Dubai has one of the top golf courses in the world. The Majlis Course at the Emirates Golf Club is the jewel in that crown. As Dubai Desert Classic unfolds, we look at the Majlis Course, the players and what’s in the offing.
The game of golf is always won or lost on the back nine of the Majlis Course at the Emirates Golf Club. Chris May, CEO of Dubai Golf, tells Gulf News in an exclusive interview.
Chris, how has the Majlis Course at Emirates Golf Club grown over the last three decades?
Emirates Golf Club holds a very special place in the history of Dubai, it was the first grass golf course in the Middle East and the first professional golf tournament in the Middle East as well and that really set the tone for what Dubai has become. It has become a very important golf tourist destination and that was largely driven by the Dubai Desert Classic, which was first held in 1989. Seve Ballesteros won the event in 1992, followed up by many of the best players in the world who participated, many of them won it like Fred Couples, Colin Montgomerie and of course Tiger Woods’ participation in 2001 really took the event to another level.
Rory McIlroy’s first win as a professional in 2009 is a big thing and Tiger’s win in 2008, he was in a really rich vein of form and had already won several times in the states in a row and then he shot five under on the back nine and holed an amazing putt where you saw the Tiger fist pump which was also very, very special.
It’s three times been won by Ernie Els, twice by Rory McIlroy, twice by Tiger Woods so it really is an amazing role of honour and this tournament has done a huge amount in driving the interest of golf in the region and really was the pioneer of golf.’
What makes the Majlis so special?
Emirates Golf Club is the ideal destination to host the event. The golf course itself is very special, it’s one of the best in the world. The players love it and the conditions are always immaculate, the players get welcomed in a very special way and always have done. So, it’s always been a special stop on the DP World Tour.
The club lends itself very well for tournaments, it’s a great host venue and the clubhouse is an iconic building and that is really the centre piece of the tournament during a tournament week and it’s the place everyone wants to be.
The course itself is not only a great course for the players, but the spectators as well, easy to walk around, easy to flip between front nine and back nine so fantastic tournament golf course but also fantastic to watch on as well.’
The Majlis is renowned for creating a lot of drama isn’t it?
We have seen some amazing moments, the back nine of the Majlis is always very, very interesting and the tournament is never won until the 18th hole. Obviously water has an influence on the last hole but there is lots of birdie opportunities on the back nine of the Majlis, which makes the back nine very, very interesting on the final day.
What makes the amateur golfer want to play the Majlis Golf Course?
The Majlis Golf Course is probably the most popular golf course in the region largely because of the tournament. Last year we had 46,000 rounds played on the Majlis, many of those are member rounds, but still the Majlis is very important as it brings tourists from all over the world to play the golf course.
The great thing about the course is even though this week it is setup for the professionals and quite tough for us amateurs when you are out of Desert Classic week. It is a very enjoyable golf course for golfers of all levels. I think that is one of the really special things about the Majlis Golf Course.
In addition to the Majlis we have got the Faldo course, which is floodlit and you can play golf until midnight and behind us you have got TopGolf Dubai as wellm which opened two years ago which has had over a million guests in the first two years of opening so the golf club has become a very busy part of Dubai and it brings a lot of people into Dubai from overseas, which is really important for us.
Stephen Gallacher, a master of the Majlis
By Harry Grimshaw, Golf Editor
The longest serving professional golf event in the UAE is the Dubai Desert Classic. The first edition back in 1989 was then labelled as the Karl Litten Desert Classic, after the course designer. The aim even all those years ago was to bring a stella field of players to Dubai to showcase the new spectacle, which was the Majlis Golf Course.
Meanwhile, the other side of the world just starting out his golfing career was Stephen Gallacher. Every year he would turn on his television in West Lothian, Scotland to see the greats of the game playing the game he loved which was then just a golf course in the middle of the desert where his idols were playing as he told Gulf News exclusively.
“I remember watching Ernie shoot 61, I remember watching Seve round here, it was just an iconic golf tournament it was just the one you loved to watch on the course and when Dubai started to build up a bit you used to tune in to see what had changed,” said Gallacher.
