Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Giants of Golf: Rock, Rory and Tiger

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Lucy and I rubbed elbows with
the Giants of Golf

My goal for the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship was to learn the names of a couple of golfers other than Tiger Woods. Now I know Rory McIlroy and Robert Rock.
There were a couple of sports that made me cry in frustration as a child, and golf was one of them. The other was bowling. I’ve gotten over them and moved on, and have been bowling and playing miniature golf a few times in the past three or four decades. I’ve watched a few golf championships on TV, but mostly by accident.
Thus I’ve never understood the allure of going to watch a golf tournament. If it’s a good day for golf it’s sunny with no wind, which means it’s hot, there is no place to sit, nobody seems to have a drink in their hand, and they have to be quiet and still. Then a guy hits a ball and it disappears, either into the sky or into a hole. Or worse, the ball goes the wrong way and everyone cringes.
Now, after spending two days at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship watching Tiger Woods and other “Giants of Golf,” I get it. Sort of.
Lucy made sure she would get in free.

The Abu Dhabi Golf Club is a beautiful venue. The clubhouse is in the shape of a falcon, wings spread, overlooking the gold course. The entrance is through the . . . other end.

Abu Dhabi has been part of the PGA European Golf Tour since 2006. Tiger Woods was reportedly paid about $2.5 million to appear; the purse for the tournament was $2.7 million.

Tiger appeared relaxed.
At first when I heard that Tiger was receiving an appearance fee, I thought he was the only paid player. Now I’m not so sure, because I read that the US PGA Tour is the only one that doesn’t allow fees to be paid. I suspect that maybe this event attracted six of the top ten and eleven of the top 25 golfers in the world because maybe some others were paid as well. If that’s true, so what? After all, every expat I have met in the UAE is here to make money. Nobody is moving here to retire, or for the climate.
Day One: Saturday
The great thing about events here in Abu Dhabi is that most are in the buildup phase, which means that they are easy to get into and inexpensive. For the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship you could get two people in for free if you had an HSBC bank card, and on Saturday it was HSBC’s “Wear Red Day;” if you wore something red you got in free.
The day we went, Mark had some business to take care of at home and wanted to meet us there later, and Deb was back in St. Louis visiting family. So I met Lucy and Tom at Dana’s, and the four of us took a taxi to the Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
Like many foreign places, taxis are an adventure here. Don’t use too many words, and it’s better if you can speak in acronyms. “We want to go to the Abu Dhabi Golf Club,” Dana told the driver. He looked perplexed, and for good reason. There are at least two golf courses that I, a non-golfer, know of here with that name. And by the way, there are about six Abu Dhabi Marinas. Golf, golf, we said. Golf tournament? PGA? Oh, yes, PGA, ok! I am sure he was secretly wondering why we were going there instead of to the cricket match.
We entered through the media entrance, and while Tom and Dana disappeared to look for the beverage concessions, Lucy and I got our bearings. I was hoping to learn who some of the other golfers were besides Tiger. I brought my big Nikon D80 camera with the telephoto zoom lens, and was about to start taking some practice shots when a woman in a red shirt and hat came over and said “No cameras.”
She held up a red sign: “No Photos.”
Oh, man! I brought this heavy camera for nothing? “If this was in the U.S.,” she informed us, “your cameras would have been confiscated at the door. Your purses would be checked. They would take your cell phones too.” Most people probably know this, especially our golfer friends Dave and Jackie who volunteer at Pebble Beach. But remember that here, rules change quickly, as we have found out before.
The scoreboards were updated by young people on ladders.

 Tom and Dana soon showed up with one beer each, and being gentlemen, they turned them over to Lucy and me. By the time Mark arrived with the binoculars, we were starting to enjoy ourselves. After buying more beers and running into our neighbors, Chris and Meegan, we had figured out who the leaders were, so we headed to the 8th hole where we caught up with Tiger. By this time, Lucy and I had noticed that everyone else who had cameras was snapping away until that red sign went up.
Rory was right behind this screen.

After Tiger played through, Mark and I were getting hungry and thirsty so we went back to the Championship Village, which caused us to be separated from Tom, Lucy and Dana for pretty much the rest of the day.

