For veteran fans of the European Tour, this year’s iteration of early-season schedule represented a circular shuffle of events compared to years past. Most of those changes were made to account for the complicated geopolitical realities of the Gulf states and the current embargo situation confronting Qatar (here’s a good primer from last year when things really started to flare up). This week’s Commercial Bank Qatar Masters rolls into the Doha Golf Club with a little less luster than in previous years owing to the drama. Occasionally, the real world throws an inconvenient banana slice into seemingly innocuous corners of daily life, including the odd professional golf tournament. Last week’s playing of the inaugural Oman Open (shoutout Uncle Joost) was a late add as a buffer/stopover to the 2018 circuit.
Qatar is, in many ways, at the forefront of the modernization arms race in the Middle East. The city of Doha, with a population of 1.5 million (greater than 60% of the small nation’s overall population), is one of the richest metropolitan areas in the world. It’s also home to some #badhombres.
Although this is barely going to scratch the surface, here’s a brief synopsis.
On June 5, 2017, several countries comprising the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) withdrew their diplomats and cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar, seemingly out of nowhere. Among these was the United Arab Emirates, Qatar’s greatest regional rival with regard to urbanization, transportation, foreign investment portfolio diversification, attempts to “Westernize” banking and economic policies, and, painfully, human rights violations. Nonetheless, the UAE–along with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt–banded together to isolate Qatar, insisting that the Qataris are state sponsors of terrorism.
The Saudis primarily led the charge, conveniently relying upon the backing of the United States (which, arguably, is more interested in adversarial proceedings with Iran and Turkey; both sided with Qatar). Although these regional rivalries are hundreds–if not thousands–of years old, the most recent iteration has layers of complication influenced as much by technological advancements since the last major Gulf conflict of the early 1990s as by general saltiness. Qatar’s state-sponsored Al Jazeera media network only adds fuel to the fire.
Don’t believe me? UAE decided that Doha-based Qatar Airlines (which also happens to be a primary business rival to both Etihad (Abu Dhabi) and Emirates (Dubai) for transcontinental Middle Eastern hub traffic–absolutely no coincidence there, I’m sure) would be shut out of its airspace indefinitely. Oman, on the other hand, has mostly sought to remain neutral, and has continued normalized relations with Qatar. Normalized relations mean connecting flights, resulting is some wack shit like this:
Before you aviation nerds chime in with “Actually, commercial flights rarely fly in straight lines between departure and destination” let me just say “I know, dawg,” and look at that map! Qatar 1127 had to fly out over the Gulf and completely bypass UAE’s airspace. This used to be a 1 hr 10 minute flight!
For the added 40 minutes of flying time, however, was actually a convenient loophole for the European Tour’s schedule planners. The schedule in early 2017, before the diplomatic crisis began, had the Qatar Masters sandwiched between Abu Dhabi and Dubai on the calendar. As the crisis is still ongoing, there are no flights to or from either major city in UAE to Doha.
By adding the Oman Open directly before the Qatar Masters, it allowed for the players committed to both events a direct flight between Muscat and Doha, making travel significantly cheaper and more convenient for players and their #squads. Good on the European Tour for making this adjustment and awarding an interesting and authentic destination like Oman an event, rather than creating unnecessary travel stress and expense.
Doha Golf Club
Designed in 1997, Doha Golf Club is strikingly similar to the host venue in Abu Dhabi. Unsurprisingly, the same firm designed both courses (Harradine Golf) and seems to deliver a consistent, if vanilla, product. I think I’m deserted-out, and I’ve also been knee deep in it at work this week, so I’ll just leave this here:
Coverage starts at 4:00am both Saturday and Sunday. Spaniard Adrian Otaegui (-11) leads at the halfway point, with fifteen players currently within three shots of the lead, including three of his fellow Spaniards in Larrazabal, Quiros, and Fernandez-Castano. Friend of the NLU Pod Eddie Pepperell is one back.
The trophy for this event is one of the most unique anywhere in the golfing world. Before the oil boom, Qatar’s primary economic driver was the harvesting of pearls. The Qatar Masters winner gets a trophy that reflects Qatar’s history as a pearl producing powerhouse.
We’ll be back to normal next week with a full-scale preview of the Tshwane Open and some color to add to the host venue of the concurrent WGC Mexico Championship.