When Tom Phillips saw how his father's advertising job landed him invitations to sporting events, he was hooked.
Now, the Briton rubs shoulders with some of the planet's best golfers as the head of the Middle East for the DP World Tour.
That includes the season-ending DP World Tour Championship at Dubai's Jumeirah Golf Estates on Saturday and Sunday.
“It's one of – if not the – biggest week of our year,” says the 50-year-old, of the event that sees the likes of Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm compete on the Earth Course.
“It's broadcast in 170 countries to more than 600 million households. The number of people attending last year was 68,000, a record over the four days.
“We've increased capacity this year and sold out again, so the signs are that we're going to beat that record again.”
Love for the game
Mr Phillips' love affair with golf began when he first swung a club at age 10. However, he admits he wasn't bound for a career in the sport.
“I wasn't brilliant at it then, and I'm not particularly brilliant now,” he says.
“I enjoy playing with friends, colleagues and clients. My son, currently at university in Shanghai, is a keen golfer.
“But that's the extent of it – I'm not in this job for my golfing ability,” he says, adding that his handicap is 14.
“I can go without disgracing myself, but I won't be playing the DP World Tour anytime soon.”
The game has coloured Mr Phillips' career since childhood.
After going into sports PR from university, his roles have included spells as chief executive of the Hong Kong Golf Association and director of business development for China's Mission Hills.
But it was 15 years in London and Hong Kong as chief executive of the Faldo series, the worldwide tour for elite-level junior and amateur golfers, which first introduced him to some of the stars chasing a $10m prize purse.
“I’ve been fortunate to know some players a long time,” he says.
“Running the Faldo Series – Nick Faldo's golf development programme – the likes of Rory and thousands of others would come through.”
“The nice thing is being around players I have seen develop from promising young kids to some of the world’s best.”
A few of those live in Dubai and have been on-course practising ahead of most arriving for the tournament on Monday.
For Mr Phillips, who lives in Palm Jumeirah, the week before teeing off on Thursday has included meeting new clients, existing and potential sponsors, and government officials.
He took on the job in 2019, assuming responsibility for developing the Tour across the Middle East.
Mr Phillips' career has always involved the marketing and promotion side of sports.
“We have other tournaments in the region, on the DP World Tour and the Challenge Tour – eight in total during 2024,” he says.
“The Tour headquarters is in Wentworth, UK, but this has always been an important region. For me, the brief was to continue that development.
“We have a team of more than 20; half on the staging and operation side, the other working with partners, marketing, promotions. My job is to lead that team.”
Accessible to all
Mr Phillips describes golf as “really good exercise … five hours in beautiful surroundings”, and is keen to spotlight its evolution beyond an “elitist” reputation.
“Despite what some people think, it’s a physically demanding sport,” he says.
“The biggest change over 20 years is how athletic players have become … not just fitness, how they approach all aspects, including the mental side of the game.
“It also gets underestimated how accessible golf is to people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds.
“We have events at our tournaments where golfers of determination compete; we have a world ranking and winners will be playing during this DP World Tour Championship.
“It’s become such a popular event, and not just on the course,” he says.
“You get non-golfers, families, and some base themselves in the tournament village with the kid zones, live music, magic shows, trick shot shows, and might not watch any golf.”
There was even a marriage proposal in a hospitality chalet one year.
The Championship fixture – and golf generally – is also doing good work promoting sustainability, Mr Phillips claims.
“The Earth Lounge on the 16th hole this year has solar panels and hydrogen generators, so we run that hospitality unit emissions-free.
“Cars ferrying people to hospitality are electric. We have free refillable water stations around … last year we saved more than 50,000 plastic bottles; it’s going to be somewhere near 80,000 this year.”
One aspect Mr Phillips isn’t surprised about is the prize money in the game.
“Golf is really big business and these guys are the main attraction,” he says.
“It’s a lot of money, but that’s what they’ve generated through the business of golf. It comes down to supply and demand.”
Mr Phillips admits that it sometimes comes with pressure.
“Every time we deliver the tournament, we want to provide a fantastic experience for the viewers and Dubai.
“This is Dubai going around the world.”
About 3,500 people are expected to be on-site on Saturday and Sunday including contractors, agencies, sponsors, caterers, media, referees, and players.
Despite the hard work that goes into organising the event, Mr Phillips says he would rather work behind the scenes than perform with the professionals on the course.
“I wouldn't want that pressure, performing in front of 600 million people. I'd much rather take my job,” he adds.
“They've got a tournament to win and our job is to provide the platform on which to perform their best ability.”