Thursday, April 5, 2012

2012 Masters preview

Well it’s that time of the year again.  The azaleas are blooming and some of the world’s greatest golfers have descended upon Augusta for what promises to be a thrilling Masters tournament.  The world’s greatest golf tournament, and I say that with all due respect to the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai (J), kicks off today in what is one of the most anticipated Masters tournaments in recent years.  With Tiger’s victory at Bay Hill just two weeks ago moving him back into the world’s top 10, and with Rory finding winning form, the prospect for an exciting week’s golf is upon us.

My only disappointment this year is that Ernie Els failed to qualify.  While his form certainly seems to have improved it is a shame he was unable to win a tournament to qualify for the Masters or at least move into the world’s top 50 in time to qualify for the tournament.

I had a really tough time this week choosing my European Tour Fantasy Team.  With their being so many quality Europeans in the field, the choice was really tough to make.  Finally I settled on Donald, Fisher, Garcia, Hanson, Karlsson, Quiros, McIlroy, Oosthuizen, Rose and Westwood.  I made an educated guess leaving out Martin Kaymer, given that he has not made the cut in four previous visits to Augusta.  My toughest call was omitting Charl Schwartzel, the defending champion, from my fantasy team.  With him having won last year he is not under as much pressure to perform this year.  Although I believe he will do well I suspect that other players will do better.

Who would I like to see win?  I have predicted here that Alvaro Quiros will win the Masters.  Otherwise I am quite happy to see Rory win to gain some sort of closure on what happened last year.  Beyond that I would love to see Luke Donald or Lee Westwood take their first major.  That would be much deserved after the careers that they have had so far.  Otherwise a win by any European would be most welcome, especially if they just happen to be in my fantasy team this week.

The 2012 Masters is bound to bring back fantastic memories of my trip to the Masters for my 40th birthday last year.  I was pleased to attended six days of the tournament in 2011, including two practice rounds, the Par 3 competition and all four tournament days.  My review is here and the photo's are here if you are interested.  Unfortunately I am likely to miss the final round of the tournament as we will be on the Titanic Memorial Cruise, leaving Southampton on Easter Sunday, the day of the final round, and arriving into New York on April 19.

Enjoy the 2012 Masters, it should be a cracker!!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

2012 Omega Dubai Desert Classic

Yet another successful Omega Dubai Desert Classic has come and gone, bringing to a close the ‘Desert Swing’ for another season.  Golf in Dubai did a fantastic job yet again of putting together a world-class tournament.  Even the weather played along, allowing golf fans to have four days of fantastic sunshine watching the best golfers in the world do battle for the trophy.  The Dubai Desert Classic started in 1989, and this year marked the 23rd playing of the tournament (no tournament was played in 1991).  The list of past champions may be found here.

Day 1 started in blistering fashion with an opening round of 63 from Rafael Cabrera-Bello.  That set the stage for some excellent golf for the remainder of the tournament.  The tournament favorites were not too far behind, with Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer making their presence felt after Round 1.  Day 1 concluded with a golf clinic hosted by Fred Couples and Mark O’Meara, both previous winners of the Dubai Desert Classic.  Mark O’Meara is also a ‘Golf in Dubai’ ambassador.  It is always great to see major champions gracing a tournament of such high stature.  Golf in Dubai has done a superb job of securing top ambassadors to support the cause of golf in the United Arab Emirates.

Day 2 concluded with a cut of -1, allowing 81 players to make it into the weekend.  It was great to see all Golf in Dubai ambassadors (Mark O’Meara, Thomas Bjorn, Soren Hansen, Jeev Milkha Singh and Noh Seung-Yul) making the cut, a reflection of the quality of player chosen by the organizers to represent their organization.

Day 3, the second day of the weekend in Dubai, saw the biggest crowds of the week.  Spectators took the opportunity to follow the World Numbers 2, 3 and 4 in large numbers, only too pleased to welcome them back to the prestigious tournament.

Day 4 promised to be an exciting final round, with Westwood leading and McIlroy and Kaymer close behind.  As it turns out, the Dubai Desert Classic was, for the third year in a row, won by a Spaniard.  Following victories by Miguel-Angel Jimenez in 2010 and Alvaro Quiros in 2011, Rafael Cabrera-Bello won the 2012 tournament.  I was pleased to be able to meet him at the end of round 3 – a nice fellow indeed, and a well-deserved victory.  Follow him on Twitter here if you like.

WELL DONE to the organizers, Golf in Dubai, for a fantastic 2012 Omega Dubai Desert Classic, and a special words of thanks to them for arranging hospitality tickets for Aletta and me for all four days, including clubhouse access and special parking.  Thank you guys – hope to see you at the DP World Tour Championship – Dubai in November, otherwise at the 2013 Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

All golf fans in Dubai now look forward to the DP World Tour Championship – Dubai, where I once again plan to volunteer as a TV scorer, as I did during the 2011 Dubai World Championship (article here, unless another organization would like to offer me some corporate hospitality tickets?). J

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Emirates Airline Invitational - 2012

Having played in the Visa Infinite Golf Day on Thursday, January 19 (details here), I was pleased to receive tickets for the Emirates Airline Invitational Golf Tournament.  The tournament was held on the Monday following the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.  The tournament, hosted by Abdullah Al-Naboodah, was played at the Yas Links Golf Course, recently voted as one of the top 100 golf courses in the world.

