Dubai Desert Classic enters new era with ambitions to become 'best event on European Tour'

Tournament director Simon Corkill and CEO of new title sponsor Slync, Chris Kirchner, discuss the future plans for the new Rolex Series event

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With new title sponsors on board and promotion to the Rolex Series confirmed, organisers of the Dubai Desert Classic have lofty aspirations to make it the standout tournament on the European Tour.

Earlier this month, the long-established event announced a significant upgrade in status, joining a select band of marquee tournaments on Europe’s elite circuit, with prize money more than doubling to $8 million and Race to Dubai points on offer enhanced substantially.

At the same time, Slync, a global logistics technology provider, were welcomed as lead sponsors, ending Omega’s 12-year association with the event. Now one of five Rolex Series tournaments on the European Tour calendar – the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, which falls the previous week, and the season-ending DP World Tour Championship represent two of the quintet - the 2022 Desert Classic is set for a considerable shot in the arm.

“We’ve got a couple of clear mandates,” executive tournament director Simon Corkill told The National. “We want to be the best event on the European Tour and we’ll certainly strive to do that.

“We’ve got some stiff competition, but we’re going to give it a go. And we want to be very, very well regarded on the global stage. So that will continue.”

Typically, Rolex Series events comprise some of the strongest fields on the European Tour outside the four majors and four World Golf Championships. A first raft of player announcements for the Desert Classic is expected early next month – the 2022 edition takes place January 27-30 at the traditional Emirates Golf Club base – with a number of stars having already committed to organisers their participation.

Corkill said joining the Rolex Series would impact favourably the tournament's ability to attract the game’s elite.

“It’s definitely a big positive," he said. "Players love coming to the region, they love coming to Dubai. We certainly don’t take that for granted, but we’re lucky to be in that position that they do enjoy the event.

“But having two Rolex Series back-to-back with Abu Dhabi the week before is very attractive for key players around the world to come and start their season in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. We’ll have a fantastic field, no doubt about it.”

As for the Desert Classic moving into a “new era”, as the promotional video that accompanied the Slync announcement on September 2 declared, Corkill said the event would work closely with the European Tour and their media teams to further raise its profile. TV coverage will be enhanced while, on the ground at Emirates Golf Club, hospitality will undergo a significant refurbish.

Sitting alongside Slync co-founder and CEO, Chris Kirchner, Corkill said: “We’re obviously delighted and we’re looking forward to going on this journey with Chris and the Slync team. Slync is such a forward-thinking, innovative company, and Dubai is very, very much like that.

“Dubai has always been a city that will push the boundaries, and we will continue to do that with Chris and the team. With it being a Rolex Series event, obviously prize money is a lot higher. And we are looking at all sorts of different areas of the event to upgrade.

"We want every person who comes in the gates at Emirates Golf Club to be an ambassador for the event, whether it’s players, caddies, media, spectators, staff. We want people at home to be watching saying, ‘Let’s go to Dubai; that tournament looks fantastic’.”

Kirchner, an avid golf fan, has been a regular viewer of the Desert Classic from his home in the United States, and said that collaborating with such a recognised event – the tournament has been part of the European Tour since its inception in 1989 – made sense given Dallas-based Slync’s customer and user base resides in Europe and Asia.

“It’s an event that I’m familiar with as a fan,” Kirchner said. “And from a business perspective, if you look at - even in the teaser video that we put out - what the Desert Classic was originally, just the skyline of Dubai and what it’s become... it’s testament to Dubai’s growth as a city.

“So, it’s this amazing, historical event, but also this incredibly innovative and cutting-edge event that now is part of the Rolex Series. It’s one of, and will continue to be, one of the most prominent events on the European Tour.

Kircher added: “Any time you have a new title sponsor - I’m not going to say that we dictate everything that goes on because that’s far from the truth - but it’s a new set of ideas. We want to partner with Simon and the team operating with the European Tour and push this event forward.

"And continue to look to the future and how we can create, not just a world-class experience for fans and people attending the tournament to watch, but also for the players, the caddies, the media, for anyone participating in the event.

“We want this to be something that everyone looks forward to every year. Because, for us, with our name associated with the event, only positive things come from creating that type of marquee week in the calendar.”

Before sponsoring the Desert Classic, Slync had already a footprint in the professional game, with Justin Rose, Viktor Hovland and Bernd Wiesberger among their global brand ambassadors. Corkill said Slync would be a “major part” of the Ladies European Tour's Dubai Moonlight Classic, which typically runs late in the season, although not as title sponsors.

Meanwhile, there has been speculation Slync would seek to secure a naming-rights deal for a tournament on the PGA Tour similar to how they have with the Desert Classic.

“Potentially,” Kircher said. “We’re opportunistic on things and that’s kind of how this came about in the beginning. For us, our initial golf investment was a test, was me betting on something that I like personally, that I saw potential for a return in. The truth is it’s returned and generated exactly what we wanted from it.

“So there’s always an opportunity to partner with the PGA Tour. But for us and in the stage we are as a business, and where are customers are and where we’re investing in other things, partnering with the European Tour and Dubai specifically made so much sense at this moment. And we’re really excited about it.”

Updated: September 16, 2021, 9:26 AM