Dubai Desert Classic: Service staff the real heroes on opening day

There was enough first-round play to lessen the pressure over the next three days

By Joy Chakravarty

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Tommy Fleetwood of England competes during the Dubai Desert Classic on Thursday.  — AFP
Tommy Fleetwood of England competes during the Dubai Desert Classic on Thursday. — AFP

Published: Thu 26 Jan 2023, 8:28 PM

World number one Rory McIlroy might have made some stunning saves in his battling two-under par round that remains to be completed, but the real heroes on a rain-ravaged opening day of the $9 million Hero Dubai Desert Classic were the hundreds of course maintenance and service staff that managed to somehow get the tournament on its feet.

The incessant rain that started on Wednesday evening and continued well into the early hours of Thursday, dumped nearly 40 millimeters of water on the Majlis course. It led to waterlogged bunkers, waste areas and parking spots, and dangerous, slippery conditions throughout the golf course.

An early decision was made on Wednesday night itself to keep spectators off the course and close the general admissions as well as hospitality areas.

Any decision to start play was deferred until 10 am Thursday morning, and it was only due to the tireless effort of the ground staff that the first round commenced at 13:15 hours – a delay of six hours and five minutes from scheduled start of 7:10 am.

If Mike Stewart, DP World Tour’s Tournament Director, was hoping he’d have a hassle-free end to his association with the Hero Dubai Desert Classic, where he has officiated in every tournament since the inaugural event in 1989 and retiring after this week, it was not to be the case.

Stewart, alongside Simon Corkhill and his team at promoters Falcon Golf, and Chris May and his Dubai Golf team at Emirates Golf Club, swung into action and ensured there was enough first-round play to lessen the pressure over the next three days and still complete it as a 72-hole tournament.

“We had a lot of rain yesterday, so the first decision that was made with the tournament promoters, Falcon Golf, was to minimise the number of people on site today by playing behind closed doors, including closing the hospitality area. This decision was taken last night for the safety of everybody in mind,” said Stewart.

“From yesterday afternoon through 6 am, we had about 40 millimeters of rain, which affected the playing surfaces and caused flooding around the golf course, access roads, and Dubai in general. So, we took the decision very early this morning to suspend play.”

The first round was played with preferred lie in operation, but even that was made possible only because of the yeomen job done by the course maintenance team, led by Superintendent Matthew Perry, who started their shifts as early as 3 am.

“The biggest issues from the golf club’s perspective were the bunkers and some of the waste areas which had flooded really badly, so they had to get those bunkers pumped out. Most of the waste areas were pumped out, also pushing water off the greens, pushing water off the fairways. We had a team of about a hundred people working on this and that took several hours,” said Stewart.

“On top of that, the team had to do the usual prep of cutting the tees, cutting fairways, cutting greens, cutting aprons, cutting new holes, all the regular daily tournament preparation. Perry and his team did a fantastic job, and it was quite an incredible effort to get the golf course ready.

“I think we did really well to play today, so it’s a very positive day in that respect.”

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