European Tour has back-up plan as Dubai deadline looms

European Tour says ‘happy’ in Dubai but other golf courses keen to host flagship event
European Tour has back-up plan as Dubai deadline looms
George O’Grady, chief executive of the European Tour
By Claire Ferris-Lay
Mon 22 Aug 2011 11:04 AM

The European Tour will try to keep its season-ending golf tournament in the Gulf, should Dubai fail to renew a deal to retain the Dubai World Championship next year, the tour’s chief executive said.

Speculation that Dubai’s debt woes may see the flagship tournament relocated has spurred interest from rival golf courses, said George O’Grady, but organisers hope Dubai will retain the event.

“We have [had] interest in other parts of the world. Naturally, as you would imagine, we have a back-up plan but ideally we want to stay in Dubai and if not Dubai, certainly in the region. But at the moment we don’t see ourselves moving,” he said.

“If the support [in Dubai] stays at the current levels, then that’s where we’ll be.”

The season-ending Dubai World Championship, launched in 2009, is the richest event on the European Tour, offering $7.5m in prize money.

Those finishing in the top 15 of the Race to Dubai – a season-long points event that replaced the Order of Merit, and closes with the Dubai event – also split a $7.5m bonus pool.

The lucrative event will be held at Dubai’s Jumeirah Golf Estates in December, but is up for renewal next year. Rivals from across the world have contacted The European Tour in a bid to host the event, said O’Grady.

“We’ve got interest in a lot of different countries in the region but its more people just enquiring should anything go wrong, could they be considered,” he said. 

Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Beach Golf Club said in December it aimed to snatch the staging of the tournament away from Dubai and rename it the Road to Abu Dhabi from 2012.

“I think the economic realities in Dubai might make it impossible to keep staging the Race at Jumeirah [Golf Estates],” general manager Ray Manulat said.

“If that's the case we would definitely be interested in taking over. Abu Dhabi is fast becoming one of the sporting capitals of the world: we have the Formula 1, Ferrari World and the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, so why not bring the Race to Dubai here too?”

The European Tour is currently renegotiating sponsorship deals with Abu Dhabi’s The National newspaper, Dubai property developer Nakheel and DP World, said O’Grady.

“We have a negotiating period now and I think most of the people - in fact all of them - want to stay with it,” he said.

The Jumeirah Golf Estates project is overseen by Nakheel, the state developer whose inability to meet its debt obligations helped trigger Dubai's debt crisis in 2009.

The company suspended work on two of JGE’s four golf courses in 2009 following difficulties over contractor payments, but said it June it had received “significant financial support” from the Dubai government to complete the project.

The 306-home real estate development was launched by Dubai World subsidiary LeisureCorp and was scheduled for completion in 2012.

Leisurecorp’s activities were merged with those of Nakheel in June last year.

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