01 Mar 2017

Falcon Golf – Taking Dubai to new heights

PETER DAWSON, former R&A Chief Executive, who has taken up the role of Chairman of the newly formed Falcon Golf to oversee what promises to be a game-changing period for Dubai at home and abroad, talks exclusively to Worldwide Golf’s Richard Bevan.

 

Revolution

There’s a revolution taking place in the Dubai golf industry and it’s good news for all lovers of the game. For years now Dubai has been synonymous with world-class golf courses, facilities and tournaments. Near perfect weather conditions for nine months of the year and some of the best hotels, facilities and attractions in the world make the emirate an obvious choice for a golfing holiday. For those of us based in the region, we are spoilt for choice when it comes to selecting venues to satisfy our golfing passions.

 

$131 Million Economic Impact

Indeed, a Deloitte report which was released in 2015 revealed that the economic impact of golf to Dubai was a staggering US$131 million. But a recurring issue has always been the lack of a centralised body creating the coordination between golf clubs, stakeholders, tourist board, hotels and airlines in order to maximise the enormous potential for Dubai to establish itself as one of the premier golfing destinations on the global stage, as well as also providing the finest possible offering for residents.

Falcon Golf

Enter Falcon Golf. An affiliate of Falcon and Associates, a strategic advisory company working on behalf of the Dubai leadership, it was set up in recognition of golf’s ever-increasing importance to the emirate. The new division aims to use the sport to “tell Dubai’s story on the world stage” as well as work with existing bodies such as the Emirates Golf Federation to encourage and increase participation from the local market, especially among juniors. 

 

Omega Dubai Desert Classic

Not only that, they’re are taking over the running of the Middle East’s oldest tournament, the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, as well as the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters. It’s clear that such a major task requires an experienced hand at the helm, and they don’t come much more experienced than Peter Dawson. Previously the Chief Executive of the R&A as well as Secretary at the ‘Home of Golf’, The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, the Scotsman has taken up the role of Chairman of Falcon Golf to oversee what promises to be the most exciting period for the game ever witnessed in the region.

 

Dubai Leadership

“The Dubai leadership were very keen to enhance Dubai’s position in the world through sport,” says Dawson. “They recognise that golf is an important sport for the region and the Deloitte report highlights just how big an element of Dubai’s sporting landscape golf is.

 

 

Dubai story

“The Leadership wanted to ensure that everything about golf in Dubai was as good as it could be and that we could use the sport to tell the Dubai story around the world. Falcon and Associates was asked to take a look at this – they approached me and I was privileged to come and do what I can to help. I think the formation of Falcon Golf is a real indicator that we’re on the road to making sure that golf is really punching its weight for Dubai.”

DP World Tour Championship

Eight years ago, the European Tour’s season-long rankings were re-branded as the ‘Race to Dubai’ with players competing throughout the year for a place in the US$8 million DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates, open only to the top 60 players.

Dawson believes that this asset provides the perfect vehicle to achieve one of Falcon Golf’s objectives of “telling the Dubai story on the world stage” through the sport.

 

Race to Dubai

The first sign of Falcon Golf’s influence on the Race to Dubai was the unveiling of a new logo at last year’s DP World Tour Championship which now incorporates the emirate’s official brand. But that’s just the start, with plans in place to maximise the worldwide promotional opportunities offered by the globe-trotting nature of the European Tour International Schedule.

“To have something called the ‘Race to Dubai’ which is in the limelight every week of the golf season on the European Tour is a phenomenal thing to have. Frankly, it hasn’t been used to Dubai’s optimum benefit in the past,” says Dawson.

 

Invite influential people

“We plan to activate that with a steady build up. We’re not going to go to every event in year one but we will go to tournaments in countries that are strategically important to Dubai and set up to tell the Dubai story at these events. We’ll invite influential people and explain what’s going on in the emirate and how attractive it is for business and tourism and as a place to stay.”