At the end of the day we were at the 18th green, watching Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy battle it out. Rory had an incredible 18th hole, where he landed his ball on a rocky outcrop behind some shrubs next to a pond. He hit it out, but it landed behind the big scoreboard, off to the side and directly behind where we were standing! There was a big TV screen, and Rory was taking his shot from just behind it. He had just the slimmest line of sight, he took his shot and WOW! His ball flies past us and lands on the green just a few feet from the hole, alongside Tiger’s. Rory turned two potential disasters into great shots.

There was no shortage of cameras.
Ok, I’m no sportswriter, but I hope you get the picture. Rory ended up winning the round and, as we were looking for Tom, Lucy, and Dana, I was thinking, “Boy, did they miss out.”
Soon we spotted them coming toward us, and Lucy ran up to me, her face beaming underneath her hat. “We had the BEST time!” she said, handing me a glass of red wine. “We were on the VIP viewing platform, with a panoramic view of the 14th, 17th, and 18th holes. And they had beer, wine, and sandwiches, all for free! Where were you?”

I think Rory impressed even Tiger.
Oh, man! How did they get in there? “We showed our HSBC cards and they let us in.” I took a sip of wine, and suddenly it came to me: Lucy and I were coming back the next day. Sunday was the last day of the championship and unfortunately the boys would be working, but we would just have to manage without them.

First things first!
Day Two: Sunday

Lucy met me at our apartment and we hailed a taxi in front of our compound. “Abu Dhabi Golf Course,” I tested the driver. He knitted his eyebrows. “PGA.” Yes, yes!

The driver pulled into the road, and as soon as we entered the highway he took out his cell phone and made a call. Sitting in front, I had already noticed that his seat was way too far forward for his very long legs, and he was pumping on the gas pedal so much that the taxi was slowing down and lurching forward. This guy was excited, and he grew more excited during his phone conversation, until he was shouting, then really screaming, into the phone. I turned around and peeked at Lucy, huddling in the back seat and rolling her eyes.

To our relief, he put down the phone, and I said “Where are you from?” “PAKISTAN! Cricket! You know, CRICKET?” Cricket fever was running very high here, especially among the Pakistani taxi drivers.

Three VIPs.

When we arrived, we headed straight up to the VIP viewing area. Lucy was right, what a great spot. It was high up, and I had a great view with the binoculars. This time they didn’t have any sandwiches, but they had beer, wine, water and soft drinks. No complaints here. We had arranged to meet up with Terry, and although she didn’t have a card when she arrived, she got in too. Let’s just say she had “friends in high places.”

Somehow we managed
to  stay out of trouble.
This town is starting to seem pretty small. We ran into more people we knew, including two women from AWN and someone who we’ve seen walking his dogs in Tom and Lucy’s compound. He was a volunteer, and as a joke, I asked him for his “Quiet Please” sign. He handed it over! I’m thinking I’ll give it to Tom for his birthday later this month.

We watched players come through, and as time went on it got more and more difficult to keep the VIPs quiet. Plus cell phones were ringing, and the cameras kept on clicking. There were several incidents where a player conveyed his displeasure, but fortunately we were never involved

When can I get a shot like this again?
There’s an advantage to watching sports on TV; you get the close-up views of the best shots. We didn’t see any of the amazing shots. On both days, we saw many cringe-worthy moments where the ball almost went in. Almost. And even though they were updating the scoreboards and there were some TV screens around, when something exciting happened, we usually didn’t know about it till later; in some cases much later.

How did people catch the action before Internet?

I was surprised that people didn’t use binoculars. I brought my birding binoculars and my favorite thing was watching the faces of the players as they lined up their shots. For me, the thrill was to see Tiger Woods golf, and take photos. I must admit that he is a striking figure to watch, walking on the golf course. So focused, yet he seemed really relaxed. Maybe that had something to do with that hefty fee he was paid.

At least for now, I’m not ready to give up sailing for golf. I might be persuaded to watch another tournament, but something tells me that after the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, I just might be a little spoiled; perhaps even ruined.

I mean, will Tiger be there?

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