After turning professional in 1995, it would be a further four years before he could get to grips for the first time with the event when it was then being held at Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club.
“I first played in the event in 1999 and I played ok, then I finished 4th the year after when José Coceres won round Dubai Creek and then they moved it back to here at the Majlis and then I have played in pretty much every year since.
“The course has changed now, I think the course has got a lot stronger and tougher, it’s longer than when we played. The onus is on hitting the fairways, you’ve got to hit the fairways now because the greens are really firm and fast so you’ve got to hit the fairways off the tee, which is the number one rule and then you’ve got a chance at the par fives so you have got to take advantage of those.
“But I think the course is fantastic, it’s up there with any tournament golf course we play, its tougher now, it’s in great condition and the wind is enough to get your attention and Dubai is just one of my favourite cities I love coming here with the family.”
10 years ago this week
If you were to turn back the clocks 10 years ago this week, Stephen Gallacher ended a 201-tournament wait for his second victory on the DP World Tour, the then European Tour. Gallacher held the lead going into the final round after he shot his best career round of 62 on the European Tour in the third round. Although a bumpy start with two bogeys in his first two holes, he pretty much clinched victory with an eagle on the 16th hole. A one under par 71 gave Gallacher a 22-under par winning total and three shot victory margin to win the Omega Dubai Desert Classic by three strokes.
The following year, Gallacher defended his title with a one-stroke victory at the 2014 Omega Dubai Desert Classic for his third European Tour victory. Birdies on the 11th, 13th, 16th and 17th to finish 16 under par after a closing 72. He is still the first golfer to ever successfully defend the title Dubai Desert Classic. A win that would propel him into a spot for a Ryder Cup place at Gleneagles the following September.
“It kick started my chance to get in the Ryder Cup so it means everything to me and to have my family here the second time to watch me play against Rory and Tiger I’ve just got some unbelievable memories from here and a place I love coming.”
Lowest tournament total score:
-24 Bryson DeChambeau, 2019 OMEGA Dubai Desert Classic
Lowest 9 holes to par:
28 (-9) Stephen Gallacher, 2014 OMEGA Dubai Desert Classic
Most birdies in one round:
12 Ernie Els, 1994 Dubai Desert Classic
Video: Hardest Hole
Who’s the next ace in the pack?
By A.K.S. Satish, Sports Editor
Dubai: A total of 23 players have had an ace in the Dubai Desert Classic from 1999 to 2022. The first ace in the pack is Stuart Cage in Round One on Hole 8 in 1999, according to European Tour Group.
Spaniard Alviro Quiros has achieved the feat twice in his career on his favourite hunting ground. “These three weeks are the best for me in a year,” said Quiros, who had an ace on the fourth hole during the final round, after achieving the feat for the second time in 2015. “We play great courses, in great shape and the weather is good, so for me it’s three special weeks, I’ve won two in the past and that invites me to think positive every week in the Desert Swing, but unfortunately this year that’s not happened so I can only think about the weeks ahead.”
Locally based professional Yasin Ali also was successful, picking up a cheque for Dh100,000 after firing an ace in the first round on hole number seven.
The most recent to enter the history books is Ryan Fox. The New Zealander lit up the third round of the Dubai Desert Classic after recording the first hole-in-one at the DP World Tour’s new-look Rolex Series event at Emirates Golf Club.
Fox is also in the fray this year along with Miguel Angel Jimenez, who did the trick in 2008, David Howell, round one Hole 7 in 2011.
Who is the next ace in the pack at the Majlis Course at Emirates Golf Club? Wait and watch.
Five players to look out for
1. Rory McIlroy
Two-time champion Rory McIlroy is bidding to win his third Dallah Coffee Pot trophy. The world No 1 will be eager to continue his love affair with the Majlis Course at Emirates Golf Club. “I always look forward to playing the Dubai Desert Classic, having won the tournament twice in my career, and Majlis is a golf course that I love to play,” the four-time major champion had told the official website. “Lifting the Dallah trophy for a third time is something I would like to achieve.”
