By Ben Jacobs
Gulf state on three-way rota to host $2.5m golf event with South Africa, South Americ
The Volvo Golf Champions should be back in Bahrain by 2014, after the Gulf state was added to a three-way rota of countries to host golf’s season-opening event.
Bahrain was dropped from the European Tour for 2012 in the wake of widespread political unrest, but a new agreement will see the kingdom share hosting rights for the tournament with South Africa and South America, said Per Ericsson, president of Volvo Event Management Golf.
“Pulling out of Bahrain is just a minor setback for us,” Ericsson told Arabian Business’ sister title Middle East Golfer. “I have spent a lot of time there, and feel 100 percent safe, but our decision to move the 2012 event was based on outside perceptions. We simply can’t stage the Volvo Golf Champions in Bahrain because of how the world currently views the region. It would be damaging to our brand – but we do very much intend to go back in the very near future.”
At least 30 people were killed in this year’s uprising in Bahrain, a US ally situated between Qatar and Saudi Arabia that is home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, as pro-reform demonstrators took to the streets.
The island kingdom's worst unrest since the 1990s was put down in March in a government crackdown that called in troops and police from Gulf Arab countries.
Ericsson said the $2.5m golf tournament may be hosted in neighbouring Gulf states the UAE or Oman, if Bahrain remains politically unstable.
“In the Middle East, Bahrain is our first choice and we hope to be back by 2014, if not before. Over the next year, we will keep a close eye on the situation, and potentially consider places like Abu Dhabi and Oman if Bahrain remains unstable.”
This January’s flagship event, which sees a field entirely made up of European Tour winners, is now highly likely to take place in South Africa rather than South America, because the former fits in with the European Tour calendar. Before the Desert Swing, which will now kick off in Abu Dhabi, there are already two tournaments there – the Africa and Joberg Opens.
The decision to drop Bahrain from the European Tour in 2010 followed the cancellation of the Gulf kingdom’s Grand Prix, scheduled to be held in March.
Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone is believed to have submitted a revised racing calendar for 2102, with the Bahrain Grand Prix earmarked to take place in November.
Ericsson said the decision to scrap the F1 race had been a deciding factor in Volvo’s own move.
“It was very important to make a clear and early decision, so we didn’t get in the same mess as Formula One. The last thing we wanted was to reach December and have no idea if things were going ahead or not,” he said.
“You simply can’t have uncertainly surrounding the first event on the golfing calendar or it casts a shadow over the entire season. As a result, once we saw that last March’s Bahrain Grand Prix was off we felt it was probably wise to follow suit – or at least put in place a contingency in case we needed to change things.”