With gates opening at 9AM, I arrived reasonably early in the morning.  George Coetzee and Stephen Gallagher went off at 9:30AM and, following a bacon sandwich and hot chocolate for breakfast, I caught up with them on the fourth hole.  What is nice with the Emirates Airline Invitational is that spectators have the opportunity to walk in the fairways with the players, as opposed to being ‘behind the ropes’.  This allows for a great deal of interaction with the players and their caddies.  In addition, there is no restriction on cameras and cell 'phones on the course, though obviously photo's should not be taken when the players are playing their shots.

I was pleased to be able to chat to George Coetzee’s caddy, Alan Burns, quite extensively, gaining an insight into what life is like as a professional caddy.  I chatted to George Coetzee briefly as well.  I walked 14 holes with George and Stephen, enjoying their interaction with their amateur playing partners as well as the spectators who were following their group.  Being such a lovely day, and with Yas Links being in such good condition, I was able to take some great photo's of the players as well as on the course.

Following the completion of the round by George Coetzee and Stephen Gallagher, I caught up with Thomas Aiken and Graeme Storm on the second hole, their 11th hole of the day.  I walked the final eight holes with Thomas and Graeme.  I was pleased to see Thomas Aiken once again wearing his Rhino Revolution hat (my article here).

After a long walk around the course – around 27 holes in total – I was able to relax on the grass in front of the clubhouse.  I had the opportunity to have my photo taken with Graeme McDowell and Sergio Garcia before heading home.  Perhaps next year I will be able to secure an invitation to the dinner following the event (hint, hint!!).

I would like to extend a special thanks to Abdullah Al-Naboodah for hosting the event.  It was well organized and well attended.  I enjoyed the opportunity to interact with the players and the condition of the course made the day just that more relaxing.  All in all the day was most enjoyable.  I have already mentioned to my golfing buddies that they should make an effort to attend next year.

My Proposal:  I am a member of the Jiggers Dubai Golf Society (blog here and Facebook page here).  On behalf of Jiggers Dubai, I would very much appreciate an arrangement whereby the winner of the annual competition for Jiggers ‘Player of the Year’ is rewarded with a place in the Emirates Airline Invitational.  Please contact me at if such an arrangement is likely to be possible.

Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship was held between 26 and 29 January 2012 at The National Course in Abu Dhabi.  With Abu Dhabi being just an hour’s drive from Dubai, and with Tiger Woods in the field, we just had to attend.  HSBC offered its customers free entry to the tournament.  In addition, Premier members were entitled to entry into the HSBC hospitality tent on the 17th green.

We arrived reasonably early on the Friday morning, and spent some time in the championship village playing the various games that HSBC had arranged.  Having not managed to hole the long putt or get the rugby balls through the holes in the walls, we headed out to watch the golf.  With Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald going off around midday, we headed out in search of the South Africans in the field.  We then waited at the 5th green for Tiger, Rory and Luke to play through.  It really is difficult to follow each hole with such a popular pairing, so we selected some holes and waited on the tees or greens for them to play through.  The green on the Par 3 12th hole offers a good viewing spot.  Aletta and I sat on the rocks behind the green and waited for around five groups of players to play through, before we headed to the 18th tee.  After Tiger, Rory and Luke had teed off on their final hole, we made our way to the HSBC hospitality tent on the 17th green.  We enjoyed their complimentary food and beverages before heading home, in anticipation of another long day on Saturday.

With the cut having been made on Friday afternoon, we arrived a little later on Saturday.  With Tiger Woods playing in the third last group, we first watched the South Africans in the field.  James Kingston was even kind enough to throw us a ball after he had completed the 5th green.  We adopted the same strategy as on Friday, i.e. selecting a number of tees and greens and watching various players play through.

We did not attend the golf on the final day, Sunday, choosing instead to watch it on TV.  Congratulations to Robert Rock who played exceptionally well to hold off Tiger and Rory in yet another memorable Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

All in all it was a most enjoyable tournament, with a deserved winner (despite Robert Rock not being in my European Tour Fantasy Team for the week!!).  A special word of thanks to HSBC for sponsoring the event.  I am hopeful of securing an invite to the hospitality tents on the 18th hole in 2013.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Thomas Aiken and the Rhino Revolution

I was pleased to meet Thomas Aiken during the 2011 Dubai World Championship, when he kindly signed my flag that I brought back from the 2011 Masters tournament (my review here and photo's here).  We chatted briefly – a nice fellow.  During the recent Volvo Golf Champions at the Links at Fancourt I was pleased to see him wearing a hat warning of the dangers of rhino poaching.  The hat was in support of the ‘Rhino Revolution’ (website here and Facebook page here).

