Golf has always strived to been at the forefront of environmental improvements, something that can be difficult for a sport that comes with a tag of luxury, a jet-set lifestyle and globe-trotting from one glamorous location to another. If you have ever been to an event like the rainswept, midge-infested Scottish Open, you will know this image is somewhat off the mark.
With advances in technology and digital communication, it is becoming easier to implement greener initiatives on and around the golf course, and also convey the mission and message to fans around the world.
The Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic, which sees some of the world’s top golfers descend on Emirates Golf Club from January 27-30, is looking to reinvent golf’s reputation and get the greens greener through initiatives such as ‘Sustainability Sunday’ during the DP World Tour Rolex Series event, now in its 34th year.
Simon Corkill, Dubai Desert Classic Tournament Director, is on hand at EGC to oversee the final touches ahead of the tournament that will see the likes of Collin Morikawa, Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland compete for the $8 million purse on the famous Majlis Course, and Corkill is ensuring this free-to-attend event is bigger, better and greener than ever.
“We have a number of new factors this year at the Desert Classic. We obviously have a new sponsor in Slync, and we are now part of the Rolex series, which takes us to the top level of golf in Europe and the — also new-look — DP World Tour,” Corkill told Gulf News in an exclusive chat amid the hard work at EGC. “The whole ethos of the event is to keep striving to take it to new heights and we look at every element of the event. One of the areas of the event is looking towards a more sustainable environment for golf, and we are drawing attention to this this year through Sustainability Sunday. This is an initiative — one the final day of the event — to give focus to what we are doing at these events. We are partnering with the GEO Foundation out of St Andrews in Scotland, who are world leaders in golf in regards to ensuring the sport is moving in the right direction regarding sustainability.
“We are on this journey to become a GEO Certified event. There are very few of these so far around the world and it goes hand in hand with what we do at Emirates Golf Club — a GEO Certified venue — already as well as a number of the Dubai golf properties.
“As I said, it is a journey, we are not going to change things overnight, but it aligns very well with the UAE Government’s 2040 Vision and 2050 Vision for the nation. So it is very important we get on this journey now. We are working very closely with all our suppliers and sponsors to ensure we integrate that into the journey. The club here have been a fantastic venue and we are working to eradicate single-use plastic — for example we will have water in cans and refilling stations. On the catering side, all single-use stuff is recyclable so we are working very hard to offset that factor.”
Powering the event is also on the green agenda, and with sunshine aplenty in the UAE, technology is taking things a step further forward.
“One of the big changes is on the power side of things,” Corkill explained. “One of our partners is Aggreko and we are going to be rolling out a 100-metre solar panel on the 11th hole which will power the whole area around 11-15 — the Topgolf Deck — and it will give us the opportunity to showcase what solar power can do. “In addition, our generators are moving over to biofuel, so we are slowly moving in the right direction.”
Conveying the changes — and the need for changes — is crucial at these events to allow the public to take these ideas home and allow them to implement their own changes in their lives.
“We need to educate people, and we will be very visible is showing the public at the e vent where to put there waste and how to recycle their waste,” Corkill said. “It is important to start to get on this journey. Of course we will not change everything in year one, but everyone — the players, caddies, journalists, staff, media, volunteers — they will all get recycled bottles. We have eliminated 40,000 plastic bottles just like that. It is vital for the country and it is vital for golf and we are starting to pull all this together.”
Environmentally friendly travel to and from the Dubai Desert Classic could not be easier, and Corkill knows there is a ready-made facility to take the thousands of fans to EGC right on its doorstep.
“We are really pushing the use of public transport,” he said. “We have limited parking here at the venue and we are going to have a lot of people here — it is free and we have Rory McIlroy, Collin Morikawa and dozens more global superstars — but we actually have a Metro station in the property. I implore the fans to use that. We are in the heart of the city and it is the most simple way to get anywhere. There is ample parking all along the line at various other stations, where you can walk straight on to the train. With Expo 2020 Dubai people are discovering and using the metro a lot more and it is an amazing facility for the city. So use it, it is literally there. Other simple things like car pooling make so much sense.
“We have moved to a digital ticketing system to reduce our paper usage, and we are working with Goumbook to plant ghaf trees around the course, which is a local tree that uses very little water.”
Despite the long-term goals, Corkill is sure we are already seeing results.
“We have already begun this process at Topgolf and it is all about building on that and bringing the awareness to everyone,” he said. “I really think the community is starting to with on to sustainability and we are doing our piece to help that education process.
“I have been here for three years now and already I have noticed a change. A really positive one. There are elements of recycling that three years ago did not exist here and there has certainly been a big shift in recent times, especially in diverting waste from landfill to recycling. There are simple things but very effective. Anything we can do, we will do. We are not going to sit on pour hands, every year we can enforce more change and get bigger and better in everything we do. If we can push our message to the public and they go away thinking: ‘Yup, they are going in the right direction, maybe I should make a change too,’ then we are going to get there.
“We are on a three to five-year journey to become GEO Certified. We would like to get there in three. One factor is offsetting the carbon footprint. Players are already addressing this in a number of ways to help offset the impact of their travelling. Here in Dubai you could argue we have one of the smallest carbon prints in terms of the shortest commute from Abu Dhabi the week before and then we are off to Ras Al Khaimah up the road the following week, so these logistical things can all make a difference in the long run.
“We have signed the UN Sports for Climate Action framework, which means we are committed to encourage work on environmental practices, push for change and educate people about the important factors. It is a pledge to educate and promote sustainability. We can’t just say we signed it, it is our responsibility to get out there and do it. If we don’t, it will be too late for our children. We must set the example.”
Along with one eye on the environment, The Dubai Desert Classic is also raising awareness on breast cancer with its ‘Pink Saturday’ movement.
“Among our social responsibilities is also our allegiance with the Al Jalila Foundation,” Corkill said. “Breast cancer touches one in eight women in the world, which is a horrendous figure, but Al Jalila Foundation does fantastic work in the nation to help with screening and treatment. We will continue to support them along with all the players, caddies and our team to draw awareness to this cause. The players have been fantastic by donating, speaking and also wearing pink on the course, which we encourage everyone to do on Friday. All donations go towards very vital research. It touches everyone — where it is sisters, mothers, grandmothers or daughters — unfortunately it affects us all. So it is important we keep that front and centre from a social responsibility point of view and also was to support the Foundation in all the tremendous work they do.”
With big crowds expected as the free-admission Desert Classic will finish on a UAE weekend Sunday for the first time ever, health and safety is also paramount during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
“One of the big things is free entry,” Corkill said. “The main reason behind it is we have this world-class event on our doorstep. We have all had two tough years and we want to give back to the UAE community and residents and allow them to come town to EGC and enjoy the best golfers in the world, great food and late-night entertainment. The change of the weekend has definitely help as I can see Friday still being busy, but Saturday and Sunday will be great for the family and it will be a bumper final day.
“Safety will be key. Please, for everyone who comes, it is all about sticking to the guidelines: wear your mask, sanitise, social distance — there are plenty of sanitising stations all around the course. We are used to it now but we need everyone to adhere to it. We are all in it together and together we can come through it.”