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Tiger Woods' pride dented as Dubai course delayed

04 June, 2009

Tiger Woods' pride dented as Dubai course delayed

4th June 2009

The first golf course in the world bearing the world No1's name has been hit by the credit crunch

Tiger Woods (the golfer) has become a byword for unfettered success but there is now a little less lustre about Tiger Woods (the brand name) after it emerged yesterday that the first golf course in the world bearing the world No1's name has fallen victim to the economic problems that have wrought havoc in parts of the Middle East.

Sources in Dubai confirmed that Tiger Woods Dubai‚ a multi-million dollar development in the desert with a Woods-designed golf course at its heart, will now not open this autumn and has been pushed back to 2010 or even later, amid claims that the real estate element of the project – 22 "palaces"‚ 75 "mansions"‚ 100 "luxury villas" and a high-end hotel – will be delayed indefinitely.

Tatweer, the government-owned company behind the development, has long denied rumours of problems with the project. "When the course is actually ready you will be able to find and live the value of why the Tiger Woods Dubai is such a special project," Abdullah Al Gurg, the project's manager, said earlier this week. "We have put our plans together to solidly rise above the current market situation."

However, in the face Dubai's mounting economic difficulties the firm has been forced to concede that no one, not even those who chose to align themselves with the most famous figure in sport, is immune. "The difficulties, like those affecting 99% of the developments in Dubai, are due to the current economic unpredictability," said a source with knowledge of the project's progress. "There could be a thousand different reasons [for the problems] such as people deferring on their payments."

Such downbeat assessments strike a bold contrast to the pronouncements made last August when the world No1 travelled to the emirate for the development's official launch which, if it is ever finished, will cover 55 million acres of what was once desert. The epic scale was matched by epic excess, with 11,000 trees, many of them imported, being planted around the site. The developers also imported grass from Georgia, United States, in an effort to emulate the immaculate conditions at Augusta National.

Away from the golf course, the construction of the planned hotel was budgeted to cost around £100m. Those seeking to buy property on the development would have a choice between expensive, with villas costing in the region of £7m and exceptionally expensive – so-called "palaces" costing as much as £25m. Membership of the golf club will be by invitation only and initially limited to 50 people, according to the club's website. "Dubai is basically in the biggest, greatest and newest of everything," Woods replied when asked why he had chosen Dubai, many thousand of miles from his home in Florida and a world away from St Andrews, his favourite course, for his first design project. Maybe so but it is safe to assume that the financial incentives played a part, too, with unconfirmed reports suggesting the world No1 was paid $25m (£15.5m) for putting his imprimatur on the Dubai course.

Under normal circumstances, he would be expected to earn royalties from the sale of the adjacent real estate but with Dubai property prices falling at an annual rate of 35%, demand has been sluggish with suggestions that customers have bought or placed deposits on less than one-third of the available properties. Already a dollar billionaire, Woods is hardly likely to miss the extra cash.

Harder to bear, however, will be the dent to his pride. A long-time aficionado of golf course architecture, as well as a fierce guardian of his image, he will not be happy to have his name or his first foray into the field of course design associated with anything less than an unqualified success. Even if the global economy does eventually recover, it will be some time before Dubai restores its reputation as the coming destination for the newly wealthy.

The same problems apply to other golf-related sponsorship deals that were struck at the peak of Dubai's apparent economic boom, such as the backing received by the European Tour from Leisurecorp, a Dubai-based developer which promised £150m to fund the season-long Race to Dubai series, as well as the Dubai World Championship event in November, where the prize fund on offer is $20m. Since that deal was announced, Leisurecorp has been taken over by the Dubai government.

The European Tour has sought, and received, assurances that it will receive its promised money but the prevailing unease within the tour's hierarchy will not have been abated by the news of the problems now facing the Tiger Woods Dubai project. After all, if the most powerful brand name in sport is not immune to the economic downturn, who is?

By: Lawrence Donegan, TheGuardian


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