Dubai: It's perhaps no exaggeration to say that over the years, Mohammad Juma Bu Amim has become almost a talismanic figure for the Dubai Desert Classic golf tournament. The vice-chairman and CEO of golf in DUBAi (giD), owners of Desert Classic, had been a driving force behind the growth of what was the first European Tour event in the region.
Running the show without a fuss from the confines of his spacious and sun-drenched office at the Emirates Golf Club course, Bu Amim took time out to speak to Gulf News in an interview on a range of subjects on the opening day of the Classic. While he felt that Tiger Woods' appearance in Abu Dhabi has ultimately served to increase the overall profile of the sport in the UAE, Bu Amim was also hopeful that his dream project — the Mena Tour — will produce an Arab champion sooner than later.
Following are excerpts from the interview:
GULF NEWS: The Dubai Desert Classic is in its 23rd year. How do you look back at such a long journey?
MOHAMMAD JUMA BU AMIM: We look back at it with a great sense of pride. The tournament enjoys a unique position as the first European Tour event in the region, it's got a very good history.
We have always had the best players coming here and putting their names on the trophy by winning it. It's the late Seve Ballesteros who made this tournament what it's today by turning up and winning it when he was at his peak. Personally speaking, it's been quite a challenge. We have had some bad years, but things are looking much better now.
In your capacity as the livewire behind the tournament. you have seen golfers of different generations. Can you share something about the experience?
They were all great characters but at the end of the day, they were great players. Now we have somebody like Rory McIlroy, who has worked very hard to be where he is today. He played in the Walker Cup and not too many people know that he played here as an amateur for three years.
This is a message that should go to our players from the region, who should strive harder to reach their goals.
Tiger Woods' presence had always given the tournament a big boost. Do you feel hurt at his absence?
Yes, Woods is a very good ambassador of the game for he brings in the crowd. However, he has his own schedule and but we knew about it a long time back.Our tournament, however, has it's own history and people will always come back here. Finally, Woods going to Abu Dhabi only increases the profile of the sport in the region as he has now participated both in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Your new obsession now seems to be the MENA Tour?
Yes, after all the hard work that has been put behind it, I am hopeful it will not be long before we now produce somebody from the region.
The idea behind introducing the Tour is to have our kids rub shoulders with players all over the world. You see, golf may be an individual sport, but you are interacting with other players all the time. The knowledge of other cultures, lifestyle and sensitivities is also part of a golfer's growth.
How far do you think we have come in the pursuit of the champion Arab golfer?
People are now at least familiar with the names of Amad Al Mosharrekh or Ahmad Mirjan of Morocco, who is playing here. There are some good golfers in Morocco, but Mirjan is special.
We also have a promising youngster in Hassan Al Mosharrekh, Ahmad's younger brother. He stood up to the test when we made him take part in the Celebrity Challenge.
We gave Ahmad a chance in Abu Dhabi and now here, taking care to pair them with relatively newcomers and not the big names. It's up to them to grab the opportunity.
As I keep reiterating, the youngsters taking to golf in this region still try to model themselves after a Woods or a Lee Westwood. This really has to change but for that to happen, the Arabian Gulf needs to have a hero for the rest to follow them.
Are you happy with Ahmad's growth as a player?
We must provide him (Ahmad) with the right base. In my opinion, he should be out of here, spend at least two to three months in England and play with the top amateurs there.
Coming back to the Dubai Desert classic, where do you see the tournament going from here?
The current agreement with the European Tour runs till 2014 but as far as we are concerned, the signatures are not that important. It will remain very much a Dubai tournament and acts very much as a vision delivered for His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President, Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
As far as golf is concerned, the competition will retain its character but you cannot really have much add-ons with it. Our responsibility, of course, lies in getting enough people in for our sponsors, see that their message is carried through television, and provide them the environment and facilities where they can entertain their customers, guests and the like.
To that end, I think we have got one of the best facilities in the world!