25 Jul 2019

European Tour’s new Head ME | Tom Phillips: Thinking outside the box

Tom Phillips has a wealth of experience in the global golf industry and is no stranger to Dubai, the UAE and the Middle East. As the newly appointed Head of the European Tour Middle East he takes charge of the Tour’s tournament programme throughout the Middle East region, including the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, Dubai. Here, he talks to Worldwide Golf about the challenge and the future for the Tour in the region.

“For the last three years I have been consulting for Mission Hills in China as Director of Business Development. As the world’s largest golf club with 22 courses they have been pioneers for golf in China. However the owners have made a conscious decision over the last two years to expand and pursue a ‘golf and more’ strategy, which means not only bringing golf to China, but also football, basketball and various other sports, hence their recent strategic partnerships with FC Barcelona and the NBA.

For me, that has been a really interesting experience to work with these huge organisations outside of golf. These are brands which are among the biggest in their class, which are also hugely committed to China.

If you look at the European Tour and their investment into the Middle East over the last 30 or so years you can probably draw some comparisons.

Middle East Expansion

I believe that there is definitely room for further expansion for the European Tour in the Middle East, both in terms of new events but also, perhaps more importantly as we’ve seen recently, new formats of the game.

We had the Jordan Mixed Open in Aqaba which, from my point of view as a golf fan from the outside looking in, seemed to be a huge success.

We’ve had the Belgian Knockout and the GolfSixes and so it’s a really exciting time for golf in that perspective, in exploring different avenues and formats and breaking down some barriers.

Key pillars for the European Tour are inclusivity and innovation and that’s something for all of us to be very proud of and excited about.

I’m really excited about joining the European Tour and looking forward to working with the team in the Dubai office.

My first objective is to listen and learn from them, and also spend time with key stakeholders, including venues, sponsors and governing bodies. I have visited the Middle East several times and I would like to help continue the excellent progress that has been made over the 30 years that the European Tour has been in the region.

Tour Success

During that time, it’s amazing how successful the European Tour has been with the number of tournaments that have been hosted and expanded. The team in Dubai have done a fantastic job, led by Nick Tarratt over many of those years – I am certainly aware that I have big shoes to fill.

I want to hear from the team and understand their vision for the region and help them deliver their objectives. Hopefully, I can bring my own international experience to assist the team as well.

At the same time, knowing what great work they do, and knowing how invested the Tour is in the region, with initiatives like the biggest first prize in golf for the winner of the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai, and all the key stakeholders and partners who are based in Dubai – it’s a key area for world golf and for me that’s part of the attraction to the role and the opportunity.

I’m from Wimbledon in South-West London originally and grew up there. I’ve got a PR background with a BA honours degree in media and communications from Bournemouth University. I’m 45 years old and started out in the late 1990s working with a PR agency. I accept that we’ve all had to adapt to the changes in the way the industry works and go with it, especially in terms of social media and its incredible growth over the past 10 years or so.

At the same time, social media has created so many opportunities and it’s really exciting to see how it has added to the whole PR scope. It moves at quite a pace. In China the growth of WeChat, for instance, is astronomical. It’s a huge part of life in the business community, way ahead of anything in Europe and other parts of the world. The pace of change there really is phenomenal.

Working with Faldo in Dubai

In 1999 I joined the Faldo Series, which Sir Nick Faldo had launched in 1996 and was predominantly based around the UK. Soon after, the Series started expanding, firstly across Europe and then Asia, and in total I spent nearly 15 years working for Sir Nick as CEO of the Faldo Series

The Series in Asia started with an annual event in Hong Kong for the Faldo Series winners – mainly designed to get the participants out of the cold European winter – and having established that event, the decision was taken to expand.

That’s what took me and my family out to Hong Kong in 2005. The tournaments continued to grow rapidly and in the end we were hosting 40 events in 30 countries for more than 7,000 competitors a year – and that number is still growing.

We had a team working on the Faldo Series in Europe and I was concentrating on Asia. My role required a lot of travelling but it was a great experience.

It’s testament to Sir Nick that the time and effort he commits to the programme has launched so many successful careers over the years. Some people were sceptical when the Series was first launched, but all these years later, he’s still devoted to the cause, taking so many players under his wing, and helping them to make it to a high level. The players are hugely grateful and full of praise for all the work Nick puts in.

I’ve been coming to the UAE and the Middle East since 2006. I helped set up a Faldo Series qualifying event in Dubai in 2006 which we combined with the opening ceremony for Nick’s re-design of the floodlit Wadi Course at Emirates Golf Club.

So my involvement with the Middle East goes back to that point. We also established the Faldo Series at Al Ain Golf and Shooting Club in the UAE – now the venue for the European Grand Final – and a few years of events in Bahrain. So, I’m quite familiar with the region. In addition to Faldo Series-related visits, I’ve also been there to see friends and family who have lived in the region, so I feel like I know it to a certain extent.

I joined the Hong Kong Golf Association as CEO in 2013, so worked closely with the European Tour and Asian Tour on the prestigious Hong Kong Open, while also overseeing a new commercial direction for Hong Kong golf’s governing body.

Keen golfer

I’ve played golf all my life with a handicap of 12, so nothing too competitive or serious but I enjoy the game a lot. My 16-year-old son is a very keen golfer, so golf for me is either playing with him, with friends or with clients.

My family and I are excited to move to Dubai and get to know it even more. Aside from the job opportunity, I realise that it’s a great place to live, with its infrastructure, climate, safety, entertainment and, of course, golf. I’ve had a good taste of Dubai and now we are looking forward to living here.

From my perspective, Dubai is a great city. There are several world class tournaments in the UAE and the Middle East involving the world’s best players and playing on the world’s best courses – what’s not to look forward to?

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