 

Run by The European Tour

While the DP World Tour Championship will continue to be run by the European Tour, the Omega Dubai Desert Classic and the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters, formerly staged by ‘golf in Dubai’, will come under the control of Falcon Golf as of next month. David Spencer, “giD’s” Strategic Advisor has been kept on in a consultancy capacity while Vice Chairman and CEO Mohamed Juma Buamim will become ‘Honorary President’ of the tournaments.

“Let me say at the outset that I think both events are very good indeed,” says Dawson. “The way that they have moved forward in the last two or three years has been pretty stellar. That is evidenced by how popular the events are with the players, the standard of the players who come and play and the list of winners each event has had.

“Both events could benefit from some infrastructure investment and, obviously, we’ve got to be sure that these events remain competitive in terms of being attractive for the players to come and play. So those things will be at the forefront of our mind.”

 

 

Boost Golf Tourism

Considering the region’s host of top-class courses and hotels, it’s surprisingly difficult to plan an all-encompassing golfing trip to Dubai remotely. The creation of a centralised portal which showcases everything the emirate has to offer from a golf and tourism perspective is another key part of Falcon Golf’s plans.

“It’s essential to make it easier for potential tourists to book their trip to Dubai,” says Dawson. “It’s something that all the clubs realise would be a benefit.

“The golf facilities, courses and clubhouses from my experience are second to none. Most golf destinations have a proportion of very good courses, but in Dubai they all seem to me to be of an excellent standard, which is wonderful.

 

Booking systems

“We could do with some more joined-up thinking in terms of booking systems to make it easier for visitors to make their arrangements regarding travel, accommodation and golf courses. We need to be able to put together a trip to Dubai more easily than perhaps has been possible in the past. It’s good to know that all the stakeholders are aware of this and are buying into action in this area.

“We had a great report done by Peter Walton, who is the President of the International Association of Golf Tour Operators, making recommendations about what Dubai should do and we’re embarking on that programme.”

 

Local Development

Another element of Falcon Golf’s remit is to look at the issue of local and junior participation in the sport. Dawson is quick to point out that the Emirates Golf Federation are already doing a good job in this area and that Falcon will play a purely supportive role.

“This is one of the Emirates Golf Federation’s responsibilities and we’re not here to usurp them in anyway. We’ll certainly do whatever they want us to do to help. With my R&A background we’ve got access to many of the programmes around the world that I’m aware of. I don’t deny that I’d love to see more Emirati participation in the game and I know that the EGF has a lot of very good grassroots programmes so I’ll see what we can do to help with those. They’re providing leadership in that area already.”

 

Cost of golf in Dubai

Then there’s the issue of the cost of playing golf in Dubai and the lack of more affordable public courses. Dawson believes that in a destination known for exclusivity and luxury, it’s a case of ‘horses for courses’. To be honest, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how strong local demand for golf is, especially among the expat population who tend to treat the golf clubs, to a degree, as social hubs and they get a lot of use,” he says. “Certainly some more affordable facilities for getting people started in the game wouldn’t go amiss.”

 

Positive Plans

The 68-year-old, who spent 16 years at the R&A, had actually retired three months prior to being approached by Falcon and Associates to take up his new role and he jumped at the chance to remain part of the game he loves.

“I retired in September 2015 and I started with Falcon in December of that year,” he says. “You’re never quite sure when you retire, what you want to do and the last thing I wanted to do was to just fall off the edge of the cliff and do nothing. So to be approached by Falcon to continue to be involved in this wonderful game was something I jumped at. I’m very much enjoyong working with Falcon, I’ve also been much encouraged by the warmth of the reception from golf’s stakeholders in Dubai.”

With a raft of positive plans already being put into action and an esteemed figurehead like Dawson steering the ship, the future of the Dubai golf scene looks bright indeed.

Falcon Golf could be a real game-changer for the emirate both at home and abroad.

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