It would be fair to say that it’s been a whirlwind 10 months since Greg Sproule took up the position of Chief Executive Officer of Falcon and Associates last September. The Canadian, who was with IMG for 25 years, 13 of them in the Middle East establishing the regional office and overseeing the hugely successful growth of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, made an immediate impact when he implemented a raft of enhancements for the 30th Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
Improvements to the hospitality offering, Pro Am experience and F&B, along with significantly cheaper tickets, proved to be a big hit with spectators and stakeholders. He then had the not-insignificant challenge of replacing retiring tournament director David Spencer who had been in the role for six years. Enter Simon Corkill, who will look after both the Desert Classic and the rebranded ladies event, the Omega Dubai Moonlight Classic. And it is the latter that has undergone the most dramatic facelift after replacing the old Omega Dubai Ladies Classic.
This year’s event moved dates from its traditional December slot to early May. It also featured the first ever ‘day night’ format in a professional golf tournament. Played on the Emirates Golf Club’s floodlit Faldo course for the first time, after many years on the Majlis, each round took place partially in the daytime, and partially at night under the dramatic glow of the Faldo’s stunning new LED lights. The format was also shortened to 54 holes with more emphasis placed on the Pro Am – the amateurs joining the pros for the final two rounds of the tournament and gaining a unique experience of tour golf in the process.
We caught up with Sproule to get his reflections on the revamped ladies event and find out what the future holds for Dubai’s golf scene.
Worldwide Golf: Now that the dust has settled, give us your reflections on the inaugural Omega Dubai Moonlight Classic?
Greg Sproule: Based on the feedback we have received from the players, the LET, our partners, stakeholders and our guests, we feel it was a great success and are very pleased with how it all went. Even mother nature cooperated with unseasonably beautiful weather!
WWG: It was a bold move to introduce so many changes at once – with the shortened 54-hole ‘Pro Am’ format, the switch to the Faldo, the date change, and of course, the day-night concept. What was the reason for this – was it felt the existing event needed a refresh or was it more about showcasing the Faldo’s night golf and Dubai’s range of options as a golf destination?
GS: The changes were needed for the reasons you suggest, and more. We listened carefully to the feedback last year from our stakeholders in terms of what was popular in the past and what should be celebrated in a new concept. David Spencer deserves much credit for making these bold moves, and our friends at Emirates Golf Club also deserve recognition for going on this journey with us to properly showcase another gem in Dubai’s golf portfolio.
WWG: With that in mind, it must have been disappointing that there was no live TV coverage of the event – what was the reason for this and is this something you’d like to build on for next year?
GS: Live coverage wasn’t in the planning at all this year. What we wanted to do was establish a strong event foundation from which to grow and improve on. We, on purpose, leaned more on our social media platform – which delivered great results – and on our TV highlights package. We will revisit the television discussion in the future, but only if and when it makes sense for the event and our stakeholders.
WWG: What has the feedback been from the players who took part in the first ever day-night tournament?
GS: The feedback has been fabulous. The LET players are so good with their Pro Am partners and are so professional both on and off the golf course – they just want to have the stage to showcase their incredible skills and their warm personalities. It was clear in the feedback we received from them that they want more of the golf to take place in the evening – which we will take on-board for next year.
The amateurs felt the same way. They not only enjoyed the two-day Pro Am experience, but the gifting programme (new custom-fit Titleist drivers for every player, and other exceptional gifts) was a very pleasant surprise. Our friends at JA Resorts and Hotels also provided exceptional pre-event hospitality at their Jebel Ali property on the Tuesday evening that was elegant and so respectfully presented. Lastly, our hospitality pavilion overlooking the 18th green of the Faldo course was intimate and visually stunning. These elements were key to what was viewed by all as an important base of success from which to grow in the future.
WWG: What was the impact on spectator numbers in comparison to previous editions of the event?
GS: Candidly, the focus this year was on the two-day Pro Am element, the day/night uniqueness, and the delivery of world-class hospitality on the 18th green. Entry was free this year for all spectators, and we were pleased with the numbers. Spectator numbers weren’t designed to be significant this year, but now that we have the foundation in place in terms of where the appeal of the event rests, we will add more spectator-friendly elements that will address that area next year.
WWG: How big an impact did the new lighting system that was installed on the Faldo in the run up to the event have?
GS: It really wouldn’t have been possible to deliver the event without the new LED lights. We are very grateful to Dubai Golf for making the investment necessary to really showcase what a fabulous feature the new lights really are. Many of our participants had never played under the new lights and repeatedly said they would be coming back for more in the future. That’s music to our ears.
WWG: Were there any complaints from players about having to adjust when the lights went on midway through their rounds?
GS: The lights were turned on early, so it was a gradual and easy transition. Nevertheless, for some who had never played under the lights there were some understandable adjustments for a few shots, but zero complaints. If anything, the comments were consistent that they wanted to play more under the lights.
WWG: The LET has gone through a tough few years – how important is it to come up with innovative attention-grabbing formats such as the Moonlight Classic?
GS: Golf overall needs innovative formats in order to thrive today and in the future, regardless of which Tour. Dubai will witness a whole new era when TopGolf arrives at Emirates Golf Club the middle of next year – so there is a great future for the golf community to expand further into younger and previously difficult-to-reach demographics. The Omega Dubai Moonlight Classic and the Omega Dubai Desert Classic – let alone the DP World Tour Championship – will all benefit from the broadening golf franchise that will emerge.
WWG: What was the thinking behind introducing the Pro Am element and is this something that you think could be expanded upon for events on the LET, Staysure Tour and maybe even the Challenge Tour to help bring something new to the table?
GS: The thinking was to listen to what our partners, stakeholders and guests loved about ladies professional golf. At the top of that list was how enjoyable it was to play with them in the Pro Am, and how sincere the professionals really are. There are many reasons why ladies professional golf so distinguishable, but this point is particularly unique.
WWG: There is always a learning curve with new innovations – what were the key points learned from this year’s event that you will build on for next time?
GS: We’ll further enhance the Pro Am experience so that it’s a must-play within the community, we’ll focus on evolving the 18th green hospitality experience further, we’ll look at trying to enhance our player field, deliver television coverage, create a great on-course spectator hub and some other innovations, but we also recognise the commercial realities of those initiatives. We’re going to be responsive, but we’re also going to be responsible.
WWG: Simon Corkill has just begun his tenure as Tournament Director, taking over from David Spencer – what can we expect him to bring to the role?
GS: David gave so much of his heart, his creativity and his energy to Dubai; we already miss him, and wish him nothing but the very best in his retirement.
Simon brings such an impeccable background of experience in golf event management that the Omega Dubai Desert Classic and the Omega Dubai Moonlight Classic will benefit from greatly. Simon’s experience in delivering The Presidents Cup, the World Cup, many European Tour, LPGA, Asian Tour, LET and special events – will bear great fruit for Dubai. Having said that, his skills aren’t limited to just golf, so we will embrace his input from other culinary, non-sport and other sporting events that can broaden even further the reason why people will want to come to our events in the future. I have no doubt this will be an exciting journey.
WWG: What else does Falcon have in the pipeline that will help to enhance Dubai’s profile on the world golfing map?
GS: We take seriously our responsibility to deliver the best golf events in the most spectator-friendly and commercially sustainable manner we possibly can for Dubai and our stakeholders. We’re in a variety of discussions that are exciting, but we’ll leave sharing those details to the right time down the road.