Women Off and Running in Dubai Ladies Masters
Over the past few years, we’ve seen the United Arab Emirates blossom as an international venue for men’s golf, complete with shots of Tiger hitting drives off the iconic helipad, and headlines entitled “duel in the desert,” or some such thing. Already, the part of the European tour held in the region has produced some exciting times for professional golf, but the women are there, too. We just aren’t as aware of it.
The participation of women, and women’s roles in general, have always been a delicate matter in the Middle East, and despite the resplendent playground for the wealthy, Dubai is not Las Vegas, and “anything does NOT go.” Still, Dubai and the Emirates have established an excellent tournament for women, with healthy purses and outstanding courses. In 2006, the first version of the Dubai Ladies Masters was played, and later installments have thrived. The official sponsor for the tournament is listed as Princess Bint Al Hussein, who is the wife of Sheik Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The sheik is Dubai’s ruler, and Vice President/Prime Minister of the Emirates. Needless to say, proper respect to the project is required and appropriate. The Dubai Ladies Masters is the first professional golf tournament for women in the Middle East.
There has been no trouble recruiting the big names. Annika Sorenstam won the first two tournaments in ’06 and ’07, Anja Monke prevailed in ’08, Kyung Kim in ’09 and Danish golfer Iben Tinning in ’10, shortly before her retirement. The first American winner was Lexi Thompson in 2011. Numerous other statistics point to a strong international participation, including Swede Louise Stahle setting the course record and Carlota Ciganda of Spain becoming the first amateur to make the cut.
The 2012 tournament kicked off this Thursday, and although Lexi Thompson is in with a 69, other names and faces are emerging to keep it interesting. Shanshan Feng, the Chinese player who won the LPGA Championship has become an instantly high-profile presence due to that victory. Other strong finishes have put her over the 300,000 mark and today’s 66 looks promising for more.
Less well-known, perhaps, is four year veteran Florentyna Parker. Of English parentage, “Flory” grew up in Germany, and thrived in the amateur world, doing well in the Junior Solheim, the Junior Ryder Cup and the Curtis Cup. Parker seems to be a triple threat as well, having won county championships in both tennis and table tennis. She’s climbed to 8th on the European money list, and took her first victory in 2010 at the ABN AMRO Ladies Open. She is co-leader with her 66.
As for the venue, Dubai didn’t mess around. Don’t expect to walk into your old English or Scottish clubhouse of dark oiled wood beams and hushed atmosphere. This is the type of place where George Jetson’s boss would play, and that’s not a dig. It’s just a certain type of modern that suggests an increasing futurism – in short, it’s magnificent. The Emirates Golf Club features two courses that sit in the Golf Digest top 100, the Majlis and The Faldo, complete with dining facilities, driving ranges and academies. When it comes to the future of golf in the desert, the Emirates mean business.
It may be that our distant view of change, particularly for women and sports in the Middle East is uneven. The more liberal Emirates have done their homework, and offer a first-tier experience on golf’s world stage.