David Howell: Looking back to where it all began in the Middle East

It was good to be back in Dubai again last month as it was 20 years since I won the Dubai Desert Classic at Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club, so I have a special place in my heart for the Creek.

It also happens to be the 20th anniversary of Worldwide Golf. The first time we ever visited the desert was at Emirates Golf Club, and the tournament really does still feel like the Home of the European Tour’s Desert Swing. Every tournament we play in the UAE is fantastic in its own right and we are lucky to have so many excellent tournaments in the Middle East. The Desert Classic is certainly the oldest and the most iconic and the list of champions reads like a “Who’s Who” of European Tour Golf.

Although It’s been engulfed by a forest of skyscrapers, Emirates Golf Club really is the foundation of the remarkable Dubai golf success story. The course was in particularly superb condition, partly due to the Ladies event coming later in the year, and it’s layout that allows all players to play it. You don’t have to be a long hitter to get round, you just need to ‘golf your ball’ as they say! Whenever I visit Dubai on an off-week on my schedule, the Majlis course is always bustling with golfers from all over the world. It’s a very welcoming club that also has floodlit night golf on the Faldo course, which attracts a huge number of players after work and youngsters after school.

 

The evolution of the 8th tee.. 😯 #ODDC2019

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Chris May, Chief Executive Officer of Dubai Golf, which also includes Jumeirah Golf Estates, home of the DP World Tour Championship, has guided the clubs through a succession of innovative initiatives. It was great vision all those years ago to drop a golf course in the middle of the desert and what they’ve gone on to build from that is simply amazing. When you come to Dubai as a golfer it feels like a golfing destination to me. It has been a big part of people’s social lives and a lot of expats have spent much of their time there over the years.

We only played the Classic at the Creek twice and the 18th hole was a brute – at least it was in those days, with water left and right. The 18th at Emirates GC has the water in front of the green but you come into that amphitheatre, which is even better this year. Now they have opened up the stands it has created an even greater atmosphere. The 18th has seen some iconic moments including Tiger Woods holing his putt down the hill to win the title, Colin Montgomerie’s driver off the deck and plenty of eagles to win the title, so it’s had its fair share of exciting moments over the years.

In those early days, the Hard Rock Café on the Sheikh Zayed Highway was the only landmark. If you wanted to fi nd Emirates Golf Club, the instruction, if you were driving from Dubai city centre, was ‘head towards Abu Dhabi and turn left at the Hard Rock Café – you can’t miss it’. It was an amazing building and a good spot while it lasted. It’s hard to believe that we saw it as a skyscraper – when you consider the buildings that engulf the course now, four levels wouldn’t have come close.

All the golfers are gradually coming to terms with the new Rules. The ‘pin in’ rule is a bit easier because there is less messing around with leaving the pin in and/or taking the pin out. When you chip it close and tap it in that definitely speeds things up slightly. Tapping down spike marks is always going to feel strange for me but I think all the rule changes as a package are there to simplify the game and make it slightly less complicated. Hopefully, it will make it a little faster so that has to be applauded on the whole. When you’ve played for so long under the old rules, the very harsh old rules, they almost become a part of you, and for me personally, they will take a bit of getting used to, but for future generations I think it will be a really good thing.

We talk so much about the speed of the game and how long it takes to play a round. I’m actually of a view that we should do all we can to make it a bit quicker but people who play golf don’t actually care that much – it’s the people that they’ve left behind who aren’t playing that care! It can take an entire morning or afternoon, and then you go for a drink afterwards. We get a bad rap as professionals for taking 4 hours and 40 minutes to go round but we can’t really go any quicker because of the way we set up our golf tournaments with the players who are playing. I hope the game can get away from this constant talk about slow play. Ready Golf is what the R&A are encouraging now and that is definitely the way to go. Golf has been around for hundreds of years and people still play and continue to enjoy it.

The 2019 Saudi International

I spoke with Ernie Els about the Royal Greens G&CC opening event last year and he told me it’s an amazing golf course. I’m looking forward to going and seeing for myself a different side of the Middle East rather than in the middle of a vibrant city like Dubai. It’s great that we are visiting these new destinations for our Tour and also for the game. Other parts of the world are taking on golf and are seeing what it can do for a town, city or tourist destination. This first event on the European Tour is the first step for Saudi to establish and grow golf in the Kingdom and I believe that’s got to be good for the game globally.

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