The Northern Irishman, 32, first played the Majlis Course in 2006 as a 16-year-old amateur, before recording his maiden professional win on the same course three years later. By the time he claimed his second Dubai Desert Classic title in 2015, he had added four major championships to his trophy cabinet. McIlroy returns to the Majlis Course having not competed in the tournament since 2018. The Ulsterman, who holds a slender lead at the top of the official world golf rankings, has an added incentive to win this week as it will increase his average points tally of 8.23 with American Scottie Scheffler’s 8.19 points.
2. Tommy Fleetwood
Former Race to Dubai Number One Tommy Fleetwood has been a regular visitor at the Emirates Golf Club, playing in his 12th consecutive appearance.
The six-time DP World Tour winner and Ryder Cup star Fleetwood, who famously won four points out of five in a memorable debut in the biennial event in 2018, will be hoping to make his experience count at the event where he has been ever-present since 2012.
“I start my season in the Middle East and come to Dubai each year, so this is an event and venue that I know well,” said Fleetwood, a Rolex Series winner who has also sealed two titles in Abu Dhabi. “It’s no secret that I enjoy playing in the region and I would love to be able to add to my success here.”
The English professional will have to contend with a star-studded line-up to join the stellar list of previous Dubai Desert Classic champions Seve Ballesteros, Ernie Els, Fred Couples, Jose Maria Olazábal, Mark O’Meara, Tiger Woods, Henrik Stenson, Rory McIlroy, Danny Willett, Sergio Garcia and Bryson DeChambeau.
3. Shane Lowry
The 2019 Open Champion Shane Lowry is another top contender eager to etch his name among the list of champions. The Irishman’s career highlight so far came when he lifted the Claret Jug at Royal Portrush, winning by an impressive six strokes. A six-time winner on the DP World Tour, Lowry secured his second Rolex Series title at the BMW PGA Championship in September, in a season that also included a top three finish at The Masters.
On the prospect of teeing off at Emirates Golf Club, as he aims to add more silverware in the UAE following his 2019 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship title, 35-year-old Lowry said: “I always enjoy going to Dubai and I am delighted to be returning to Emirates Golf Club for the Dubai Desert Classic in January. I’ve had success in the UAE in the past, and it would be great to add my name to the impressive list of players who have lifted this trophy.” After holding a one-shot lead in a stacked leaderboard last time out, the Irishman fell on the final hurdle, but Lowry will be keen to avoid such slip-ups in Dubai.
4. Victor Perez
Race to Dubai leader Victor Perez must be entering the Dubai field on a high after winning the first leg of the Desert Swing in Abu Dhabi, his biggest DP World Tour title of his career. The 30-year-old Frenchman claim a winner’s check of $1.53 million at one of the tour’s top events and strengthened his chances of playing for Europe at this year’s Ryder Cup outside Rome. His previous wins on the tour came at the Dunhill Links Championship in 2019 and the Dutch Open in May last year. The win was Perez’s third on the tour in 91 starts and moves him to the top of the DP World Tour rankings with 1,335 points.
“It feels fantastic,” said an emotional Perez. “I thought you always need a bit of fortune and there’s always the deciding shots coming down the stretch that can make or break. To hole that bunker shot on 17 is probably going to be a highlight,” Perez said after winning the title in Abu Dhabi.
5. Thomas Pieters
Thomas Pieters had happy memories when he arrived in Abu Dhabi for his defence, but the Belgian professional’s challenge floundered. The 30-year old even took some advice on his short-game from fellow Ryder Cup teammate Alex Noren, a 10-time DP World Tour winner. But the short-game upgrade didn’t yield immediate results, but must be hoping that it will guide him to clinch the Dallah Trophy on the revamped Majlis Course.
Pieters was also part of the victorious Continental Europe team, who defeated Great Britain and Ireland at the Hero Cup at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. Hopefully, that success will allow the 30-year-old to have a positive start in Dubai.