21 Jan 2017

Middle East’s Marshal Maestro Bernard Dowling bows out

“When God brought this role onto me, he couldn’t have put anything better into my pocket,” says Bernard Dowling – the proudest marshal you could meet. The 78-year-old is well-known in the UAE and will be sorely missed when he hangs up his paddle after the Omega Dubai Desert Classic – which will be his 22nd successive year working at the tournament.

The Yorkshireman is an amiable character that has played a vital part in helping the Middle East golf events grow and run so smoothly for more than two decades. This would never have been the case if he wasn’t egged on by his children to apply for a position at the 1996 Desert Classic, the year after his first taste of the event when Fred Couples lifted the famous ‘coffee pot’ trophy.

“My children suggested I should try and be a marshal for the tournament five days before it started,” Dowling recalls. “Next thing you know I was speaking to a gentleman from Emirates Golf Club. He said, ‘Can I help you?’ I responded, ‘I think it might be a long shot but I’d like to work as a marshal. He answered: ‘You must be psychic. Two people have just cried off from the job because they have to go to Hong Kong.’ I couldn’t believe it, ‘So there’s an opening? For how long? One day?’ The man replied, ‘One day! Would you like to come for all five?’ I thought, am I dreaming this? So, I answered, ‘I’d love to.’

“Next thing you know, he told me where to go for the seminar, to make myself known and said ‘welcome aboard’. That’s how the journey began 21 years ago.”

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The charismatic marshal has been associated with the UAE golf scene ever since. Aside from 21 Desert Classics, he has also worked as a marshal at seven Abu Dhabi HSBC Championships, one Omega Dubai Ladies Masters and all eight DP World Tour Championships. His friendliness, reliability and hard-working attitude have gained him an army of admirers along the way and led to one of his proudest moments in 2005.

“I’d been out with Sergio Garcia in the Desert Classic Pro-Am and it couldn’t have been a better day,” he recounts. “I came in past the Chief Marshal’s office and she told me to come and see her once I had finished my lunch. I immediately thought I was in trouble.

“I couldn’t work out how such a brilliant day could turn out this way. I went in after lunch and there was a sort-of ‘Commons Select Committee’ seated in a circle and just one seat free which was, I guessed, for me. Being a true Yorkshireman and calling a spade a spade, I said: ‘Before I sit down, please can you tell me what have I done wrong?’

“The Chief Marshal replied, ‘‘There’s nothing wrong whatsoever. We’ve actually been monitoring you in all different categories like your timing, appearance, actions, respectability etc. because you know Elizabeth, our first tee marshal is leaving us this year?’

“This was something that I was upset about because she had been an absolute gem to me and taught me everything. The Chief Marshal continued, ‘We’ve had a big talk for two hours and come to an unanimous agreement that we’d like to welcome you onto the first tee in the Dubai Desert Classic.’

“I thought, ‘I can’t believe this. It’s everybody’s absolute dream to do the first tee and this is my chance.’ I replied, ‘You haven’t got to ask me twice!’”

It wasn’t just the Emirates Golf Club-based event where Bernie took control of the first tee alongside renowned starter, Ivor Robson, and golf’s biggest stars. The proud Sheffield man also had the honour at the European Tour’s season-ending finale and was “absolutely over the moon” when he received an email enquiry saying: “After what we’ve seen and heard about you Bernie at the Desert Classic, we would love you to marshal on the first tee in the inaugural DP World Tour Championship, too, in November 2009.”

“Now I’ve done all eight of the tournaments which I’m both proud of and feel blessed about. It’s a fantastic feeling, knowing you’ve been part of it since the start and I’ve got nothing but praise for everybody involved.”

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Among golf’s elite

The thrill of meeting some of golf’s biggest names is something that Bernie will never forget. He can’t wait to see Dustin Johnson for the first time at Abu Dhabi to add to his list of star encounters – most of whom he now classes as friends. “Around 2000, it was every golf fan’s dream to see Tiger Woods in action,” says Bernie.

“I was very fortunate to watch him and then two years later I got to chat to him in the clubhouse. Everybody was envious of that. But going back to 1997, the person that really got the better of my emotions was Seve Ballesteros. I thought he was absolutely awesome. What a wonderful character to meet that showed respect to people even to people like me! He was such a lovely man.

“In the new era, Justin Rose and Lee Westwood are two that I hold in the highest regard. Lee always asks how my family is when I see him and so does Rory McIlroy. I could go on and on but the majority of the present players know me by my name so I feel so privileged and humble to be able to say that.”

When the Desert Classic returns on February 2, it will be his 13th time in this treasured first tee spot – and unfortunately his last. It will be a sad moment, both for Bernie and all associated with the event. “Everything has to come to an end at some point,” he says. “I just have to remember how lucky I have been to be part of all these phenomenal events.

“However, I want to finish at the top rather than suffer with age where I can’t perform my job properly. That’s just how I am.”

That’s a fitting testament to the character that Bernard Dowling is.

One of the true gems of the UAE golf tournament scene may soon be gone, but he’ll certainly never be forgotten.

By Scott Grayston

On Ivor Robson

Ivor was the perfect man. I remember coming to the first DP World Tour Championship in 2009 and standing near the first tee and who was standing there – the great Ivor Robson. What a man. He made me feel at home right from the start. After I told him my name he said, “Welcome aboard Bernie. I’m sure we can get on!” He is the perfect gentleman that I will always remember right until the day I die.

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