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February 1, 2006

Mohamed Alabbar


GORDON SIMPSON: Thanks everyone very much for your attendance this afternoon. We have a very special announcement today. And first and foremost I'll introduce the top table on the far left, we have Pete Cowen who most of you know has the golf academy here. And on his left, former winner of this tournament is Mark O'Meara. And we have Mohammed Buamim who is vice chairman of golf in Dubai. And next to Mohammed, we have the Mohamed Alabbar, and next to him, three time winner here, Ernie Els. And on my immediate left, last week's winner in Qatar, Henrik Stenson.

So first of all I'll ask Mohamed Alabbar to say a few words. Thank you.

MOHAMED ALABBAR: Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. It gives me a great pleasure to be with you today. I would like to welcome all of my colleagues on the panel here.

The game of golf has really evolved over the past ten years, not only in Dubai but I think globally. But if we were to come back and look at the game in the region, it's become an very important game. For the City of Dubai, it's always been an important game, but it's getting more important nowadays with so many developers going into the development of golf courses. The city's tourism and business really depends on the sport extensively. As well as the recent development in the city and country as a whole, the interest of the world focus on the city, I think the game became more important. As a result for us to create the greatest value to our visitors and to really try and get the greatest potential out of the game, the creation of.

Golf in Dubai was critical. Not only to coordinate between clubs, coordinate when it comes to actual promoting of the game on a global basis, when it comes to having a central contact point for information, central contact point and system for reservation and any other information the visitors need. Of course, it will lead into much more better coordination for the game in the local scene. The idea of putting energy together to make sure that we really get the value, as I said earlier, for the Club, for our visitors, for the game itself and promote it aggressively.

I think the chance, also, to work together with Ernie Els and Mark O'Meara is really a tremendous value for all of us, not only because they are well known players on the scene, but because they are friends of the City of Dubai, they are a friend of ours on a personal basis, and it's nice to coordinate promotion through passion for the place. And I truly believe that these two gentlemen, they are really passionate about this city of ours.

Of course, Colin and Henrik are also joining the team, as well, to promote our city, and many of those players have been here promoting the game golf for the City of Dubai. There is an existing relationship and I really hope that as we go on, we are able to enhance this coordination that's going to exist under golf in Dubai and take advantage of the real interesting time that we live in, not only in the city, but on the global basis.

I thank you so much and I will give the floor to my other colleagues, thank you.

GORDON SIMPSON: Thank you, Mohamed.

MOHAMMED BUAMIM: I want to welcome everyone and I really appreciate your time, your Excellency, coming here.

And of course I really appreciate you guys being with us and we look forward to your support in the future.

I think I would just open the floor for questions.

GORDON SIMPSON: Thanks, Mohammed. As Mohammed says, we'll just open it to a Q&A session, so if you have anything to ask any of the gentlemen on the top table about golf in Dubai first and then about the tournament, feel free to fire away.

Q. Is this a case of you appointing four golfing ambassadors for the city and basically to promote the game worldwide?

MOHAMED ALABBAR: That's right. We've had Ernie coming here since 1993, I believe, and he keeps coming back and we really appreciate that. We've gone with him, we've gone with Mark O'Meara, because these guys actually like Dubai. And of course, Henrik Stenson is a resident of Dubai now and Peter Cowen has a golf academy at Emirates Golf Club.

So we feel like it's a family thing whereby these guys have Dubai's interests at heart and we feel they will promote us the right way.

Q. I'm interested to know how you will be promoting golf in Dubai in the U.S., are you planning to hold any tournaments there, will you be advertising in the local media there? Considering that there are two flights coming daily from New York to Dubai, that may not be such a bad idea.

MOHAMED BUAMIM: I think with our national airline, Emirates, opening up to the States, I think that's a good start. I mean, there sent enough money to advertise all over the United States, it's just too much. But that's why we choose an ambassador like Mark O'Meara who is a very well known face around the States.

And we're going to go slowly, by the way with this. We're not going to go there and just spend money on advertising all over the place. Golf is a professional game where by we've got to show it and we know the amateur is there. We are approaching them on an individual basis, and then we are going to go into a direct marketing to clubs, as well.

