06 Mar 2023

Tom Phillips: UAE plays a pivotal role in captivating fans around the world

It’s been quite the start to the 2023 calendar year on the DP World Tour, with the UAE once again playing such a pivotal role in captivating fans around the world.

The ‘Desert Swing’ has become a much-anticipated tradition on the golfing calendar, and for the second season in a row, it included an event at Al Hamra Golf Club in Ras Al Khaimah, whilst this year it was also further bolstered by the addition of the Hero Cup, our new team match play event, which proved to be a terrific format to get the year under way.

Featuring ten players from Continental Europe versus ten players from Great Britain & Ireland, the Hero Cup was a concept European Ryder Cup Captain Luke Donald was keen to introduce to aid his preparation for this September’s contest in Rome.

Hosting it in Abu Dhabi made perfect sense, given the popular venue at Abu Dhabi Golf Club allied to the fact that so many players use the UAE as a base for their ‘winter’ training and preparation. Of course, we also had the two Rolex Series events – the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and the Hero Dubai Desert Classic – in the weeks to follow, meaning many of the players opted to play in all three events.

For our team of staff working on the event, it was a relatively short lead time from the Hero Cup being announced in September to it taking place in January, but we were delighted with the reaction of players upon seeing the set up at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. Hopefully for those players, particularly the ones who have not played team golf at that level, it was a hugely beneficial experience, while I know Luke also found it incredibly useful as he continues to learn more about his team and forms his plans to take on the United States at Marco Simone.

World class golf will be on display in Rome in seven months’ time and without doubt, it was across the Rolex Series events in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, with truly dramatic finishes at both tournaments.

Firstly, in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, we saw an early contender for Shot of the Year when France’s Victor Perez – one of the victorious Continental Europe team in the Hero Cup – holed his crucial bunker shot on the 17th hole in the final round en route to his first Rolex Series title. It is a shot that will be replayed in years ahead and the same applies to Rory McIlroy’s decisive 15ft birdie putt on the 72nd hole of the Hero Dubai Desert Classic which, remarkably, sealed his first Rolex Series title.

The tournament means so much to Rory because it was the first Tour title he won back in 2009, and he joined Ernie Els as the only other three-time winner of the famous trophy. History was also made as Rory’s victory came on the first Monday finish in the tournament’s 34 year history following heavy rainfall earlier in the week.

Credit goes to all the greenkeeping staff at Emirates Golf Club for their hard work in preparing the course for the finale following the exceptional conditions we encountered – a real rare occurrence here in Dubai.

Of course, the Monday finish represented few issues for anyone travelling to the next DP World Tour event, which took place in nearby Ras Al Khaimah, and our fourth consecutive week in the UAE was just as eventful and compelling as the previous three.  After twice finding the water on the 72nd hole, Englishman Daniel Gavins holed a 26ft putt for a double bogey to win by a single stroke for his second DP World Tour title. It was, quite simply, a remarkable end to four remarkable weeks in this region.

Thankfully golf fans won’t have to wait too much longer to see more live action in the Middle East with the Challenge Tour set to host back-to-back events in the UAE from April 27-30 and May 4-7. Through our partnership with Emirates Golf Federation, it will offer players from this region the opportunity to test themselves against emerging talent from other countries around the world.

Hopefully, the spectacular performances of the Hero Cup teams, Victor Perez, Rory McIlroy and Daniel Gavins, as well as the other DP World Tour players who competed across Desert Swing, will inspire them to realise their own aspirations of making it on Tour one day.

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