How many readers in Dubai can remember Tiger Woods playing the Dubai Desert Classic at the Majlis Course of the Emirates Golf Club?
Negotiations to bring Woods to the Dubai Desert Classic began around 2000 when Mark O’Meara finished tied 46th in Dubai. Conversations progressed with the help of O’Meara’s friendship and connections to Woods and their collective management, and it looked as if Tiger and O’Meara would play in Dubai in 2001.
I was then the General Manager of the UAE Golf Association (now the EGF), responsible for the Dubai Desert Classic with a great friend of Dubai, Bob Wilkinson, who is sadly no longer with us.
The deal took no longer than 30 seconds with a conversation with the then chairman of the UAE Golf Association, Mohammed Alabbar. It was a no-brainer to take the tournament from a domestic European Tour event (now DP World Tour) to a truly global tournament, but fees and private jet expenses still had to be found and/or funded. Alabbar was also the vice-chairman of the main sponsor DUBAL (now EGA) at the time, so a fast-track decision was possible.
There was a buzz around the tournament, and it cemented Dubai’s place on the world golf stage. Woods’ visit was extraordinary, with the famous ‘SOLD OUT’ sign positioned outside the entrance to Emirates Golf Club. His participation elevated the tournament. Additional security was involved, and rooms at the official hotel, JA The Resort, Jebel Ali, were converted to gyms to accommodate the world’s number one golfer. Everything had to be right for Woods.
Woods’ first visit was in 2001 when he tied second, two behind then Dubai resident Thomas Bjorn (Denmark), along with Padraig Harrington (Ireland), another player in this week’s Masters. Woods returned in 2004 and tied fifth behind his big buddy Mark O’Meara.
The wins in Dubai
Woods’s Dubai wins in 2006 and 2008 were sandwiched with a tied third in 2007 behind Henrik Stenson. In 2014, he returned for the Champion’s Anniversary edition Dubai Desert Classic to finish tied 41st.
Wood returned again in 2017 and shot 77 in round one, and withdrew from the tournament with back spasms. Many of us thought it would be the last time we would see Woods in a golf tournament anywhere in the world, and retirement seemed inevitable.
How wrong was I? And everyone else! Since then, Woods has added another major and a Green Jacket to his wardrobe with his victory in the 2019 Masters.
What can we expect of Woods this week following his sabbatical from golf following his car crash in 2021? Who knows?
Never write off Tiger Woods, we are so lucky, here in Dubai and the UAE, to have seen him and experienced the ‘Tiger fever!’
It will be a compelling watch!