MARK O'MEARA: I'll make a few comments if you don't mind. I know that Ernie has played well here and won several times and I know that I've come, I believe this is my eighth trip now back to Dubai. As Mohamed spoke earlier, golf globally has expanded so much in the last 10 to 12 years, and, you know, what you see what's happening here in the UAE and certainly here in Dubai, Sheikh Mohamed, his vision and passion, along with Mohamed Alabbar, it's just so impressive to see. The fans come out, the support is there, our friendships are there. And when you have all of those things put together, you know, it's going to be successful.

And this event when you look at the past champions that have won the Dubai Desert Classic, it is very impressive. So the good players, the good golfers in the world know that they would love to come and play here. Everybody hears about it, everybody knows about it. And all I can tell you is that, for example, last week I was playing in San Diego where Tiger won, and even though I'm getting less hair and grayer and to that next lifestyle that I'm turning 50, I was coming up the 18th hole and somebody yelled over to me in the gallery, "Good luck in Dubai next week, Mark." And I thought that was pretty impressive. It was pretty neat that they knew that I was coming to Dubai this week to play in the Desert Classic. It's getting world wide recognition. It's certainly helps when you have a player of Ernie Els' winning stature like he's won in the past and Tiger Woods being here at the event this year, the world's No. 1.

So all of those things together just created a positive impact for Dubai and UAE and to really grow golf in the Middle East. So we're just proud to represent the team. If I can help in any way in America, I know a lot of my colleagues know that I come over and play and enjoy it very much, it's only going to help the tournament in the long run and just make golf better.

GORDON SIMPSON: Ernie, you've been far too quiet.

ERNIE ELS: I'll give some comments, too. I think it's a combination. I think Dubai has come a very long way since I've been coming here since 1993. I mean, obviously the tournament is a huge attraction of Dubai. That's why all of these buildings are going up and all of these beautiful resorts are coming here. Obviously with the resorts, there will be golf courses, and I think that's what we're going to be promoting is come to Dubai and come and play golf in Dubai.

I'm getting busy with a golf course out here, Greg Norman is here, Nick Faldo is coming, I'm sure Mark O'Meara is going to build something here. All of the great names in golf design, they are getting busy here. Obviously these resorts are going to be flying up here quickly, and obviously we're going to be promoting the word, golf in Dubai, worldwide.

And Henrik, he's going to have a great year, we're going to be playing across the word, Europe, America, Asia, and obviously they want us to promote golf in Dubai and attract people to come and spend some money here and come and enjoy the experience, basically. So that's my take on it.

GORDON SIMPSON: And Henrik, as a local resident, you must be proud to be associated with golf in Dubai.

HENRIK STENSON: I think it's just a great thing to get an organization that could combine all of the clubs down here. And I know that there's a lot of Scandinavians curious about coming down here to Dubai and play golf this week, so definitely one country that's traveled the world and played golf in a lot of different areas.

I think in the future, we're going to see a lot of Swedes coming down here to play a lot of golf and it's great to be able to have an organization that combines the clubs and creates good packages for people that wants to come down and play golf.

GORDON SIMPSON: And just to finish up, Pete, you have your golf academy here.

PETE COWEN: Yeah, I've had an association with Dubai since 1989. I actually played in the first tournament in '89, although I didn't crown myself with any sort of glory in that tournament and I could see the vision. And the vision is coming to fruition, really. This was the first course; it was the only course. It's really the trendsetter. It got the Middle East, it got the UAE on the map. Everybody I know always calls this course, the Emirates, as Dubai, because it was the first one. To me, it's the best one. That's why I've put my academy here.

I don't know about Ernie's new one, but they have put in some great golf courses here over the years. I think we have got seven and a half courses now, and hopefully in a few years time we'll double that with a few more.

I can only say that this place is getting better. I have a passion for the place, really. I like it. Every time I bring Henrik and all of my players down here, they do some really hard work. I coach the Irish Golf Union, I coach the Belgian Golf Union; they are going to come down here and make winter dates. So all of those sorts of people are going to come to Dubai because we are guaranteed the weather and we can guarantee the work.

