Tommy Fleetwood will chase a hat-trick of Falcon Trophy wins at the elevated and rescheduled 2019 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
By Kent Gray
Abu Dhabi’s stop on the European Tour might have taken a little scheduling kick from football in 2019 but its status in the golf world continues to rise.
The 14th Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA in January has taken the Open de France’s slot as one of the tour’s eight, elite Rolex Series events for the 2018-2019 season.
In a nutshell it means a US$4 million prize fund increase to $7 million, enhanced media coverage and boosted Race to Dubai ranking points. That should translate to an even stronger field for the Jan. 16-19 Desert Swing opener although how that is possible given that Abu Dhabi already lures one of the best fields in golf each January remains to be seen.
Two-time defending champion, Ryder Cup rookie sensation and current Race to Dubai title challenger Tommy Fleetwood appears certain to headline another star-studded field for an event set to start on a Wednesday – a day earlier than golf’s traditional Thursday start-time – to accommodate football’s 2019 Asian Cup being hosted across the UAE from Jan.5 to Feb. 1.
Also guaranteed is a well-deserved status boost for the tournament overseen by the Abu Dhabi Sports Council.
Abu Dhabi takes its place alongside the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open, the BMW PGA Championship, the Italian Open, the Turkish Airlines Open, the Nedbank Golf Challenge hosted by Gary Player and the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai, in the line-up for the third year of the Rolex Series.
“We are honoured to become one of the elite Rolex Series events and to see our tournament so publicly recognised as one of the world’s leading golf tournaments,” Aref Al Awani, general secretary of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, said.
“This news highlights our important relationship with the European Tour, one of the world’s leading golf organisations, as well as being an important milestone to celebrate with our valued title sponsors HSBC and our partners Rolex and the EGA.
“Abu Dhabi is ‘A Global Capital of World Sport’ and the international recognition that becoming a Rolex Series event brings certainly underlines our reputation for hosting the world’s best sporting events.”
Abu Dhabi Golf Club again kick starts the new calendar year on the European Tour and a ‘Desert Swing’ now bolstered to five events.
The 30th Omega Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club follows from Jan. 24-27 before Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City makes it’s European Tour bow with the Jan. 31-Feb.3 Saudi International.
There is then a three tournament run in Australia and Mexico – the Vic Open, ISPS Handa World Super 6 Perth and WGC-Mexico Championship before the tour returns to the Middle East for the Oman Open (Feb. 28-March 3) at Al Mouj Golf in Muscat and the Qatar Masters (March 7-10) at Doha G.C.
The European Tour confirmed its new season schedule on Monday and as in 2018 there are 47 tournaments (48 including the GolfSixes) counting towards the Race to Dubai which will again culminate at what will be the 11th DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates from Nov. 21-24, 2019.
While the Rolex Series tournaments in Ireland and Scotland retain their July date and those in Turkey, South Africa and Dubai remain in November, there are changes for the BMW PGA Championship which moves from May to September, and the Italian Open which moves from June to October, both made to adapt to the ever-changing global golf landscape.
Other tournaments to alter their 2019 dates include the Open de France, which moves from June to October; and the Andalucia Valderrama Masters, which moves from October to June.
Innovation remains an integral part of the schedule. In addition to the third staging of the GolfSixes event in June in Portugal – the pioneering Shot Clock Challenge is also set to return in August after its ground-breaking debut earlier this year, as will the Belgian Knockout at the end of May.