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30th Jan 2023

Dubai Desert Classic shows why it is a tournament like no other

Jack Peat

Desert golf never felt so… progressive

It was almost inevitable from the outset that, come a rain-delayed final round, the two players that would be in contention to win the Dubai Desert Classic would be the same pair that had dominated golf headlines in the run-up to the tournament.

The press conferences during the build-up to the contest – the 35th since the European Tour first staged events in the Arabian Peninsula in 1989 – had an almost pre-fight feel to them, with PGA’s Rory McIlroy trading blows with LIV’s Patrick Reed in a fashion that would leave most heavyweights hot under the collar.

Reed dubbed McIlroy an “immature little child” before he was accused of “not living in reality” himself.

At one point, the American even flicked a tee at his new foe on the driving range, although footage released consequently suggests it wasn’t quite the act of aggression it was made out to be.

But the beef was certainly real. On Christmas Eve, McIlroy had been served a subpoena by Reed’s lawyer Larry Klayman in relation to a $750 million defamation lawsuit against the Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee.

Asked about it in a press conference, McIlroy said he was, probably understandably, a little unnerved by it. “I’m trying to have a nice time with my family and someone shows up on your doorstep and delivers that, you’re not going to take that well”, he said.

But beyond that, the Northern Irishman said he was solely concentrating on his own game, and so it proved. He shot an impressive 66 in his first competitive round in a month and followed that up with a sub-par 70, a 65 and a 68 on the final round.

Elsewhere, ‘tee-gate’ turned to ‘tree-gate’ after Reed’s ball ended up stuck in a palm tree. He was able to identify it, or so he said, by an ‘arrow’ which afforded him a free drop.

Others were less than convinced.

A stunning putt on 18 handed McIlroy the win and allowed him to avoid a playoff with Reed, with the relief on his face clearly visible.

He then made his way to a trophy presentation that took place at the heart of the fan zone, rather than on the 18th green as is the custom, giving it a unique amphitheater atmosphere.


It is one of several aspects that organisers at the trailblazing Dubai Desert Classic are looking to do differently. With a focus on being accessible, affordable and sustainable, the event is reevaluating all aspects of a golf tournament in a bid to make them one notch better. From the fan experience to player facilities, hospitality and provisions for families, there is a distinct feeling that everyone is welcome here. Golf nuts? Of course. Sun-tanned expats with veneers? Naturally. But so too are all the people who might not naturally consider a golf tournament as part of their plans, and that is the most impressive piece.

To get to Emirates Golf Club you can take the Dubai Metro which, conveniently, is located on the club’s grounds. Tickets to ride the Metro will cost (at most) £4 or £5, and once you are there admission to the Dubai Desert Classic is completely free. At the entrance, families will find the Tournament Town which is packed to the rafters with free entertainment and activities for kids of all ages. Those looking to soak up the atmosphere and get a feel for the club will be welcomed into the clubhouse from 6pm for a drink or two, something you certainly won’t find elsewhere.

Speaking to JOE, Simon Corkill, the executive tournament director, said they are “always willing to give things a go” when it comes to attracting new audiences. “Dubai won’t accept being second best”, he said, adding that they are “constantly looking to see what we can do better next year” to keep it enjoyable and relevant.

You never know, he says, “golf might just rub off on you”.

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