#360view: Raising standards is why Abu Dhabi attracts golf’s top stars

Joy Chakravarty 10:36 12/11/2015
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Returning star: Rory McIlroy.

Every golf tournament across the globe would love to get the world No. 1 in their starting field, but apart from the four majors and the four World Golf Championship events, very few manage to make themselves attractive enough to entice the best player in the world.

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By announcing a superb field on Wednesday, headlined by the world No. 1 Jordan Spieth, Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship has once again set the benchmark for tournaments in the region.

And it is not just Spieth, they have also secured the presence of world No. 3 Rory McIlroy, world No. 5 Rickie Fowler and the world No. 7 Henrik Stenson. Four out of the top-seven is a dream field for any tournament director.

So, why do players like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, Vijay Singh, and now Spieth agree to showcase their skills here? Obviously, money plays a role, but there are many other tournaments that can match the appearance fee paid. There are various other boxes that need to be ticked, and the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship does a wonderful job of making everything convenient for the stars to sign up.

To begin with, the tournament is lucky to have got the dates it has. The third week of January is just the right time for players to come out of the holiday mood and start their season.

On the PGA Tour, the inaugural events are in Hawaii, and there are many players who do not want to start their year on courses which can get extremely windy and sow seeds of doubt regarding their swings.

For the European Tour, there is an event before Abu Dhabi in South Africa, but most big name stars make use of the outstanding weather and practice facilities in the UAE to shake off the rust.

Players like McIlroy and Stenson are European Tour members and given their well-known links and affinity to the UAE, the Desert Swing makes a good starting point.

If they play two of the three tournaments in the Middle East, that takes care of nearly 76 per cent of the mandatory events they need to play to keep their membership alive. Of course, this is assuming that they will play all the majors and WGCs.

The first tournament on the PGA Tour, where the playing conditions and the golf course are both good enough to get the stars’ attention, is the Farmers Insurance Open, which is played at the famous Torrey Pines South course in the last week of January.

Then there are other factors that work for Abu Dhabi – the pedigree of the sponsors and the quality of the golf course. In HSBC, Abu Dhabi has got fantastic title sponsors who have a varied and established portfolio of events. And in the National course of Abu Dhabi Golf Club, they have a golf course that poses a strong challenge for the players.

When the tournament was first played in 2006, it was more like a resort course. Over the years, several changes have been made – most done on the basis of the feedback from the Tour stars – and the present-day track is drastically different.

The agronomy staff does a fantastic job every year and it is presented in mint conditions. But the one thing that defines the success of the tournament is the desire of owners Abu Dhabi Sports Council and organisers IMG to constantly try and raise the benchmark every year.

No effort and money is spared, and that is the reason why players like Spieth, and fans in excess of 65,000, walk the fairways of Abu Dhabi every year.

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