Although the European Tour season officially kicked off at the South Africa Open in late 2013, this week marks the start of the season proper for many golf fans around the world as it the first time the majority of the really big golfing guns will tee it up in 2014.
As is customary, the start of the calendar year will see the European Tour make its way through the Middle East on what the marketeers over at Sky Sports have billed as the “Middle East Swing”.
First up will be the Abu Dhabi Golf Championships which is held annually at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. Last year the field was headlined by a resurgent Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, who was flying high at the top of the world rankings following a stellar finish to his 2012. Rory was also the proud owner of a shiny new set of clubs and endorsement contract from Nike but as all golfers know all too well; not everything goes to plan when you’re out on the fairways! Both superstars missed the cut and, just to prove just how fickle a game golf really is, Rors went on to struggle for form for the majority of the season.
However following some signs of encouragement which came in the form of strong finishes towards the end of 2013, as well as a win at the Australian Open, it seems McIlroy is on the way back to the form that put him on top of the golfing world at the tender age of 23.
Rors is joined this week by another American golfing titan in the form of Open Champion Phil Mickelson and with the duo set to play together for the first two rounds at least, tuning into the golf this week is a must for any die hard golf fan. Despite the fact that Mickelson is set to “unleash a whole different weapon” in his arsenal (apparently he has finally found a driver that he can hit straight), both players will have a hard time stopping the red-hot Henrik Stenson from completing his very own Middle East Swing.
The Super Swede has previously won the Qatar Masters, Dubai Desert Classic and, of course, the DP World Tour Championship and a win in Abu Dhabi would mean Stenson kicks off his season in the same dominant fashion that he signed off in in 2013.
Other top players in the field include the likes of Sergio Garcia, Luke Donald, Martin Kaymer, Thomas Bjorn and Your Golf Travel’s very own Darren Clarke who is looking to kick on from a positive display at last week’s Volvo Champions event in South Africa.
While there are plenty of star names in the field, it is the amazing course at Abu Dhabi Golf Club which sets the stage for these guys to strut their stuff.
“An oasis of tranquillity carved out of the desert” is how Abu Dhabi Golf Club is billed and the marketing spin is spot on in this occasion. With lush green fairways bordered by great swathes of sand and huge expanses of water, Abu Dhabi Golf Club really is the quintessential oasis and with its striking clubhouse designed in the shape of a soaring falcon, it has become an iconic European Tour venue in a relatively short space of time.
There are 27 holes at Abu Dhabi Golf Club but it is The National Course that will play host this week. Designed by Peter Harradine, the course offers a tough but fair challenge, even for the world’s best, with no less than nine holes featuring water hazards. While the pros will have to play the course stretched to its maximum length of more than 7,600 yards, those paying Abu Dhabi a visit on a golf holiday to the sun can rest safe in the knowledge that there are plenty of tee positions on each hole to allow for us weekend warriors to find our comfort zones!
Following this week’s tournament, the tour will travel just over 360 miles to the West to Qatar and the marvellous Doha Golf Club.
Home to the Qatar Masters, won last year by Chris Wood, Doha Golf Club, like Abu Dhabi GC, was laid down by Peter Harradine and holds the distinction of being the first patch of grass to be sewn in Qatar! Like Abu Dhabi GC, Doha measures well in excess of 7,000 yards from the tournament tees so the pros shouldn’t expect an easy ride.
With a handful of holes framed by natural rock formations and other by large water hazards, Doha is a course of great contrasts and with plenty of large bunkers and waste areas, it offers the quintessential desert golf experience. Particular highlights include the monstrous 639 yard par 5 9th and the brilliantly fun floodlit 9 hole course that can also be enjoyed by holiday makers during their time in Qatar.
Like the Abu Dhabi Golf Championships, the field at the Qatar Masters is set to be choc-full of blockbuster names. Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia and Ernie Els will be joined by PGA Champion Jason Dufner and fans favourite Miguel Angel Jimenez, as well as Your Golf Travel Ambassador Darren Clarke in what promises to be an exciting four days of golf.
Then comes the big one…
The Dubai Desert Classic got the ball rolling as far as far as the European Tour’s presence in the Middle East goes and since its inauguration in 1989, it has become one of the tour’s flagship events, attracting the very best from the cream of the golfing crop year after year.
Past champions include the late great Seve Ballesteros, Colin Montgomerie and Ernie Els, as well as the then 19 year old Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, who will be going for his third win at the event when he tees it up in Dubai towards the end of the month.
The setting for the Dubai Desert Classic is the amazing Emirates Golf Club which, in the form of the Majilis championship course, boasts the very 1st 18 hole golf course to be opened in the Middle East. The inspiration of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, The Emirates Golf Club is one of the standout venues in the world of golf and an amazing place to visit on a golf holiday.
With two outstanding golf courses and world class amenities and facilities, a day at The Emirates Golf Club is something to remember and both the famous Majilis and Faldo offer desert golf at its very best, all played with the ever changing Dubai skyline looming large in the background. Few would argue that the Majilis in particular is one of the best in the Middle East with its immaculate fairways dissecting great swathes of desert, broken up only by the occasional water hazard.
The visit to this fascinating part of the world might be a fleeting one of the European Tour but with an enviable climate, us club golfers can pay the any of these courses a visit right throughout the year. If a Desert Golf Holiday tickles your fancy, be sure to tune in and catch a considerable glimpse of these fantastic courses during the Middle East Swing over the next three weeks.