While Dubai made headlines last week over its rescheduling of massive debt, from a golf travel perspective it remains an exciting and vibrant city to visit with outstanding hotels and golf courses, plus of course beaches, bars and restaurants. Their state airline, Emirates, covers the globe and offers direct service from a huge number of the world’s principal cities. The weekend before last I made a trip there for the 2009 Dubai World Championship, the final event of the European Tour’s inaugural “Race to Dubai”. We stayed in the Westin Hotel on the beach. It was excellent and I can recommend it highly.
The Race to Dubai is effectively a ramped up version of the European Tour Order of Merit, taking some inspiration from the PGA Tour Fedex Cup, and which brings the leading sixty players together for a season ending event in Dubai with large bonus money at stake.
There was concern expressed in advance in some quarters over the Dubai World Championship due to the level of economic crisis affecting Dubai even before the recent announcement. It did ultimately turn out to be a significant success for the European Tour, although it may have been a little fraught in the lead up in that much of the infrastructure, roadways included, were constructed only shortly before the Tour rolled into town. The tournament itself was splendidly staged with spectators extremely well catered for, the media centre unusually enjoying a grandstand view over the 18th green, and fabulous hospitality also available (I was fortunate to have been a guest of the European Tour for hospitality on the Saturday-:). TV cameras beamed pictures around the world of an exciting contest staged on a beautifully presented golf course, and gave little sight of the massive number of newly built, or half built homes which lay empty and unsold nearby and along the edges of a number of the holes. Vast swathes of empty desert for the remainder of the planned golf courses (Wind, Fire, and Water being the three courses planned to join the current Earth Course) and accompanying hotel and home developments, were also conveniently out of view.
My personal interest in attending the event was in watching a few of the players who have played under my captaincy of the Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup Team over the past 4 years. Of the 58 players in the final starting lineup, four had played or been involved in the squads (Chris Wood, Danny Willett, Ross McGowan and most notably Rory McIlroy) proving that the highest performing amateurs can very quickly go on to compete at the higher levels of pro golf).
Going in to the Dubai World Championship there were four possible Race to Dubai winners in Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Ross Fisher. Leading the race was 20 year old Rory McIlroy seeking to become the youngest winner of the European Order of Merit (now the Race to Dubai) since Seve Ballesteros way back in 1976 won it as a 19 year old. Quickly it became a two horse race between McIlroy and Westwood. Despite a highly creditable third place finish, McIlroy was overtaken by an extraordinarily on form Lee Westwood who shot a final round 64 to carve out a six shot victory and secure the inaugural win of both the Dubai World Championship and the Race to Dubai, taking his 2009 European Tour earnings to €4,237,000 Also playing outstanding golf in the company of Lee Westwood on the final two days, and quietly finishing in second place for the tournament as well as securing 12th place in the Race to Dubai, was the highly impressive Ross McGowan, whose finish here coupled with his win of the Madrid Masters in September, opens up many new doors for him in the golfing world. As our houseguest in July for the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond I was delighted to be in Dubai to witness his success.
On the final evening we attended a small beach party at the Mina A’Salam Hotel hosted by Andrew “Chubby” Chandler, Managing Director of International Sports Management (ISM) to celebrate Lee Westwood’s win. In as much as ISM managed the first, second and third placed players (Westwood, McGowan, McIlroy) it was certainly a night of celebration!
It was a weary group which then took their places on the following morning’s British Airways flight back to London. A few glasses of champagne were however raised in the toasting of the new champion -:)