George O’Grady, Chief Executive of The European Tour, has praised the role of the UAE in changing the face of golf as a journey that started 22 years ago with the first Dubai Desert Classic continues today with an international schedule of 50 events across 29 destinations.
Speaking at the KPMG Golf Business Forum 2011 at Park Hyatt Hotel in Dubai on Monday, O’Grady reflected on The European Tour’s first visit to the region in 1989 and how that first step taken at the magnificent Emirates Golf Club with its iconic Arabic Tent clubhouse, set in motion a chain of events that is, today, fundamental to the development of The European Tour.
Commending the UAE for making golf an integral part of the country’s growth strategy, O’Grady said: “The invitation to play in Dubai enabled us to unearth a jewel in the desert when we first visited the city in 1989 for the Dubai Desert Classic pointed The European Tour in a new direction.
“This was our first venture to the region and it turned out to be a catalyst for change to what we have today - 50 events in 29 destinations.
“We have all watched closely as the development of Dubai, the UAE and the region has moved in parallel with the growth of The European Tour,” he said.
After starting with one event in 1989, The European Tour has subsequently played a further 44 events across the region with combined prize money of more than €85million, and five events will take place in 2011.
“The Desert Swing, which includes tournaments in Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Dubai and Qatar, puts the global sporting spotlight firmly on the region at the start of the year and the season then builds to a dramatic climax with the Dubai World Championship presented by DP World,” he said.
“The Race to Dubai, launched at the majestic Burj Al Arab in 2009, is the single strongest 12-month sponsorship partnership for both The European Tour and Dubai which has grown into a strong platform, providing over $ 2.6 billion in gross media value for our key partners and promoters throughout the season and reaching 15.7 billion homes via our network of 36 International Broadcasters.
“Despite the challenges created by the recent fluctuations in the global economy, the partnership between The European Tour and Dubai has remained strong,” he said. “The delivery of the third Race to Dubai and the third Dubai World Championship later this year will have seen $45 million being distributed in prize money alone.”
European Tour players have also benefited immensely from the growing popularity of the game in the region.
O’Grady said: “Players including Thomas Björn, Ernie Els, Colin Montgomerie and Greg Norman have designed courses while players such as Paul Casey, Bradley Dredge, Søren Hansen, Matteo Manassero, Rory McIlroy, Seung-yul Noh, Jeev Milka Singh and Henrik Stenson are representing some of the biggest names in the industry as their global ambassadors.”
O’Grady also stressed that the future will witness continued growth. “The European Tour will continue to build its presence in the region with significant interest for professional golf tournaments from GCC countries - Oman, Saudi Arabia and others.”
He also added his support to the proposed MENA Golf Tour, saying it would play a significant role in the development of the game for Arab nationals as well as expatriates.
“The European Tour believes all these initiatives will provide a much-needed springboard for both amateurs and professionals to take their game to a new level.
“We thank Dubai, the UAE and the region for their partnerships with our Tour and look forward to carrying on the journey for our mutual benefit. We fervently hope the next two decades will be as fruitful as it has been in the last 22 years.”
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