The Ladies European Tour’s business may be holding strong on its own continent, but as was proved once again by the success of OMEGA Dubai Moonlight Classic last May, the Middle East has assumed great significance in the world of women’s golf.
Last April, Simon Corkill became tournament director of the OMEGA Dubai Moonlight Classic, replacing long-time leader David Spencer. And in his first 18 months at the helm, the Australian’s presence has become absolutely pivotal.
Building on the success of the 2019 edition, where it achieved global recognition as the world’s first professional day-night Tour event, the popular three-day tournament will roll into Emirates Golf Club on November 4-6.
And as life attempts to move forward amid the uncertainty surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic, it is fantastic to see the return of sporting events to the city with the OMEGA Dubai Moonlight Classic.
Speaking to Sport360 ahead of the 14th edition of the tournament, Corkill said: “It’s been a strange six months. We’ve got the event up and running which is exciting.
“We’ve had great support from Dubai Sports Council and the Committee of Supreme Crisis and Disaster Management to make sure we’ve got the approval for the event.
“Unfortunately, the event will take place behind closed doors. We’ve taken this decision based on numerous avenues of advice.”
Nevertheless, it will be compelling to see another stacked field tee it off under the bright lights of the Faldo Course with Minjee Lee, Georgia Hall, Lydia Ko, Charley Hull and more competing.
Vying for a share of the $285,000 prize fund will be fierce among the 56 player field, with five players from the confirmed names in the top-50 and one player in the top-ten.
“We have a great field. We’ve got world number nine Minjee Lee who plays on the LPGA Tour. Former world number one Lydia Ko who has two majors and 26 victories around the world. It’s great to see her join the field,” said Corkill.
“We’ve got the cream of European golf in Charley Hull and Georgia Hall, who won recently on the LPGA Tour. Celine Boutier and Catriona Matthew are also confirmed.
“We’ve got a great amount of youth and experience. One thing I’m amazed about with the talent we’ve assembled is how young they are.
“They range from 23 to 26. The younger players are so exciting and performing so well around the world.”
The OMEGA Dubai Moonlight Classic kicks off a Ladies Europan Tour Middle East swing that continues with the Aramco Saudi Ladies International (Nov 12-15) and the Saudi Ladies Team International (Nov 17-19).
In a difficult year globally, it is fantastic to see these events go ahead, even if they are staged without spectators in a safe environment, as per public health guidelines.
Still, golf enthusiasts will get a flavour of the intriguing action with the Moonlight Classic set to be broadcast live globally to 60 countries and 348 million households on Sky Sports, Golf Channel, Golf TV and Dubai Sports Channel.
“We’ve refreshed it slightly from last year. We introduced the night element last year which was a great addition. We are still the only day/night event globally on any Tour. That’s a really big unique selling point,” said the 48-year-old.
“One of the big things we changed is the ladies will now play 36 of their 54 under lights in contrast to last year when they played five of six holes under lights.
“We’re going to really draw on that night element of the event, and the great pictures that will be screened around the world of Dubai and the Marina skyline.
“The pro-am format will continue, which was very popular last year, and a great experience for the sponsors. The ladies are playing their balls and those scores are counting for rounds one or two. There is also a team element for the amateurs.
“It’s a unique and interesting experience to play in competition rounds.”
Corkill and his strong team at Falcon & Associates have gone above and beyond to ensure the necessary safety precautions are in place for the Moonlight Classic.
In the last six months, they have worked closely with the Ladies European Tour and European Tour medical officers to ensure safety protocols are watertight.
“There has been a great collaboration between all the golfing bodies, especially the Ladies European Tour, European Tour and the R&A, to make sure these procedures are regular and the same for each event,” he said.
“The ladies will have experienced the same testing procedures before. The players have to have a PCR test to get into Dubai. They will be tested again on arrival and once they get their negative PCR test, they will be able to join the event bubble.
“It’s a difficult time and hopefully it’s just for this year. But everyone understands that and have been respectful and appreciative that they are actually playing a tournament.”
With three weeks to go until the tournament gets under way, focus is being kept on matters domestically and around the world in case changes need to be made on-site before first tee-off.
Most of the hard work is already complete but if any obstacles do fall their way, the industrious Corkill will be ready to tackle them in the most efficient and secure way.
“We’ve had some fantastic plans for spectators but unfortunately we’ve had to shelve them. It’s a really long process to plan everything. In the current climate, things change every day. That puts pressure on the whole team because things can change,” he said.
“We monitor what’s happening on the European Tour, Ladies European Tour, PGA Tour and LPGA Tour. We are looking to see what they are doing and learning from their experiences to see how the event is run.
“We are one of the first events to have a pro-am. The majority of the events have not had the pro-am element. We are lucky in Dubai and were in a great situation where people are actually playing golf here and it is easy for the players to fly in.”
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