What are the impacts the Dubai Desert Classic has upon the tourism industry? Can you elaborate on the intangible impacts a tournament of this size and caliber has on Dubai?
MAY: The Dubai Desert Classic is a very important event for Dubai. It has 21 years of history and a track record of featuring the best players in the world and that puts us in front of millions of people worldwide. Many of them are golfers who are potential golf tourists for Dubai. The tournament has essentially been our most important marketing tool for the past 20 years. Dubai has been very clever about the way it has marketed itself through sport. If you look at the Dubai World Cup for horse racing, the tennis championship, and the rugby 7’s, together with the Desert Classic, they have really put a focus on Dubai. During certain times of the year, we are at the center of the world’s sporting calendar and that brings a lot of television hours and a lot of attention from around the world. We have 20,000 golfers that come to visit us every year. The most popular golf course in the country is the Majlis, and everyone wants to come and play that as their number one choice.
How would you describe the level of competition across the UAE’s golf courses?
MAY: The growth of golf in general in Dubai has been phenomenal. Over the last ten years we have had the growth of a number of golf courses in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and that is going to attract people to come back and visit Dubai on a repeat basis, which is very important to us. We now have 17 golf courses in the UAE and it really is a worldwide golfing destination. We have a large number of tourists who come back to Dubai year after year to sample the new golf courses that are on offer every year, which is a big plus. Also important for the hotels is that the golfing tourist is at the more affluent end of the market. So they do tend to eat in the better restaurants, stay at the better hotels, they stay longer than the average businessman or tourist, and their average spend is higher than the average tourist.
How is the Club involved in developing the next generation of players? How has demand for golf training/coaching changed over the last few years?
MAY: At both of our clubs we have a very strong junior development program. We have over 350 Emirati and expat golfers involved in the program. It is very active and very popular with the kids. We have a very strong emiratization drive; we are offering Emiratis free use of our golf course and coaching from the Emirates Golf Federation. I do not think it will be long before we have a young Emirati golf professional. We have already had Emiratis participate in the Desert Classic and perform very well.
Are costs to run and operate a golf course in the UAE significantly higher than elsewhere in the world? How do you overcome the challenges presented by climate? What impact do operating costs and climate challenges have on the fees charged to members/players? How do fees here compare to other golfing destinations?
MAY: Running and operating golf courses in this part of the world is not a cheap exercise. We are in the desert and we are producing wonderful green golf courses that require enormous amounts of water. In terms of costs, our water costs are significant, however, we use a large amount of treated sewer water, which is environmentally greener and helps in terms of costs. Our average water costs per year, bear in mind that we had one inch of rain in the last twelve months, is in the millions of dollars. Each golf course on average takes about a million gallons per night of irrigation water. We have to use that to keep the courses green. Also the standards that are provided in terms of service are very high and the standards that are expected are very high, so our staffing costs are also very high in comparison to the rest of the world. That, together with the water costs, makes running a golf course an expensive enterprise. If you look at green fees in comparison in the rest of the world, the Majlis course is $250. This is an expensive green fee, but in world terms, the most expensive green fees are around $400. What you see at the other golf courses in the region is that they are just below the Majlis golf course level, which makes golf in this part of the world, taking the quality into consideration, is very good value for money.
If you look at the Dubai World Cup for horse racing, the tennis championship, and the rugby 7’s, together with the Desert Classic, they have really put a focus on Dubai. During certain times of the year, we are at the center of the world’s sporting calendar.