I find it hard to believe that this is my last weekend in Dubai. Time has just flown by. Although I didn’t necessarily get a chance to do everything I wanted while I was here, I think I have managed to have many great experiences. I have no regrets at this point.
Last week I visited Global Village. It was described to me as an outdoor mall, that is only open from November until March every year. I would describe it as a Dubai version of a fall fair. A “Dubai version” by my definition means everything is on a large scale. The Village is comprised of tented buildings (pavilions) representing different countries in the world. Each pavilion has several booths inside, selling goods, crafts, or food. There is a midway area with one large Ferris wheel, and several other rides. There are a few stages continuously showing some dance performances. A canal flows between the pavilions, where you can take an abra ride if you like.
I had heard mixed reviews of Global Village – some people really love it and others are not as impressed. It opens at 4:00 p.m., so I got dropped off there on the way back from the university campus along with my colleagues Zoran and Mazda. I was mostly interested in going to look around and take pictures, whereas Zoran and Mazda were looking for Christmas gifts for their families. We made plans to meet after about an hour and a half, so I headed off to take some pictures before the sun went down. I can see why people like Global Village, but I can’t say that I loved it. I think it would be a good place to visit with a family, or if you were interested in shopping for souvenirs, but neither of these applied to me. As I wandered around and through some of the pavilions, one pleasant surprise was that I could walk by the booths for the most part and not be hassled to look and purchase something. This was a very different experience from walking along the streets in the souq area around the creek. At one point I walked by one of the pavilions and saw a man outside with a yellow python wrapped around him. There was a woman who was encouraging me to come inside to see more snakes, but I wasn’t interested, especially if it meant that I had to pay to go in.
After a little more than an hour, I was walking through the Iran pavillion, and I heard my name. I turned around and saw Zoran and Mazda. They were still looking for gifts, and I had seen most of what I wanted to see, so I spent the rest of my time with them. Occasionally, Mazda or Zoran would ask for my opinion on an item they were thinking of buying. I am not a good shopper, so I didn’t think my advice would be very useful. I tried to be helpful, so I asked them questions like “What colours does your wife like to wear?” when Mazda was looking at clothing items, and “What colour is your couch?” when Zoran was looking at pillow shams. Sometimes they were able to answer, but other times they were not. I hope their wives are happy with the eventual purchases.
Mazda bought the most stuff; I think he finished his Christmas shopping in one trip to Global Village. He also spent quite a bit of time looking at tasbih prayer beads. It was fascinating to watch how he chose from a large selection. The beads come in lots of different colours, but he eventually narrowed it down to the colour black. At that point the merchant had about five sets of beads for him to look at. After about five minutes of trying them out, he chose the set that he wanted. I am not sure I took that much care to buy my last vehicle.
At one point we walked by a stall that was selling leather jackets. I told Mazda and Zoran they should try one on. Zoran said that he was sensitive to leather, but with a little prodding, Mazda tried on a jacket. To show Mazda the quality of the leather, the merchant took a lighter and passed it along the sleeve of the jacket. He wanted to show that there was no mark left after it had been exposed to the flame. After trying a few jackets, he eventually picked one and made an offer. After a little bit of haggling, he walked away with the jacket for 200 dirhams, which is about $60 Cdn. I don’t know much about leather, but that seemed like a great deal to me.
We had a few other random experiences during our time at Global Village. This included watching a fountain show and listening to a musical performance. I took a ride in the large Ferris Wheel, which offered a very nice view, but it was enclosed, so it didn’t feel exactly right. At one point Mazda bought us all drinks from a vendor selling erekoos. These vendors walked along with a large silver canister on their backs. To serve the drink, they have to bend over and let it pour into the cup. The task was much more difficult than it sounds. I also took Zoran and Mazda back to the snake tent and treated them to the inside tour. I wasn’t that impressed by the displays they had – seeing the python outside was the highlight as far as I was concerned. Inside, they did offer to take a picture of you (for a fee) holding a python, but we all declined.
More than a month ago, I found out that the final event for the European Golf Tour was being held in Dubai from December 8 – 11. Even better than that, I found out that tickets to this event were free. This is an invitational event to the top 60 money winners on the European Tour for 2011. I am a golf fan, but I don’t follow it as closely as I used to, and I definitely do not follow the European Tour events outside of The Open Championship. However, many of the top players on the PGA Tour are European, so there were lots of names that I recognized. The marquee players attending were the world number one player: Luke Donald, and the U.S. Open Champion and world number two player: Rory McIlroy. It seemed to me that Rory was definitely the star of the event.
Now, if you are not interested in golf, you may want to skip the rest of this blog. I spent part of three days at the event, and took over 200 pictures. I had never attended a professional golf tournament, so I have nothing to compare it to, but I thought this was a fantastic experience. Although the tickets were free, getting to the event was going to be a bit expensive. The golf course is not close to the city city core at all. The only reasonable way to get there was by taxi. On Thursday morning, I left the hotel and went to catch a cab. When I asked the driver to take me to Jumeirah Golf Estates, he gave me a blank look. Fortunately, I had printed directions from the website, and after consulting with another taxi driver, and calling in to the dispatcher on the radio, my driver headed to the golf course. As we got closer, I saw lots of large road signs indicating “Dubai World Championship”. I wondered if they were there all year, or just during the time of the tournament. The taxi ride was 80 dirhams, which is much more than I had ever paid for a ride before. This was another indication that this course was somewhat isolated from the city. As we got closer, I noticed that the terrain around the area was basically desert. There was quite a bit of development around the golf course area, but it was unclear if the houses were still being built. Many construction jobs have stalled in Dubai.
