Some of golf's biggest names celebrate the 25th birthday of the Dubai Desert Classic
Woods, Els, Couples and Olazabal among those playing an invitational tournament Tuesday
Woods in relaxed mood despite poor start to the season at Torrey Pines
The year 1989 launched the Dubai Desert Classic golf tournament and the baseball film ‘Field of Dreams’ but the latter’s famous line about how building a sports field in an unlikely setting would draw in major players can certainly apply to both.
In fact, there are few better examples than what is today the Emirates Golf Club.
Twenty-five years ago, the course was surrounded by acres of barren desert – with barely a skyscraper to be seen in what was little more than a sleepy United Arab Emirates trading post.
Nonetheless, the rulers of Dubai had the finances and inclination to back their extraordinary vision for what is reality today.
They also had the verbal skills to persuade European PGA Tour organizers to stage an event far from their traditional home – and in Asia for the first time.
The results have been spectacular.
On Tuesday, the roll call of champions that turned out to celebrate the Dubai Desert Classic’s 25th birthday included some of the greatest names in the sport: Tiger Woods, Jose Maria Olazabal, Ernie Els, Fred Couples and Colin Montgomerie among others.
Mark James, the first man to win a tournament originally called the Karl Litten Desert Classic, was also in attendance.
The only one of the 21 former winners to miss the anniversary was Seve Ballesteros, who died three years ago, but the legendary Spaniard was represented by son Javier.
The 23-year-old law student, who made his debut on the Challenge Tour last April, went round in a respectable two-over par.
Yet most eyes were, as usual, on Woods, especially after the world No. 1’s disastrous seven-over round at the weekend at Torrey Pines, a course where he has recorded eight victories.
Woods finished in a tie for eighth position, paying the penalty for a double bogey after finding water on the 18th, but he seemed wholly untroubled by his poor start to the season as he played alongside Fred Couples and Stephen Gallacher, who won last year’s Desert Classic.
“Playing with Fred is always a blast,” Woods told the Dubai Desert Classic’s official website. “I have known him for so long and he is almost like a big brother to me.”
The 14-time major winner first played in Dubai in 2001, when his reported appearance fee of $3 million generated plenty of global headlines.
He has gone on to win the tournament twice, with his last victory coming in 2008 – the same year as his last major triumph.
Tuesday’s event was won by Sweden’s Henrik Stenson and Rafa Cabrera-Bello of Spain, who share the Champions Challenge trophy after both finished six-under par.
“It’s a great place for me, it’s always good fun to be back and celebrating the 25th anniversary this year is also very special,” said world No. 3 Stenson, who lived in Dubai for nearly a decade.
“There’s not many tournaments going on for that many years and we had a great roll of champions here so it’s been a good event.”
Yet the real contest will take place on Thursday, with a strong field featuring Woods, Stenson and Rory McIlroy among others.
There will also be a special place for Barry Lane, the 53-year-old Englishman who is the only player to have contested every single edition of the tournament.
Having finished sixth in the inaugural event, he has witnessed at first hand the remarkable transformation of Dubai from empty space to thriving international metropolis – a genuine field of dreams.