Golf tourism in the UAE stands to benefit from the raised profile of some of the country’s best courses after they shot into a global top 100 list.
The World’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses, a listing published by Golf Digest magazine this month, features Abu Dhabi’s Yas Links and Dubai’s Emirates Golf Club and Jumeirah Golf Estates for the first time.
The capital’s Yas Links is ranked at 46, while Emirates Golf Club is listed at No 95 and Jumeirah Golf Estates at 97. Abu Dhabi has four golf courses and Dubai has 11. The estimated economic impact of golf tourism in Dubai alone is $38 million, according to Deloitte.
The rankings will promote the UAE as an up-and-coming golfing destination and highlight the courses where world champions have teed off, according to golf club chiefs.
The top 100 courses were picked from about 30,000 golf courses around the world.
That is no mean feat, according to Christopher May, the chief executive of Dubai Golf, a unit of Wasel Asset Management. It owns and manages Emirates Golf Club and Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club.
The recognition comes just days ahead of the four-day Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, which tees off on Thursday. The event’s organisers expect to build on the 65,000 attendance last year.
World No 1 Jordan Spieth will make his debut in the Middle East at the tournament, which will also feature world No 3 Rory McIlroy.
“Air connectivity with Abu Dhabi is stronger than ever with the many new routes Etihad has opened and increased frequency by some carriers, such as Turkish Airlines, taking the emirate’s events message even further afield,” said Ahmed Al Qubaisi, the spokesman for Abu Dhabi Sports Council, which owns and presents the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
Last year, an estimated 60,000 golfers came to the UAE, according to Mr May. While 60 per cent of those headed to Dubai, a growing number have been going to Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khaimah.
“The current economic climate and the strong US dollar do make the UAE make an expensive destination, but we expect a nominal growth in the numbers,” Mr May said. “The outlook is quite encouraging with new courses coming up in Ajman and Ras Al Khaimah, and new courses attract new tourists.”
Last year the majority of the tourists were from Europe – such as the UK, Germany and Scandinavian countries – but an increasing number arrived from China, India and Australia.
The weak euro has had a significant impact on all tourism and golf is no exception, according to Howie Roberts, the general manager of Yas Links.
“Oil prices are having more of an internal impact in the drop of sponsorships for tournaments and corporate days and some retrenchment, which impacts membership numbers,” he said.
Yas Links works with overseas tour operators and local destination management companies to promote the golf club and support visitor attractions, including hotels.
It hosts international events such as The Nomura Cup – an amateur team competition held in October with players from 27 Asian countries. The two-day Abu Dhabi Invitational, a professional–amateur golf tournament, will be held on January 30 with 56 European Tour professionals.
The increasing awareness created by international events and the recent listing are “seeing our player demographics become more international; with an increasingly diversified membership base of 800 golfers of 20 different nationalities underlining the potential for growth in golf tourism to Dubai,” said Abdulaziz Bukhatir, the executive director for corporate services at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
The golfing season in the UAE lasts from about mid-October to mid-May.
While the country’s golf courses featured in the top 100 listing are upmarket facilities where a round can cost anywhere between Dh800 and Dh1,200, there is also a middle market of courses such as Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Arabian Ranches Golf Club in Dubai and Sharjah Golf and Shooting Club.
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