How Centurion is changing the game one tournament at a time
By Matt Smith
St Andrews, Augusta, Wentworth, The Country Club and beyond — all steeped in the history of golf. Now here comes Centurion, a relatively new club which has roots in Dubai.
The world watched in early June as Centurion sold-out to 20,000-plus fans for the controversial LIV Golf Invitational Series, which is remapping golf as it stands. Then it held the brilliant Aramco Team Series Ladies European Tour competition for the second year, where Bronte Law thrilled the crowds with an epic putt to take the title.
Why all the fuss? Centurion is looking to the future while embracing the past. Just like the multiple innovative series it is hosting, here is a club that has its eyes firmly fixed on progress.
Don’t let the tall pines, rolling fairways and even the Roman names for each hole (Hertfordshire is steeped in Roman history) fool you, this picturesque course just outside Hemel Hempstead is a young pretender that is making a history all of its own. You have to start somewhere, after all.
Over the past 12 months, and particularly over the past weeks, Centurion has thrust itself/been thrust into the global spotlight by hosting the inaugural LIV Golf Invitational Series event, featuring the likes of Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia, much to the chagrin of the PGA Tour in the US.
But this course was a perfect setting to begin an epic journey. Its fairways are overlooked by tall redwoods and the players’ scores themselves told a story as some of the biggest names in world golf struggled to come to terms with the undulating fairways and right nasty bunkers — with their weird, random contours. Charl Schwartzel prevailed on seven-under over three rounds.
Alongside the LIV Golf event, Centurion has also gained popularity by hosting the aforementioned LET Aramco Team Series for the past two years, with the most recent event concluding hot on the heels of the Greg Norman LIV brainchild. Quite a fortnight for such a new club!
Golf Digest Middle East caught up with the man behind the whole masterplan at Centurion — a certain Scott Evans who helped set up Dubai Creek some three decades ago when golf was a new thing to the Middle East — on the final day of the LIV Tour event in June, so he could explain the journey and vision.
“We have 12,000 spectators and 750 members in here on the final day at LIV Golf, 500 staff, 48 caddies, 48 players and one Greg Norman. We can’t all be wrong,” said Evans, Managing Director, co-owner and mastermind at Centurion. And he certainly is looking forward.
“As a new club we have always embraced innovation. We held the Golf Sixes (a European Tour team event), and we started our relationship with Golf Saudi when we held the Ladies European Tour Aramco Team Series event here last year,” he added. “I took a call from Majed Al Sorour, the CEO of the Saudi Golf Federation, and he suggested he wanted to do the first LIV event here. It was fantastic.”
Evans’ Scottish twang is familiar, despite his many years away from the home of golf. The Paisley-educated boy has travelled the globe in his pursuit and passion for golf, including taking him to Dubai to set up the Creek club back in the day. But his focus is on the here, now and how.
“We have just had the first Asian Tour event in the UK at Slaley Hall in Newcastle (the International Series — England), then LIV, then Aramco comes back to Centurion again, so why not?,” he asked amid all the flak from the PGA. “It is fantastic, I use that word too much, but it is true. It is laying opportunities for everyone. That’s what it is all about. Where else can you see Asian and Australasian and Japan Tour players mixing with Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson? When can you see rookie amateurs teeing it up against the best of the Ladies European Tour? That is what this is all about here.”
It was not an easy journey for Evans and his team as they assembled a course for two back-to-back world-level events with only a few days in which to turn things around.
“It has been a lot of hard work for all my staff to put this together,” he said. “I think our greenkeepers have found out how good they are, and the course is possibly the star of the show.”
As part of the LIV Tour commitment, $1 million will go into local needy communities, and Evans has this front and centre.
“The local communities will benefit as all the investment will go to very local charities,” he said. “It is an amazing investment and will benefit the whole area in Hertfordshire.”
Evans was jokingly showing his age when it came to the ‘Formula One’ style aftershow parties that took place just over the 18th fairway from the clubhouse at the fans’ village, as the glitz and glamour took over from the chipping and hacking.
“I am past my sell-by-date but Craig David was fantastic. He was terrific,” he said. “And we had Jessie J, James Morrison and James Bay. What a spectacle to have here.”
It clearly wasn’t an easy gig (the whole event, not just Craig David) to put on, given it only came to fruition in February, but Davis and his team were up to the task.
“It was a momentous amount of pressure,” he admitted. “The crowd doubled from day one to day two, then doubled again to 12,000 on day three. We, of course had a few logistical problems such as water as even we were taken by surprise about the positive turnout here, regarding fans’ feet on the ground, but it is a new tournament and we are all on a learning curve on this road to success.”
In what may prove to be the most profound statement of this first week in a new journey, Davis said: “We got people got watching golf again.”
With the Aramco Team Series hot on the heels of the LIV Tour, there was no let-up for the veteran.
“I might take a day off tomorrow,” he said as Phil Mickelson walked past on the 18th and the shadows crept longer during the final day of the LIV event.
“We are always set up and ready to go. The course is there and the infrastructure is there, we just carry on.
“The Aramco event has a few changes, in terms of layout and the cuts. Given we have the men here too, it will be quicker, more dynamic and, of course, we will have bigger crowds on the back of the spectacular (not fantastic?) event that has unfolded this week.”
As for the future, Evans is open to innovation.
“It doesn’t have to be the same week in, week out,” he said. “We can mix it up a bit. Some weeks straight stroke play, sometimes shotgun, sometimes team events. There is no reason why they cannot all be on tour. Freshen it up, make it more exciting for the TV audience and make it more dynamic. I think it might catch on!”
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