As the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship gets ready to tee off, we talk to one of the sport’s biggest players, take a look at his rivals and preview the rest of the flagship event. Plus, win a round with a top golf star…
Golf in the Gulf is on the rise and the 6th edition of the capital’s annual golf tournament proves it. Four of the world’s top six golfers will be hoping to kick-start a successful year on the circuit by lifting the coveted Falcon Trophy.
The sixth edition of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship will see world number one Jordan Spieth make his Middle East debut fresh from a stunning year after winning the US Masters Tournament and US Open among other titles.
Also adding to the glittering line-up, golfing superstars Rory McIlroy (World No. 3), Henrik Stenson (World No. 5) and Rickie Fowler (World No. 6) will be looking to start the season with a win. And let’s not forget about German Martin Kaymer, who’s lifted the Falcon Trophy a record four times and will no doubt be looking to take top-spot once again.
Held at Abu Dhabi Golf Club over four days, the competition boasts a staggering prize fund of $2.7million (AED 9.9m), the highest prize money for any tournament on the European Tour’s three-legged Desert Swing, which also includes the Qatar Masters and the Dubai Desert Classic.
This is the sixth year of the tournament under the sponsorship of HSBC, but the first tournament took place back in 2006. The competition has grown significantly since its inception and has provided a catalyst for the growth of a golfing culture here in Abu Dhabi.
With some world-class golfing facilities dotted throughout the emirate it comes as no surprise that many youngsters are deciding to take up the sport with the aim of making a name for themselves in the world of golf.
The Abu Dhabi Sports Council, in partnership with HSBC, has launched the grassroots golfing programme Champions Of Tomorrow to provide support and encouragement to the UAE’s next generation of golfers.
More than just a sporting event, the competition has grown as a family day out with added entertainment to tempt those who know next-to-nothing about the sport to give it a try and enjoy a day out.
The Championship Village this year will feature a beach barbecue manned by British Michelin-starred chef Tom Sellers, as well as a range of attractions, dining options and family entertainment.
Players and celebrity sportsmen personalities will make appearances with meet-and-greets and autograph sessions throughout the competition plus a jumbo screen will ensure you catch every drive, chip and putt.
The cultural zone will offer camel rides, henna and traditional activities, while the HSBC Hour offers visitors lessons from UAE club professionals at the driving range.
Judges and experts will be on hand on Ladies Day on 22nd January giving visitors the chance to have some fashionable fun and win special prizes and the Dress in Red Day on 23rd will see those wearing, you guessed it, red gain free entry to the championship.
Need to know
What: Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship
When: 21st-24th January
Where: Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Sas Al Nakhl
Tickets: 800 86823, ticketmaster.ae
Rory McIlroy in the hot seat
Deciding on who will win the tournament is a tough call, but four-time runner-up Rory McIlroy is sure to have a significant say in the competition and is a hot favourite to lift the silverware.
We sit down with the humble Irishman to find out what he loves about the capital’s championship and his off-course initiatives.
What excites you most about the upcoming Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship?
I always love coming to Abu Dhabi to start my season. This is where I begin to sharpen my tournament game in the early part of the golfing year. Playing against the best players in the world definitely helps focus the mind and it is one of the main factors [behind why] I’m here to begin my season.
You’ve not won the championship so far; how confident are you that this could be your year?
I’ve been a runner-up four times so I’d really like to break that duck and get over the line this year. I always play well in the UAE, and coming off the back of my victory at the DP World Tour Championship and Omega Dubai Desert Classic early last year, I’m confident I can extend my run in the desert.
You will go up against some top quality opposition. Who do you think will be the biggest challenge to you and why?
Obviously there has been a lot of talk about Jordan coming to the desert for the first time, and a lot of eyes will be on him. He’s coming off the back of a great 2015 season, so he’ll certainly be looking to add to his worldwide wins. Rickie, too, played here last year so he will know the course a little better – he could be tough to beat. Henrik Stenson also plays these desert courses so well and consistently that he’ll be a strong contender for the title.
Golf might seem like a sedate sport to some but you take your fitness rather seriously. What type of training programme do you have and how does it help you in golf?
One of the great things about golf is that people of all shapes, sizes and fitness levels can compete at the highest level. So, while fitness works for me personally, it doesn’t need to be the same for others. My training programme varies all year round depending on whether I’m playing that week or I am trying to get stronger. My workouts generally involve a mixture of flexibility and strength training exercises that vary from box jumps to deadlifts to dynamic stretches.
You seem quite humble despite having become a household name. How do you stay grounded and cope with the pressure?
I’ve got a great team around me and that definitely helps keep me down to earth. I’ve always had lots of support from my team, friends and family. I think one really important thing is making sure I enjoy myself off the course and take time to relax away from the game. Whether that’s going to a football match or even playing a social game of golf with my mates back home in Northern Ireland, it just helps you put things in to perspective.
We know you’re a football fan. Would you ever consider changing sport?
I’m a big Manchester United fan and, as you know, I like the odd kick about now and then… But I’m definitely sticking to golf for the foreseeable future. When I won the Open I was lucky enough to take the trophy on to the pitch at Old Trafford, which was quite a special moment for me as a fan. I think I’m a little too far into my career to consider any serious changes.
You’re now the face of the EA Sports’ flagship golf video game. Are you a video game fan yourself?
I still really enjoy playing video games and, strangely enough, golf games were always my favourite. I was really quite shocked but very excited when I was asked to front my own game. Playing against myself took a little getting used to at first but it’s something I get a great bit of fun out of.
You also started The Rory Foundation in 2013. What’s your aim with the charity?
It’s quite simple, really: when I was younger, my parents sacrificed everything to allow
me to play the game I love and I now want to give something back. Having that support from my family gave me the opportunity to chase my dreams. But I know that every young person is not so fortunate and my aim is that The Rory Foundation will support children’s charities, big and small, locally and internationally. For me, it’s about trying to support the many great and important causes out there.