It was supposed to be the world's richest golf tournament. But no longer. The prize money for this year's Dubai World Championship has been cut by a quarter as sponsors feel the pinch of the global financial downturn.
A multimillion-dollar deal arranged two years ago between the European Tour and the Dubai-based developer Leisurecorp created what would have been the world's biggest prize pot for the sport; 2009 is the inaugural season. The European Tour's season-long Order of Merit points race was renamed the Race to Dubai, with a total purse of US$10 million and a prize of US$1,666,660 for the winner of the Dubai World Championship, which will end the season.
The top 60 players on the European Tour's annual money list were expected at the event, which will run from November 19 to 22. Golfers will now compete for a share of a reduced prize fund of US$7.5 million, with the money for the season's points race also expected to be reduced by 25 per cent. The richest tournament remains the Players Championship event on the US PGA tour. This year, that event had a total purse of US$9.5 million (Dh34.9 million) and a US$1.71 million prize for first place.
Leisurecorp merged with the developer Nakheel this year, and Nakheel is understood to have requested a reduction in the original amounts. "Golf's richest tournament is not such a good marketing tool after all," said a Dubai golf industry insider. "The original deal was struck in 2007, and two years on, the world is a very different place. The economic environment has changed." The Dubai World Championship is to be held at the new Earth course at the Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai.
Organisers said they did not expect the enthusiasm for the event to dwindle as a result of the smaller prizes, with top names including Martin Kaymer and Rory McIlroy still expected to play. "The top players on the tour have been consulted, and they have all said they will still come and make the effort to make it a very high-profile event," said one golfing events organiser, who has worked in Dubai for a number of years.
"Everyone involved recognises that money cannot be thrown around in the same way it was when the deal was announced. "It is just about being sensible. And let's be real - US$7.5 million is still a lot of money to be giving out as prize money. "In all honesty, there were no arguments when new figures began being talked about. It is still going to be a hugely important event on the golfing calendar."