Golf in the Desert

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There is a desert double for you this week as both the European and PGA Tours head for the sunshine. However, you’d struggle to find two more conflicting environments, the strict Middle Eastern society of Abu Dhabi, with its blossoming tourist industry and plans for major coastal development, compared with the celebrity infested laid-back offering of Palm Springs, the by-gone haunt of Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and Bob Hope.

I’ll be concentrating on the former, which as we would expect, is producing a high quality product once again. The Abu Dhabi Golf Championship returns to the Abu Dhabi Golf Club, with the Falcon shaped clubhouse that is eye-popping with players coming down the final hole on Sunday. The field is strong, highlighted by 2009 Race to Dubai champion Lee Westwood, recently crowned SBS winner Geoff Ogilvy, former champions Martin Kaymer and Paul Casey, the prodigal European golfing son, Rory McIlroy and the aging Sergio Garcia who just turned 30.

Even Eduardo Molinari had to rely on a sponsor exemption until a couple of days before the tournament, when a few last minute withdrawals allowed Molinari in on merit. Fellow countryman, British Amateur champion Matteo Manassero is a sponsor invite. The 16-year-old is preparing for his spot in the Masters and rumour has it Manassero will turn professional following his week at Augusta.

Golf Channel coverage from Abu Dhabi begins at 8.30 a.m. ET Thursday.


Gaining Experience

English left-hander Chris Gane got his season underway last week at the Joburg Open but the stresses and strains of the European Tour may seem like a breeze compared with what the 35-year-old from London experienced in December. With snow preventing him from leaving home, all was set fair for a non-eventful Christmas at home until his girlfriend went into labour on Dec. 21. Completely snowed-in – but thankfully with his girlfriend’s sister, Victoria, at the house too – the pair helped mother Louise deliver Theodore Victor Gane into the world. Emergency services were unable to reach the house until after the birth. It turns out a mid-wife lived just 500 yards from them, but wasn’t called by the hospital until it was too late. It didn’t seem to matter as the two-time Challenge Tour winner filled the role perfectly. When the services did arrive, baby Theo was lying on mum waiting patiently.

Gane graduated through the Challenge Tour in 2009 to make his third season on the main tour. A short while after the birth, his Challenge Tour buddies got a text with the news and details, Gane ended it by saying “so you boys thought making 5 footers for par was stressful.”

Gane missed the cut at the Joburg Open last week without much preparation. He’ll spend the next three weeks at home splitting his time between changing diapers and working on the range before heading to New Delhi for the Avantha Masters.


New Access

The U.S. could just about field a whole Solheim Cup team with players who, at some time in their careers, have competed on the Duramed Futures Tour. With Europe only winning one of the last five Solheim’s it is about time the tour came-up with its own proving ground. LET executive director, Alexandra Armas, has helped launch the LET Access Series, which will start slowly with just three tournaments on the schedule, although more are expected to be added later in the year. The winner of the money list will gain exemption to the LET for 2011, with up to three exemptions offered if the number of tournaments grows.


And Finally

Adam Hunter, who won the 1995 Portuguese Open on the European Tour, is being treated for Leukemia. Hunter turned to coaching after his playing career, aiding Paul Lawrie to victory at the ’99 Open Championship and working with Catriona Matthew and numerous amateurs through his time at the Scottish Golf Union. When I was a junior I once caddied for Hunter in a pro-am at the RAC Club near my family home in Surrey, so best wishes for a speedy recovery.