So everything about Dubai has got excellence written on it. So to me that's why we are nominated as ambassadors for golf in Dubai because we are very passionate about it, and we think it's a great place. So I really just want to say that I've sent thousands of people to Dubai, and I've not had a bad word said against Dubai, apart from the traffic.

Q. What, in fact, are you going to do? Are there plans for golf courses to build?

MOHAMED BUAMIM: There are. I think Ernie's course is being built, most of the courses have academies and they have international academies, they have golf professionals teaching the kids. But this is part of our mandate, as well, as golf in Dubai and the UAE Golf Association, as we do have a junior program running alongside this promotional side of things.

Q. Are there any moves being made to bring any other profession the tournaments here, like from the Asian Tour?

MOHAMED BUAMIM: We are working on some tournaments, yes, but we cannot announce anything yet. Obviously the more tournaments we have in this region in general, obviously is good for the game. So we can't really announce anything now.

Q. Just an extension of that question, I wondered if there are any plans to bring a World Championship event here, we know they are all four going to be played in America this year, and we think this is probably an ideal site to bring a championship of that stature.

MOHAMED BUAMIM: They have been here and we have talked to them but we have nothing finalized yet.

We are looking at all possibilities. When you have golf tournaments in any city obviously, it promotes the city. So for us it's important that we do have golf tournaments.

Q. Do you think Abu Dhabi will be competition for you now?

MOHAMED ALABBAR: I don't think Abu Dhabi is competition, because we are a unit, we are United Arab Emirates. We promote the City of Dubai but in general, we promote the UAE, Abu Dhabi and the UAE. It's actually a good thing because then we can share resources amongst ourselves.

Q. If I might ask Ernie and Mark, about the World Golf Championships events, for the next three years, they are all going to be played in America, and your thoughts on whether that's retrograde for the game, given that you are global?

ERNIE ELS: I think it's a bit crazy. You know, why call it World Golf Championships if it's played in one country all the time. I thought that world championship events were to promote the game of golf around the world. They have got the world golf association of all federations.

I can understand from an American point of view that the money for these events are all out of American companies, and I'm sure those American companies sponsoring those events want it on primetime television on NBC, ABC or CBS; I can understand that. But to play it in one country is kind of strange.

I know this year they are playing the American Express at the Grove. I personally would love to see the Match Play go down to the links golf course whether the South African Open was (Fancourt). I think that's a great venue for a Match Play. Obviously that's a long way to go. But that's my view.

MARK O'MEARA: My view will probably be on the Champions Tour but no, I'm almost 50.

I would agree with Ernie. The game has certainly changed. In fact, I didn't even realize that that was the case the next three years, all of the World Golf Championships were going to be in the States. Ernie I think laid it on the line pretty much the way it is and I would agree with Ernie that from the standpoint that the game is so global now. I didn't get to play in the World Golf Championships like when they played in Ireland, but if I was qualified, I would have been there in a heartbeat.

So I think it is good to move them around from the standpoint that's what you're trying to do, it's a global game now. Maybe at one time 20 years ago or 25 years ago, the Americans tended to dominate the game. But that's not the case anymore. We've obviously seen that in the Ryder Cup, we've seen that in the Presidents Cup, we've seen the international flavor on the PGA Tour. I mean, when I came on the Tour 26 years ago, there was maybe there was maybe two international players, not even that, I don't think, playing the PGA Tour full time. And now, you know, maybe almost a third of the players that are on the PGA Tour are international players.

So that is the Tour that I think everybody wants to look at, and you know, it's a difficult thing, and probably a lot of pressure from the sponsors, this or that, from the primetime TV slot. I agree with Ernie, I think it should be moved around the globe for sure.

Q. I couldn't agree with that more. In fact, I could only wonder why there's only one tournament on the Asian PGA. I think this is really coming up well in Asia, China, India, and I don't know why Dubai doesn't have an Asian PGA tournament.

PETE COWEN: I think you have certainly one of the best tournaments certainly on The European Tour now. You have one of best tournaments, all of the players enjoy it, and I know it's the Middle East, it's not Asia, but it's close to Asia and you just had a joint sanctioned tournament in Qatar. I think it's pretty difficult to get joint sanctioned tournaments. The Asian Tour is slightly below The European Tour, but it will grow and I'm sure in a few years' time you will have tournaments of that stature, and the whole place will grow; Asia will grow with the Middle East. Everything takes time and they have a great tournament now.

