Tiger Woods Burj Al Arab
Tiger Woods hits balls from the Burj Al Arab in 2004 Image Credit: Dubai Desert Classic

With Tiger Woods making a highly anticipated return to PGA Tour action later this week, it seems fitting to take a journey back through time to remember one of the most iconic moments in the UAE’s rich sporting history – the 15-time Major winner hitting balls from Burj Al Arab’s helipad.

Exactly twenty years ago next month, Woods arrived in Dubai for the second time looking to avenge missing out on the 2001 Dubai Desert Classic title after Thomas Bjørn had so brilliantly tamed the big cat on the back nine of Emirates Golf Club’s Majlis Course to leave the World No.1 settling for a share of second place.

That first outing at the ‘Major of the Middle East’ had sent Dubai into Tiger mania with Emirates Golf Club placing a “sold out” sign at the entrance. It was the first time a golf event had ever sold-out in the UAE and remained the only occasion until the 2022 DP World Tour Championship.

So, when Woods decided to return to the Emirate for the 2004 edition, tournament organisers had a predicament – how could they generate as much buzz?

Simple, have the maestro hit balls from one the world’s finest hotels and beam those images to every corner of the globe.

It was a spectacle and one that still lives vividly in memories of Dubai residents and those further afield two decades later. After all, it’s not every day you see an icon launch golf balls into the Arabian Gulf from 210 metres above sea level.

But how does one go about preparing a stunt as iconic as that? I reached out to Luc Delafosse, General Manager of the Burj Al Arab between December 2003 and April 2008, to find out.

“The preparation was done well in advance in order to ensure every detail would be anticipated and organised,” said Delafosse, who now lives in Riyadh.

“I remember Tiger coming out of his suite around 30-45 minutes before the shooting of the stunt to get ready on the helipad. There was a lot of detail that went into it, we had to ensure the camera crew were prepped, the helicopter was in position to film and of course obtain the permits for a stunt of this magnitude.

“A lady called Mary McLoughlin oversaw PR for the Jumeirah Group at the time and she was brilliant at organising it all and ensuring everything ran smoothly from the shooting of the stunt itself to sending out the photos and video to media across the world.”

NEW-plane lands on burj al arab helipad on march 14 pic by DMO twitter-1678806849943
Further stunts have included base jumps and a plane landing on the helipad at Burj Al Arab

You’d think seeing Woods leave his room and head towards the helipad would cause a fair bit of fanfare from media, hotel staff and guests. Except there wasn’t because only a select few were told what would be happening that day, including Delafosse who was the only member of staff at the hotel that was aware of what was going on.

“The key to the success of this stunt was confidentiality of information and the minute details,” he recalls.

“I remember Mary keeping everything extremely confidential, she only gave me, as the GM, very little information to make sure everything could happen without any disruption and without anyone knowing what was going on.

“None of the hotel staff knew what was happening aside from Mary and me.

“I remember collecting Tiger from his room to take him up the helipad and staff were asking me what was going on. They said they had heard Tiger Woods was on the helipad hitting golf balls – I just asked them if they were sure! It wasn’t until the photos went live around the world that the staff finally knew 100 percent what had happened that day.”

It is estimated that, within 24 hours, the image featured in close to 4,000 publications worldwide, helping proper the Burj Al Arab into the stratosphere.

“This event on the helipad, coupled with other happenings such as Roger Federer and Andre Agassi playing tennis there, contributed to the success of the repositioning of the Burj Al Arab back then,” he said.

Luc Delafosse became General Manager of the Burj Al Arab in December 2003
Luc Delafosse became General Manager of the Burj Al Arab in December 2003 Image Credit: World Travel Awards

“That period between 2004 and 2008 was very successful for the hotel. The best moments of my life were spent there.”

Away from scaling heights that hadn’t been scaled before, Woods enjoyed the hotel’s unbeatable hospitality during tournament week, which ended with him finishing in a share of fifth.

“Our job was to exceed expectations for guests staying with us, I remember Tiger being a very easy customer who enjoyed himself,” said Delafosse.

“I don’t recall any issue that we had, or he had, during his stay – sometimes these megastars are not that difficult to please if you do your job properly.

“I remember when Federer stayed with us that he was very particular about his laundry, so we ensured that we got that right each time. I also assigned a specific butler to him and his wife, and they remain close with the Federer family to this day.”

Woods would get his hands on the Dallah Trophy at the third time of asking in 2006 before collecting a second title two years later after beating Martin Kaymer by one stroke.