As Thomas noted (here) when asked about his hat – he does not yet have a hat sponsor for 2012 and wanted to bring attention to the cause by wearing a hat that supports his foundation.  Thomas has established the ‘Thomas Aiken Rhino Fund’ to bring attention to the harm caused by rhino hunting.  He mentioned during the interview that he met Trevor Jordan of Jordan Properties, a friend of my mom, from whom he received the hat.

Rhino poaching is a huge problem for the South African game parks, with rhino horns apparently fetching up to USD 1 million.  My mom lives in Hoedspruit, South Africa (her website is here), and I own a vacant piece of land in the Balule Private Nature Reserve on the road between Hoedspruit and Phalaborwa.  We know firsthand the challenges faced to combat this growing problem.  I for one appreciate the efforts of all persons, Thomas Aiken specifically, to bring attention to this matter. 

On another note, in my predictions for 2012 (here) I support Thomas to play well enough in 2012 to make his first appearance at the 2013 Masters.  He is regularly a member of my European Tour Fantasy Team (my 2012 team is here), as he was when he won his first tournament on the European Tour in 2011, the Open de Espana.

BEST WISHES to Thomas for the 2012 European Tour season, and thanks to all persons involved in combating the rhino poaching problem.

Preview of the 2012 Golfing Year

The 2012 European Tour season is off and running, with three tournaments already having been played.  This week marks the start of the European Tour Fantasy League for 2012 (I have no idea why they choose to start the Fantasy League at the fourth tournament of the year, but that’s a whole different issue), with the first counting event being the Abu Dhabi Championship.  So with the ‘start’ of the new season in mind, I make my predictions for the year, including what I believe will and will not happen, and what I would like to see during the 2012 golfing season.

What I would like to see in 2012:

o    Ernie Els qualify for The Masters.  As of today, he is ranked 57th in the world and has not yet qualified for The Masters.  I would then like to see him go on and win the green jacket, securing lifetime exemption at The Masters.
o    And how about Ernie winning the US PGA in August to make it a career Grand-Slam?
o    Thomas Aiken play well enough to end the year inside the top 50 in the world, and qualify for the 2013 Masters
o    A major victory by Luke Donald and Lee Westwood
o    A victory by Team Europe in the Ryder Cup
o    A clean sweep of the majors by members of the European Tour
o    A return to form by Tiger Woods – his presence is always good for the game
o    At least one major victory by a South African during 2012

Predictions for 2012:

o    Winner of The Masters:  Alvaro Quiros, otherwise Rory McIlroy
o    Winner of The Open Championship:  Thomas Bjorn, otherwise George Coetzee
o    Winner of the Ryder Cup:  Team Europe, by a victory margin of two points
o    Winner of the 2012 Race to Dubai:  Rory McIlroy
o    World Number 1 at the end of 2012:  Rory McIlroy
o    There will only be one US winner of a major this year, as was the case in 2011
o    2012 will not be the year that either Luke Donald or Lee Westwood wins their first major
o    Thomas Aiken will play well enough in 2012 to move into the Top 50 in the world, and qualify for the 2013 Masters
o    George Coetzee will play well enough in 2012 to move into the Top 50 in the world, and qualify for the 2013 Masters
o    George Coetzee will win his first tournament on the European Tour
o    Tiger Woods will win just one tournament worldwide in 2012

Here’s hoping for another enjoyable year on the European Tour.  I look forward to working again as a TV scorer for the 2012 DP World Championship, Dubai at the end of the Race to Dubai.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Visa Infinite Golf Day

I was fortunate to be invited to attend the Visa Infinite Golf Day, held at the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club on Thursday, January 19.  This was the second annual Visa Infinite Golf Day, and the first that I have attended.  The event was exceptionally well organized and well attended by golfers of all abilities.  There were numerous on-course competitions, including closest to the pin on the Par 3’s, longest drives on various holes, straightest drive on one of the holes, as well as ‘Beat the Pro’ on two holes.  Prizes were awarded to the top eight players, with the top two qualifying to play in the Emirates Airlines Invitational golf tournament on 30 January – what a fantastic prize.

Tee markers were exchanged for Visa Infinite logos, professional photographers were around the course to take photo's of the participants, and refreshment stations were in abundance around the course, making for an excellent day of golf.

Following the tournament, players had the opportunity to play ‘Beat the Pro’ against European Tour player David Howell.  David would play one wedge shot from the clubhouse to the 18th green, following which the guests would play two shots to the same hole.  If the guest’s ball was closer they would be entered into a lucky draw to win tickets to attend the Emirates Airlines Invitational Gala Dinner.  Only four players managed to beat David – I bet the person who won is really looking forward to the Gala Dinner on January 30 – what an opportunity.

It would not be an understatement to say that the Visa Infinite Golf Day is the best corporate golf day that I have attended, and I have been fortunate to attend quite a few in recent years.

A special thanks to Visa for sponsoring the event, to the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club for hosting the event, and to Emily Howell for arranging the event.  I look forward to taking part in the golf day in 2013.