Time flies. Viya Golf have just overseen their first year operating three of the top golf clubs in the UAE capital — Yas Links Abu Dhabi, Yas Acres Golf & Country Club and Saadiyat Beach Golf Club — and Golf Digest Middle East caught up with Cluster Club Manager Julian Danby to take us through the journey so far and explain what more they have in store.
Viya have been operating in Abu Dhabi for 12 months now at three marvellous golf courses. How has the journey been — personally and for the company — over the past year and how was such a move made possible to further help promote the UAE capital as a global destination for both tourists and sports?
The expansion of our business into Abu Dhabi, under the brand of Viya Golf (a subsidiary of Dubai Golf), was an instrumental move that sets out the future direction of our growth strategy, which is to expand management operations of leading world-class golf and leisure facilities, as well as our proprietary Viya application, to support these operations commercially. It is also the first time we have operated outside of Dubai, within the UAE, and to have the opportunity to partner with Aldar and manage some of the most iconic golf facilities in the region, was a true privilege.
As the capital’s leadership continues to accelerate its Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 plan, our move to Abu Dhabi clearly came at an exciting time. We had an opportunity to not only work alongside key government stakeholders to contribute to their collective goals, but we also played a key role in driving new golfers and tourism into the capital.
For me personally, I am loving life in Abu Dhabi. After spending 25 years in Dubai, it came at a great time in my career and I feel that with my experience and the support of our great team, we can really make a difference to the overall golf proposition. We are grateful that Abu Dhabi had a great base to build on, and our mission over the next few years is to raise the bar in terms of facilities, which takes investment in infrastructure, and in customer service, which is an investment in people.
There was the major, and exciting, news recently that the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship will move from its traditional January slot after 17 years to form part of a season-ending playoff with the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. What does this move mean?
This announcement was incredible for Abu Dhabi and for Yas Links, as it means that the best of the best on the DP World Tour will now participate in the penultimate event on the season long Race To Dubai order of merit. This will undoubtedly get more eyeballs on Abu Dhabi and attract greater numbers of tourists to the capital, not only for the event, but also to play the Abu Dhabi courses through the popular winter months. It was also great recognition to our agronomy team, ably led by Corey Finn, who continues to deliver a masterpiece of a Kyle Philips-designed golf course.
And a collective $19 million prize fund for the two-event finale is pretty helpful too!
I know right! They say in life that it’s never too late. I’m really enjoying playing amateur golf again after nearly 30 years as a PGA Professional, however with this kind of money, I may have to think about turning pro again and having a crack at the Seniors Tour! Joking aside, the prize purses of the last two play-off events of the 2024 season will undoubtedly attract the best golfers in the world, which can only be positive for the growth of golf in the UAE.
So the future is looking bright. Where does Viya go from here to sustain and enhance this success to ensure maintained growth and engagement with golfers of all ages?
For the future sustainability of golf in Abu Dhabi, it’s essential that we grow the number of golfers. This can only come from expatriate residents and UAE nationals. We are working closely with the Emirates Golf Federation and the R&A to initiate exciting programmes that will attract new golfers to this incredible sport, from five-year-olds all the way to retirement age. Golf is a sport for all ages and I’ll highly recommend anyone to give it a try.
The three clubs in Abu Dhabi, how will they take it from here — both on and off the course — to stay at the top of the game?
The next few years is all about reinvestment into the facilities and our people, to continue to raise the bar on these amazing facilities and to improve the overall customer experience. We want to position Abu Dhabi as a truly inspiring place to come to play and learn golf, and with the support of our partner Aldar, and key government stakeholders, we believe we can achieve amazing things.
Do you take personal pride in how far Viya Golf and its partners have taken the game or, like on the course in some places these days, is this a team success?
Viya Golf is a subsidiary of Dubai Golf, and we are essentially one company. Dubai Golf have led the development of golf, leisure and hospitality in the region for decades and I feel incredibly proud to be a part of such a dynamic and diverse team. Since the first Dubai Desert Classic back in 1988, we now proudly host three Rolex Series events and a new DP World Tour event inaugurating at Dubai Creek in 2024. The future looks bright and I’m excited to see where it will lead.
Main image: supplied