Golf's shiny new finale falls to Earth

The winner of the first World Championship could pick up £1.6m but, writes James Corrigan in Dubai, all is not well at the half-finished venue
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The Independent Online

Earth, the planet, might have been created in seven days, but Earth, the golf course, has taken a damn sight longer. In fact, the spectators here yesterday watching practice could have been forgiven for surmising it has yet to be finished.

But, however many cranes, diggers and mixers are in sight of the fairways, the blessed reality is that all 18 holes have been designed, sculpted and cut, and will be ready to stage the first round of the inaugural Dubai World Championship tomorrow. And so the European Tour's brave new era will have its season-ending spectacular; 58 golfers competing for £7.5m. Will it really matter that those golden-spiked competitors will be emerging from a temporary structure to do battle?

Yes, that's correct, the clubhouse here is not complete. The shell is up but the marble is not laid, the lockers not fitted, the members' bar not replete with the Axminster and leather upholstery. If any evidence is needed as to what stage Dubai happened to be at when the money finally ran out, surely this a good place to start. It was May when the decision was made to "mothball" the austere building that was to take its traditional place overlooking the climatic green. At the risk of stating the insultingly obvious, this is not how it was meant to be.

Two years ago Leisurecorps – a Dubai government-owned subsidiary – sounded a great fanfare and announced it would be replacing the Volvo Masters at Valderrama as the hosts of the Order of Merit finale. With a pot of £10m, the climax to the "Race to Dubai" would be the richest event in golf and would take place at one of the world's most impressive complexes. Four courses were to feature – named Earth, Fire, Wind and Water – and these would be surrounded by 600 residential properties, with prices ranging from £750,000 up to £3m.

But then came the global downturn. Wind and Water went down the plug-hole and the house-construction stalled before halting entirely. Of course, Jumeirah Golf Estates were not alone in this regard. Anything but. Dubai was in trouble and a golf tournament was perhaps not top of the Emirate's priority list. Time for choices that Solomon, himself, might have found cold-hearted.

The five-year deal was inevitably renegotiated and in September, George O'Grady, the European Tour's chief executive, revealed the prize-fund would be cut by 25 percent. Such were the concerns among the pros on the range, the overwhelming feeling was one of relief. Maybe the DWC would not be "the richest", but with £7.5m on offer it would undeniably be rich. Come Sunday evening one man could still be putting for £1.6m.

That truly would be a surreal scenario, with half-built villas as far as the laser range-finder can see. Leisurecorps points out it never guaranteed those properties would be finished for this first staging and insist that, thanks to this event, the project will soon return to being gloriously on track. "The Dubai World Championship will be watched by 50m on TV and will be attended by 50,000," said a spokesman yesterday. "You can't buy that exposure when you are selling real estate and we stand by our original strategy."

But Dubai has bought this exposure, at unfathomable expense, and to many here it is baffling that a few million was not found to open the clubhouse on time. At least the course is playable, although the verdict from the pros could hardly be described as being overwhelmingly positive. One called it "adequate" , another "uninspiring". Earth has no rough to speak of and the fairways are wide. In situ, however, the cracks are too blatant to ignore.

Even if it is possible to blank out the windowless and roofless, then the stench from the pond on the sixth hole is unavoidable. Augusta National famously uses blue dye to enhance their water features; Jumeirah should have resorted to Blue Toilet Block. There is also a quilt-work patch of fairway on the seventh which will have to be Ground Under Repair should any ball fall that short.

Yet if they are the only problems, the players will cope. In fact, there will be a new European No 1 crowned here whatever happens. Thank goodness that Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Ross Fisher have made this an enthralling four-player dash for the line. By this time next year, Leisurecorps confirms everything will be complete. It may all sound a bit Del Boy and Rodney but that's where Europe's finest golfers happen to be right now. And they'll all still be millionaires regardless.

Rich pickings: Dubai by numbers

50,887,760:

The number of pounds won by the 58 players here on the European Tour this season so far. By Sunday they will have earned more than £1m each on average.

1.6:

The number of millions a player may be putting for on Sunday.

900,000:

The number of pounds the winner of the money list will collect on Sunday.

700,000:

The number of pounds the winner of the Dubai World Championship will collect on Sunday.

128,173:

The number of Euros Rory McIlroy is ahead of Lee Westwood at the top of the money list.

4:

The number of players who can win the Order of Merit.

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