A New Day is Dawning
The tournament was first played in 1988, the year before the tour made its initial venture to the desert of Dubai, and for the past 21 years, the tour has ended on the Costa Del Sol.
The area is a golfers paradise, course after course, beautiful countryside and lively restaurants and night-life. Its a vacation destination, a maana society, fast-pace comes only from the coast-road where possessed drivers hurtle along at break-neck speeds.
But alas, this little getaway spot, a two-and-a-half hour flight from London, is old school nowadays. Since 1990 the hum of golf activity from the Middle East has been getting louder every year. Oil rich nations hungry to attract business and tourism alike are broadening their appeal and diversifying their portfolio. Dubai, a seven hour flight from London, in the European Tours eyes, is the future.
If Ken Schofield put the European Tour all over the map, literally, George OGrady, as the current executive director, has thrown a large pin in the Emirate of Dubai, leaving lots of Kens little pins spread-out across the globe.
The Race for Dubai (the new name given to the Order of Merit) begins in the location of one of those little pins on Thursday. The HSBC Champions kicks-off a new era in European Tour history, and 54 weeks later the season will conclude at the Earth Course with the Dubai World Championship.
Among those present for Day 1 will be Anthony Kim and Camilo Villegas, both new members of the European Tour. Phil Mickelson will also play in China this week, but according to OGrady, he will not become a member of the tour and therefore will not be eligible for the season ending cash grab.
I think two of the tournaments that we were thinking he might have played will not fit his schedule, OGrady says of Mickelson. The tour boss will sit down with Phil and his people on Wednesday in Shanghai, but its unlikely Mickelson will change his mind.
Despite Phils absence and that of world No. 1 Tiger Woods, the fact that Kim and Villegas have opted for duel membership elevates the status of the European Tour. Those who seek their fortune on the PGA Tour are beginning to look at other options.
The PGA Tour has always been the world force, the place players see as the big dog. But the old guard is changing now and is easy to understand (the attraction of Dubai), youve got to be there with the absolutely perfect weather conditions, OGrady says.
The tour will make two visits to Dubai next season, once in late January for the Dubai Desert Classic and the other for the season ending event. The Race for Dubai will also make stops in the neighboring Emirate of Abu Dhabi and in nearby Qatar, not to mention lucrative exotic outings like this weeks tournament in Shanghai and the Ballantines on Jeju Island, South Korea. The old favorites will of course feature the Barclays Scottish Open, the French Open and the BMW PGA Championship, all boasting purses over 3.5 million.
The name associate of Dubai brings an air of financial security, the oil money isnt drying-up anytime soon. 'The Race for Dubai gives us confidence and in these financial markets confidence is a great thing to have, says OGrady.
The European Tour also has the problem of too many tournaments. In 2010, the Race for Dubai will follow a calendar year, which means squeezing the 55 tournaments in 2009 into a 10-month time period. Surely excess baggage will be dropped; itll be a survival of the fittest which couldnt come at a better time.
Those tournaments that were struggling to survive will disappear with relatively no impact to the tour itself, a perfect scenario. Meanwhile, as budgets get squeezed, the PGA Tour is working hard just to keep the events it already has. OGrady has the luxury of being able to move around the world to find his pot of gold, while PGA Tour boss Tim Finchem, at present, is constrained to three countries.
The Race for Dubai has the advantage of learning from two FedEx Cups. The PGA Tour saw a need to change and made the courageous move of doing so. It hasnt been a smooth ride with the points system, confusing even the most avid followers and a playoff which really isnt a playoff at all.
The European Tours equivalent is simple, the top 60 on the tours money list make the season ending tournament, which has a $10 million dollar prize fund. After the conclusion of the season-ending championship, the top 15 on the money list receive an extra $10 million cash and players must be present in Dubai to get the money.
OGrady seems to have pulled it off right now, but weve got a long way to go. His tour gives players events to play and sponsors value for money.
But this time of year there is a lull for American golf. Come the West Coast and Florida swings in spring of next year, the story may look a little different. America is still the place to play, the purses are much larger, a Maderia Island Open or Indonesian Open isnt even coming close to a lesser PGA Tour stop like the Viking Classic or Ginn sur Mer.
The PGA Tour still has Tiger Woods as its crown jewel. His possible return in late March or early April will bring a spotlight brighter than any weve seen, and itll be shining directly on the United States.
The Race for Dubai also brings a false sense of European euphoria, six of its richest events play-out on American soil. Three majors and three WGC events are all played stateside, and without those being part of his new master plan, OGrady would have few big name players as members.
George OGrady has been lucky with his timing, but his vision shows business leadership and foresight, a well thought-out plan that hasnt been rushed. The icing on his Dubai cake isnt there yet ' Woods and Mickelson are still not members.
But hes beginning to force the hands of the world elite ' become a truly global golfer or risk getting left behind.
Woods and Mickelson will both be keeping a close eye on this inaugural year; like OGrady they are shrewd business men and wont want to miss out on a good opportunity.
If Tiger and Phil put in their membership applications, then OGrady really has something.
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