Dubai the driving force

Golf's European Tour's new-look Race to Dubai schedule for 2009 was officially launched yesterday and will start next month with the HSBC Champions event in Shanghai.

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TURNBERRY // Golf's European Tour's new-look Race to Dubai schedule for 2009 was officially launched yesterday and will start next month with the HSBC Champions event in Shanghai. Some 53 tournaments will be played in 26 destinations before the $20 million (Dh 74m), finale, the Dubai World Championship at the Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai from Nov 19-22, 2009. -

Five tournaments - the Czech Golf Open, The English Open, the Canal Plus Open, the Volvo World Match Play Championship and The Dubai World Championship - are added to the 2009 schedule on which the New Zealand Open, the BMW Asian Open and the Volvo Masters will not feature. Two tournaments - the HSBC Champions, which starts on Nov 6, and the UBS Hong Kong Open - will be played twice on the 2009 schedule, then the 2010 season will revert to a calendar year schedule. George O'Grady, the chief executive of the European Tour, said: "We are excited about the start of the Race to Dubai and the superb quality of the field for the HSBC Champions in Shanghai, with five of the top seven currently active players in the world all entered.

"The 2009 European Tour international schedule confirms how the European Tour has become ever-more global." The Omega European Masters at Crans-sur-Sierre, Switzerland, from Sept 3-6 will again launch the start of the qualifying race for places in the European team for the 2010 Ryder Cup. The headquarters of the European Tour will also be based in Dubai. Sergio Garcia and Padraig Harrington have thrown their weight behind the inaugural Race to Dubai and indicated the big-money Dubai World Championship would see them making more appearances in Europe.

The top 60 in the Race to Dubai will qualify for the tournament. To be eligible for the world's richest tournament, players must be members of the European Tour, and that now means playing in 12 rather than 11 tour events, two of which must be in Europe. So far in 2008, Garcia has played 11 times on the European Tour, although seven of those are taken up by the majors and World Golf Championship events, while Harrington has appeared 14 times.

"This tournament represents a real statement of intent by the European Tour and Dubai," said Garcia, who helped design one of the courses at Jumeirah Golf Estates. "The Tour has clearly moved up a gear in its ability to attract the world's best players and Dubai has reinforced its position as a centre of world golf. "It will certainly help focus the interest of the players throughout the year and I, for one, will be seeking to get to Dubai and make it a great finish to the season."

Harrington, overtaken in this year's Order of Merit by Robert Karlsson after the Swede's win the Dunhill Links Championship on Sunday, added: "I think the Race to Dubai will add a sparkle. "I know many of the pros, including myself, are looking at our schedules to give ourselves the best chances of going out there and winning that. I have a very tight schedule on both sides of the world but I would like to give myself a good chance of winning that, especially in the first year."

A number of high-profile players, including Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh, have expressed an interest in taking up European Tour membership, but none have yet committed themselves to do so. "I think Vijay is going to do it because he told me he's going to win the Dubai World Championship, and he'll have to be in it to win it," said George O'Grady, chief executive of the European Tour. O'Grady insisted the Race to Dubai was not about competing with the PGA Tour in America, but admitted lessons had been learnt from across the Atlantic in the current financial climate.

"We don't want to be involved with too many rocky banks," he added in reference to the number of American events sponsored by financial institutions. "We are well aware of what's happening in the financial markets in the world and that's why we have enormous confidence in our partnership with Leisurecorp. The schedule is 98% rock solid." Leisurecorp is the Dubai World company which specialises in developments and investments in sport and with whom the European Tour has a wide-ranging partnership. They have also recently bought Turnberry, which will stage the 138th Open Championship next year.

David Spencer, chief executive officer (golf) for Leisurecorp, said: "When we sat down to work with the European Tour we stated we wanted to create an event that was bigger than one player and we have poured our heart and soul into that. "We did not have the US Tour in our sights. That being said, I think the Race to Dubai has raised the bar of professional golf. Mr Finchem (US Tour commissioner) is very impressed with what we have put together.

"It has captured the imagination of professional players all over the world." The record number of tournaments is due in part to a minimum of two tournaments - the HSBC Champions and the UBS Hong Kong Open - each counting twice on the 2009 schedule - once in 2008 and again in 2009. In addition there are five "new" tournaments - the Czech Golf Open, English Open, Canal + Open, Volvo World Match Play Championship and Dubai World Championship.

From 2010, the tour will revert to a calendar-year programme starting with the South African Open at Pearl Valley in January and concluding with the Dubai World Championship in November. Several venues have yet to be confirmed, including one for the Seve Trophy, but O'Grady revealed the tour planned to take over the running of the event. "We discussed it with the players and the feedback was that it was a good event if the tour got behind it and took it over, and we have agreed that with Seve (Ballesteros)," O'Grady added.

"These are tough times and it's a work in progress. We have significant interest but it's not a done deal." @Email:wjohnson@thenational.ae