them – and the hotels have realised that they do need to offer more options for their guests to drive the occupancies.  I am optimistic this will not only help the hotels, but the golf courses as well.”

Mohamed Juma Buamaim, vice-chairman and CEO of ‘golf in DUBAi’, organizers and promoters of Omega Dubai Desert Classic and Dubai Ladies Masters, believes the hard work in the past is already bearing fruits for the UAE.

Argues Buamaim: “This is a passing phase, and I am sure UAE golf will come out stronger as a product. What better example do you need than the fact that deep into the recession, a multi-national company like Omega decided to become the title sponsors of our tournament? That shows the faith the world has in us.”

No doubt, the UAE has given a lot to the golf world in the last few years. But keep watching this space. Surely, the best is yet to come.



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