European golf’s impressive ascent in the professional game has been abundantly recognised at the close of an exhilarating four week run of tournaments which culminated in a return visit to Dubai, the Emirate where it all began 22 years ago.
On the week of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, the world spotlight focussed on the star-studded Laureus World Sports Awards in the neighbouring Emirate of Abu Dhabi, putting the global sporting spotlight on golf and The European Tour as a powerful participant in the broader sporting world.
George O’Grady, Chief Executive of The European Tour, joined a galaxy of sporting talent at the Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi, where the Tour had begun the month-long ‘Desert Swing’ in January, to celebrate Laureus’s annual celebration of global sporting achievement.
In the presence of one the event’s Founding Patrons, Johann Rupert, the Executive Chairman of Richemont who sponsor the Alfred Dunhill Championship and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on The European Tour, Europe’s victorious Ryder Cup Team from 2010 and Germany’s Martin Kaymer were among the major award winners.
Colin Montgomerie accepted the Laureus Spirit of Sport Award on behalf of The Ryder Cup Team while Race to Dubai champion Kaymer, the runaway winner in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, received the Laureus World Breakthrough of the Year accolade as the audience also rose to celebrate football legend Zinedine Zidane’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
The lavish Awards Ceremony was the perfectly applied coat of icing on the cake for The European Tour in the shadow of Abu Dhabi Golf Club, the superb host venue for the first leg of the expanded and enhanced Desert Swing in the Gulf region, which was launched in 1989 two months before Rory McIlroy was even born!
Who would have believed that, a matter of 22 years on, golf in the Gulf would become a major global force; that territories such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Bahrain would be regarded as major golfing destinations and that eight of the world’s top ten players would visit the region over the space of four weeks at the start of 2011?
When most of Europe has shivered, this sanctuary in the sunshine has played host to four weeks of compelling, high-profile golf watched the world over, underlining the strength and drawing power of The European Tour in the opening weeks of the calendar year and the resumption of the third Race to Dubai.
Over the past four weeks all the world’s top eight golfers, led by Europe’s World Number One and Two, Lee Westwood and Kaymer, have featured, along with a further six from the world’s top 20. Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker, the leading three American players on the World Ranking, were also among those who teed up in the company of The European Tour’s leading lights in the Gulf.
Three of the four events have carried such strength throughout the field that over 50 Official World Golf Ranking points have been available for the winner and the rating for these events would, based upon the 2010 figures, rank them within the top 15% of events globally.
Only a handful of regular events outside the Majors and World Golf Championships events carry such weight.
Kaymer set the ball rolling with his victory in Abu Dhabi. Paul Casey won the inaugural Volvo Golf Champions in the Kingdom of Bahrain, while the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters presented by Dolphin Energy, went to Thomas Björn, the Chairman of The European Tour’s Tournament Committee.
And on to Dubai for the final stop of the Tour’s Desert Swing where, in a perfect act of theatre, the top three players in the world were drawn together for the first time in a regular European Tour event as Tiger Woods took to the course alongside Westwood and Kaymer but all of them were trumped as Quiros took the title.
The European Tour now moves on to India for the Avantha Masters, continuing the 50 tournament golfing odyssey that comprises The Race to Dubai. There are still another 42 tournaments to look forward to over the next ten months before the Tour returns to the region for the Dubai World Championship presented by DP World and the climax of what promises to be an exceptional 2011 season.