By Nick Totten, europeantour.com
Over the past quarter of a century there has been one constant within a vast golfing oasis, a rock amongst the vast expanse of grass and sand - Barry Lane - who makes his 25th appearance at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic this week.
As the only man to play in every event here, Lane returns once again to Emirates GC, with his experience making him handily placed to comment on just how much the course, venue and game of golf have changed here in Dubai since 1989.
Once a patch of grass amongst an expanse of sand and camels, the city has since enveloped the Majilis Course, a modern day metropolis that offers far more than just the golf this area would have once been known for, and Lane is glad to be back.
“It’s been fantastic,” said the Senior Tour player. “It’s changed beyond recognition. Being just an oasis of a golf course in the middle of the desert to what it is now. It was also very kind of the tournament to invite me the past two years so I could make it to the 25, as I was exempt up until I was 51, but the last two years have been nice as not too many events would do that.
“It’s a real feather in my cap, as the tournament has evolved to be one of the best tournaments we play in Europe. It was fantastic when we first came here in 1989, it was so different, but it was such an unbelievable golf course.
“To go from nothing to now have 200 towers right by the golf course, to have a whole town here now, whereas before coming from the airport there were only about three buildings along the way.
“The skyline is unbelievable out on the course, when you stand on the eighth tee and you see all the buildings it is quite amazing. You look at pictures here in 1989 and there is nothing at all. It’s a brilliant place.”
Over the years it is a tournament that has attracted some of the biggest names in the game, and on a course he loves, Lane is in no doubt what his favourite moments have been over the past two and a half decades.
“We’d never played on a golf course in such amazing condition, and it has just evolved so much," said the 53 year old. "You can see from the past champions over the 25 years that there have been some pretty good players, and they always get a great field every year so it is nice to have been involved in that.
“The scoring was never that low in the early years, then Ernie (Els) comes along in 1991 and shot a 61 in the first round, 11 under par for one round. Since then no one has really come close to shooting that again, so that would certainly be the stand out thing for me.
“Another moment recently, Rory’s first tournament win, and what he has achieved in the three or four years since. He’s got two Majors now, but his first win was here.
“Then there is Thomas Björn beating Tiger, playing with him all four days that year and beating him head to head, and Monty with the driver off the fairway into the sun on 18 to find the green in two and make a four to win. It has got some great memories, and some fantastic moments.
While it may have been engulfed by the grandeur and size of the modern day Dubai, the Majilis Course has not stood still either, making a number of additions over the years to maintain its difficulty during a time of equipment innovation and a more professional approach from the players striding its fairways.
Lane is therefore better placed than most to comment on how things have changed at Emirates GC, whether it be the holes themselves or the clubs the guys are using in this modern day era.
“The course has really got long,” said the five time European Tour winner. “I’ve got shorter while it has got long. It’s a monster really, especially now as no one has played it for a week or so and it is quite soft. It is a pretty long golf course for ‘fat bellies’.
“I spoke to Mark James, and he said he thinks they have put a new tee on every hole, so it has probably gone another 500 yards longer than it was, but the equipment is beyond recognition now too.
“The game today, it is night and day. The guys are so fit and strong, they hit the ball miles but the technology has really helped.
“I have just been hitting a driver that I used back in 1989 and the average carry was about 219 yards. That’s a 30 yards difference, even with this modern ball, so if I used an old balata ball then it would be even shorter.
Lane has not just played the tournament 25 times, he has also contended. In 1993 he finished third having had a chance to win down the stretch, while he also posted a couple of sixth place finishes in 1989 and 1994.
Since those heady early days, his form recently has been a little more chequered, having not made the cut in his last seven starts in Dubai. He still has some great memories though, and heading into what he says is his last time here, he understandably wants to take the time to appreciate a great week.
“The goal this week is to just enjoy it really. I’d love to play well, and if I play to the best of my ability then I think I could play well. I still have it in me.
“This will absolutely be my last year. I might play the odd tournament here and there but for this tournament I’ll leave it to the youngsters. I’m 54 and I’ve got the Senior Tour to play, and I’m just happy to be here.
“Just to be here at the start, and see the 25th anniversary, it is just fantastic to have played on the Tour for that long and to play here has been fantastic.”
As Lane mentioned, he was on the range with the driver he used in 1989 comparing the statistics of that club versus his modern day driver as part of the latest Access All Areas video.
Stay tuned to europeantour.com later in the week for the release of this interesting take on the new versus the old.