Q. Henrik, a question about this week if I may. We've been watching you last couple of weeks driving the ball phenomenal distances and way past the guys who you've been playing alongside. You're paired with Tiger Woods tomorrow, can you speak about what your thoughts are on that and whether you expect to out drive him?

HENRIK STENSON: Well, I played with Tiger in San Francisco in the last round, and yardage wise it seemed he was about ten yards longer on a few of the drives. So I'm just going to step it up a little bit if I want to get into that match tomorrow.

But it's just good fun to be out with the world's No. 1 tomorrow. I think I'll have the motivation up, for sure, even though I'm a bit tired after these last would weeks, I think that's going to sort of jump start me tomorrow hopefully.

Q. Obviously Tiger is used to competing week in, week out where it's new for you; do you feel sort of drained, tired?

HENRIK STENSON: A little bit. I've been playing in the last groups the last two weeks running. It sort of takes a bit of energy out of you. It's just a good thing for me being out with him and Darren tomorrow because that's really going to keep my motivation on top and I think it's a good thing for me.

Q. Chris DiMarco after he won the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, he made a lot of comments about Tiger about him still being very unique, do you feel that about him, do you feel that he's got the aura, and if we can get some general comments about this week's tournament.

MARK O'MEARA: Certainly I've been fortunate to play for, like I said, the last 25, 26 this is my 26th year as a professional golfer. To witness and be a part of what's going on in professional golf now is really amazing.

I mean, when you look at what Tiger has brought to the game, the way he's played, the way he's conducted himself, it's pretty amazing. You know, he just turned 30 years of age, ten major championships, just winning his 47th PGA Tour event last week, I would never have dreamed that we would have saw somebody so famous in the world of sport have such an impact on the game of golf, and certainly he has.

When he comes on the course or whatever tournament he's at, he commands an unbelievable presence of galleries. The TV ratings on Sunday were almost a 6.0 in the United States and that's what most major championships don't even get. And you've got players of the stature of Ernie Els, last week Phil and Sergio were right there. It's not just Tiger. I mean, Tiger, yes, to witness what he's accomplished is amazing. But yet Tiger has an unbelievable appreciation for the rest of his fellow players. He realizes how good Ernie Els is. He realizes how good Phil Mickelson is. And Henrik coming on like he is, you know, winning last week and almost winning the week before, there's players that are just continually developing and that's what's driving the game right now.

So you know, to have him here this week in Dubai I think is a huge plus. I think everybody in America will be following this week, the tournament, his progress, as well as the rest of the five players that are here this week. And it's fun for me obviously because I have such a close relationship with Tiger as a friend, just to I love golf, too, even though I have to do this for a living, I'm probably one of his biggest fans, witnessing what he does and the shots he can play. He's not perfect, he doesn't hit every shot perfect, but I think once again, his ability to rise to the occasion or make things happen when he needs to is unbelievable.

But we've really witnessed a lot of great golf the last few years, not only just by Tiger but by these other fine players that have played the game and they all hit the ball very far, I know everybody keeps talking about the equipment, even the older guys. But I'm claiming the equipment has gotten better but when the guys prior to my coming along, they had better equipment than the players before them.

So I'm claiming it's just not the equipment. These athletes, and you have to classify these golfers are athletes now, they are all big, strong, they work out, they watch their diets well, I don't know, Ernie went and had his legs operated on; he probably was not watching his diet that good. (Laughter).

It's quite amazing, the power, the strength, but yet they have the tough, too, the controllability of the golf ball. They are wonderful putters. We even say it yesterday with Retief Goosen; he was making them from everywhere. But yet they are powerful, too. It's a totally different game today and it's a great game and it's only going to get better. And this tournament really is special because of that.

GORDON SIMPSON: Thank you, Mark. Ladies and gentlemen, and thanks to the four golfing ambassadors, Mohamed Alabbar and Mohammed Buamim, thank you very much everyone for attending this afternoon.

End of FastScripts.

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