The 35th edition of the Dubai Desert Classic will once again offer a stellar lineup. Mike Green
EMiRATES GOLF CLUB, DUBAi
First played in 1989, the Dubai Desert Classic has seen many top golfers battle it out for the trophy. Ernie Els claimed his first DP World Tour title here in 1994, when he won by six strokes and set a course record of 61 that still stands.
His second came in 2002 when he beat Niclas Fasth of Sweden by four, and his third in 2005 when he edged Welshman Stephen Dodd and Spain’s Miguel Ángel Jiménez by one. Since then, after he was edged by Tiger Woods in a playoff in 2006, and lost by a stroke to Henrik Stenson in 2007, South Africa’s title oasis in the desert has been beset by a drought. James Kingston, Richard Sterne, Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Brandon Stone have all filled the runner-up spot, with Bezuidenhout coming closest when he lost in a playoff to Australia’s Lucas Herbert in 2020.
Rory McIlroy (below left) will be returning to defend his title and will be aiming to create history by becoming the first four-time winner of the event. He will be joined by fellow world top-20 players Tyrrell Hatton and Tommy Fleetwood (below right), who will be making his 13th consecutive appearance at the event. The Open champion Brian Harman and rising PGA Tour star Cameron Young will be making their debuts at the Hero Dubai Desert Classic.
MASTERING THE IMPOSSIBLE
Check out one of Ernie Els’ most memorable shots at the 2002 Dubai Desert classic.
EXPLORE THE COURSE
DRIVING SUSTAINABLE GOLF
The Hero Dubai Desert Classic will be celebrating its official certification as the first Geo-Certified event in the Middle East.
At the site in the desert, 25km from the centre of Dubai at the time, there were no buildings or construction, only sand dunes and natural fauna and flora. A square kilometre of land was assigned to the designers and Karl Litten was chosen as the golf course architect. At the time, there was only one tree on the whole site, but once the irrigation system was installed, hundreds of dormant seeds sprang to life, covering the course in natural bushes and trees.
In the early days of the golf course, it was not unusual to come across families trying to have picnics on the newly created green space. The local population quickly learned that sitting on a fairway with golf balls landing around them was not the ideal spot to have lunch.
Now the tournament has become the first golf event in the Middle East and the first within the DP World Tour Rolex Series to achieve Geo-Certified Tournament status, demonstrating the event’s leadership among sustainable golf events.
With the course looking less like the oasis it was when Mark James won the inaugural event in 1989, and more like the bit of green space it now is in a futuristic urban landscape, South Africa’s young DP World Tour stars will look to make it a happy hunting ground once again after some pretty average performances last year.
Jacques Kruyswijk (below left) was the best of the South Africans in 2023, with a share of 28th, but the start of the 2024 DP World Tour season has seen the emergence of the likes of young stars Jayden Schaper (below right), Casey Jarvis and Wilco Nienaber, as well as solid showings by established campaigners like Darren Fichardt, Louis de Jager and Kruyswijk.
The tournament is the first Rolex Series event of the newly rejigged DP World Tour season, and the opportunity South African players have to test themselves against the big names in the field is one to be relished – especially with the state of flux as the first year of professional schedules specifically designed to counter the threat posed by LIV Golf begins in earnest.
McIlroy won by one stroke in 2023 from Patrick Reed of the US, with Herbert third, Nothern Ireland’s Callum Shinkwin fourth, Frenchman Julien Brun fifth, and Ian Poulter of England and Belgian Thomas Pieters in a share of sixth. The professional landscape is different now, with Reed, Poulter and Pieters gone to LIV Golf. With some of those players who have crossed over able to play back on the DP World Tour – even if only by invitation – it remains to be seen how that dispensation shakes out.
This year’s event combines world-class golf with a huge array of family-friendly entertainment. Spectators can look forward to a wider variety of options off the course than ever before with something for fans of all ages to enjoy across the tournament.
Organisers are also encouraging fans to use the Metro service to travel to and from the tournament, with Al Khail station located directly outside the club’s main entrance.
The last 10 winners of the Dubai Desert Classic.
HERO DUBAI DESERT CLASSIC/CHRIS TURVEY/THOMAS LOVELOCK/ROLEX/ALI HAIDER/EPA/BACKPAGEPIX/TYRONE WINFIELD/CARL FOURIE/SUNSHINE TOUR