Much of the focus may be on Rory McIlroy at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic this week, but the Northern Irishman was just two months old when Barry Lane began his love affair with the tournament.
Lane is the only player to have played in all 23 editions of the event, having played in the inaugural one in March 1989, and he has set his sights firmly on reaching the milestone of 25 at a venue he describes as “five star in every respect”.
The surrounding area may have changed beyond recognition, transforming from empty desert to skyscraper-dominated city, but the charm of Dubai and the tournament has never waned for Lane.
“Over the years the way it has changed is incredible,” said the 52 year old, who has won five times on The European Tour and three times on the Senior Tour. “I remember in 1989 we stayed at the airport because that was the closest hotel. It was 30 minutes from there, and there was just a two-lane road from there to the golf course. This place was literally in the middle of the desert. There was nothing except this oasis. It was amazing.
“You look around us now, and at pictures from the air, and it’s surrounded by buildings and hotels. It’s an incredible transformation and still a beautiful place.
“I love coming back here. I’ve got great memories. I never won but I had a chance – I think it was 1992 when Seve won and I was a couple of shots back. The people have always been very kind to me and because I’ve played every year they’ve looked after me. This year I needed an invitation to play because I’m 52 now, and the tournament organisers honoured me by giving me that.”
Lane recalls when he and his fellow professionals first arrived in the late 1980s, they struggled to adapt to the very different greens.
“Everyone was pleased to have spikes on their shoes because we’d never putted on greens so fast and hard,” he said. “It was a long course for back then with the old balls and old clubs. Some players were still using wooden drivers. The speed and firmness of the greens was unbelievable and people were struggling to keep the ball on the greens. We’d never come across anything like it.
“The course has changed a little bit – they’ve made it longer and the trees have grown up – but it was an unbelievable thing to come and see.
“The way the tournament is run is fantastic and they always get a great field. Obviously Tiger (Woods) has played here a lot and although he’s not here this year you’ve still got many of the top players such as (Lee) Westwood, (Martin) Kaymer and Rory (McIlroy). It’s a fantastic facility.
“It has just got better and better every year. They really look after you and they have the course in unbelievable condition. You see by the field that players love to come back. You’ve also got the great weather and excellent practice facilities and everything is five star.”
Lane is relishing trying to reach 25 consecutive appearances, but said he would not do so if he felt he was just there to make up the numbers.
“I would love to get to 25, but I will have to rely on invitations for the next couple of years,” he said. “Maybe in the history of the Dubai Desert Classic I’ll be the only one to have played 25 years in a row – that would be wonderful.
“So it’s down to them. I wouldn’t ask for an invitation if I didn’t feel competitive. I still feel competitive and played alright last year.
“I still love to play. I love to play with these youngsters – or the slim-bellies, as I call them, whereas I’m one of the fat-bellies! I still really love the game and it’s great to be here.”