Abdullah Al Naboodah. Image supplied
Abdullah Al Naboodah was recently appointed Non-Executive Director of The European Tour Group — which looks after the DP World Tour, Challenge Tour, Legends Tour, G4D Tour and the Ryder Cup in Europe.
Al Naboodah, who is also Chairman of Al Naboodah Investments and an Executive Board member of Saeed and Mohammed Al Naboodah Group, a major Emirati family-owned conglomerate with more than 60 years of history in the Middle East region, took time out to chat to Golf Digest Middle East about his new role and the state of the game in the UAE.
He has been a pivotal figure in the development of golf in the UAE over the last 20 years. In 1988, the Al Naboodah Group helped build Emirates Golf Club, the first grass golf course in the UAE which hosted the first European Tour event in the region, the Dubai Desert Classic, a year later.
He took up golf himself in 2006 at the Dubai Creek Golf Academy, reaching a single-figure handicap within 18 months. Since then, he has played a key role in grassroots golf in the Middle East, including as Vice Chairman of the Emirates Golf Federation from 2008-2012 and Chairman of Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club, while his businesses have supported a number of players and junior golf projects.
Congratulations on the new role. What will this entail in terms of your contributions to the European Tour team?
My relationship with the European Tour Group began about 14 years ago. Since then, I’ve got to know many people who work in the organisation, so I’ve always had an unofficial working relationship with the Tour. Now that has become more formal with a position on the Board of Directors. I think it is important for the Middle East to have a voice in the Tour, given the strong presence and relationships the Tour has in this region. I’m proud that I can be that voice at board level. I will be attending regular board meetings and select tournaments, particularly in the Middle East. I will also join strategic meetings where required and attending future European Tour group strategy dates. I will also bring all of my network and all my own experience from across the Middle East to help the European Tour Group. There is a strong opportunity for the Tour to continue its commercial expansion in this region. DP World is a fantastic partner for the Tour to have. I see that partnership, and those kind of relationships, growing in the future.
You have been involved in golf in the region for quite some time now. How did you get into it and can you tell me a bit about your journey?
To be honest, I love sport and I’ve been involved in several different sports over the years. I was Chairman of the UAE football club Al Ahli for a number of years. Where golf is concerned, it’s always been a passion. I’ve been involved with the Emirates Golf Federation in the UAE and helped support a number of professional and amateur events. Too many years ago to remember, my family’s company actually built Emirates Golf Club and Dubai Creek Golf Club. I’m a regular at the Creek playing every Saturday.
You were the mastermind behind the Invitational at Creek and Yas Links, would you ever consider trying to resurrect an event along similar lines now we have seen the game grow in the UAE?
Yes, absolutely. We’ve had some discussions along those lines, so watch this space.
And how is your own golf game? You have certainly played with a few top players.
Up and down! You’re right, when you play with top players your game is going to be suitably knocked up a level and I’ve been in pretty good form recently. There’s a good summer ahead and lots of playing opportunities which I’m really looking forward too, including my trip to Ireland which I do every year, and trips to the United States and Europe.
The talent production line in the UAE keeps on going with the likes of Josh Hill, Toby Bishop and Chiara Noja making big steps.
It’s great to see, I’ve been watching all of them develop over recent years. Let’s hope they’re the first of many. The two Challenge Tour events we held recently in Abu Dhabi will really help with development and allow players to compete against other talented players from around the world. Increasing engagement in the Middle East is a key focus for the Tour. We have a great opportunity to do that and develop golf across the Middle East region at both the professional and amateur level. There is already a lot of work taking place among the amateur federations in the Middle East to promote golf, so hopefully that production line you mentioned will continue and get even better.
And we now see young Maya Palanza Gaudin blazing a trail at Augusta [she won the Masters Drive, Chip & Putt event], do you think the talent production will continue to grow?
I was thrilled to see Maya’s achievements in Augusta. Maya played with us in the pro-am in my tournament last year — the RAK Championship presented by Phoenix Capital — she’s improved incredibly since then and put in a lot of hard work.
Obviously, the facilities in the UAE are world-class. There was once a concern that there were too many courses and not enough players here and now with 20-plus courses and more in the pipeline, what do you see as the key to this continued success?
Clearly the courses have been operating at capacity for a few years, through club memberships and tourism. Dubai is one of the biggest tourist destinations in the world and with the courses that we have planned that can only help us to become one of the best golfing destinations in the world.