I arrived around 9:00 a.m., and picked up a draw sheet for the day. The players were going off in order of their standings for the year, with the top two players teeing off at 12:30. I went to the driving range to see if I could get some pictures. Fortunately, there was a sign with the name of the player when they were hitting balls on the practice tee. Some of the players I would have recognized without the sign, but there were many that I didn’t know. After taking some pictures, I headed out to the 10th hole in an attempt to see Ernie Els. Unfortunately for Ernie, he had one of the earlier tee times – which means he was relatively low on the money list. I had seen Ernie on television many times, but watching him live, I was struck by how tall he is. I am sorry to say that he didn’t seem to be having a great round. I watched him double-bogey the 10th hole.
After following Ernie for awhile, I made my way back to the 9th hole to catch a glimpse of Ratief Goosen. I think he is my mother’s favourite player on tour. I guess that I was a bad luck charm for the South African players though, because Goosen shot a bogey on the 9th hole. I discovered that the players, caddies, and tournament officials were shuttled by golf cart from the 9th green to the 10th tee. That made a lot of sense to me, because it was quite a distance between those holes.
At that point I decided to go back to the practice range to try to get pictures of Donald and McIlroy. On the way past the chipping green, beside the 1st tee, I saw Miguel Angel Jimenez practicing before his tee off time. When I got back to the driving range, I took pictures of Darren Clarke (current British Open Champion), Lee Westwood (former world number one), Martin Kaymer (former PGA Champion), Charl Schwartzel (current Master’s Champion), and Luke Donald. As I was walking back towards the first tee, I just happened to cross paths with Rory McIlroy as he was walking to the driving range. He very politely told two autograph seekers that he did not sign anything before the round, but he would be happy to sign after the round was over. I took some pictures as he walked by, and then took some more while he hit balls on the range. He looked a little run down to me, and I found out later that he may have contracted dengue fever. Although he played pretty well in the tournament, especially on Thursday, it is too bad that he was not in top form for this final event.
After getting a few pictures of Rory on the practice range, I headed back to the first hole to watch some of the top players announced and tee off. As I was walking down towards the fairway, a marshal called out to me to let me know that no pictures were allowed. I had been careful not to take photographs while the players were hitting or putting – so all of my photographs are scenes of the players walking down the fairway or off the green, or marking their balls on the green. Occasionally I have some pictures of the players in full swing, but that was when I was far away, and out of earshot. At this point I was carrying my camera around my neck, and the marshal said that it was ok to take pictures when the players were walking by, but not when they were getting ready to play the ball. He said that I needed to keep my camera in the bag, otherwise I would get hassled by every marshal on the course. I thought he was quite reasonable, given that it must be basically impossible to stop people from taking pictures with their phones and small cameras. I spent the rest of the tournament trying to snap pictures quickly after the players finished their shots but before they moved on.
After watching Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald tee off, I headed back to the Championship Village area that had booths set up with food. There was also an area that advertised free lessons (for 10 minutes) with a golf professional. I arranged to get my lesson after lunch, and then moved on to watch Dave Edwards demonstrating trick shots. He was fantastic, and very entertaining. I can’t remember all of the crazy shots that he showed, but one of the most impressive was when he hit three balls at once: one straight, one fading to the right, and one pulling to the left.
After I had some lunch I went for my lesson. I was wearing Birkenstocks, and pants and a shirt that were definitely not made for golf, but I thought I would try to hit a few balls anyway. I was hitting into a net, so it was hard to tell how well I was doing. This next part is mostly for me to remember what the professional told me to improve my swing, since I figure that I probably won’t get a chance to hit a golf ball for another five months or so and I might forget by then. You can skip to the next paragraph if you like. The pro told me that I had a pretty natural swing, but that I should keep my hands lower, and stand closer to the ball. He also told me to shorten my swing (which I knew I should do). Finally he told me that I have a Y setup, where I should have a K setup with my arms, so that my hands are further behind the ball when I address it. The last suggestion felt quite awkward, but I noticed a difference when I moved closer and dropped my hands. I am actually curious to try these tips out at a driving range, and on the course when I get a chance next spring. I was pretty impressed with the 10 minute lesson. Maybe I will look into lessons next summer to get my game back in shape.
After the lesson, I headed to the 13th green to watch some of the players on that par 3 hole. I watched Anders Hanson four putt for a double-bogey, which somehow made me feel better about my game. I saw Lee Westwood double-bogey the same hole, but he had a different path. His first shot landed on the edge of the bunker on the far side of the green. I couldn’t see exactly where the ball was, but when he got to it, he was really upset. He slammed his club against his bag. I guess he had an impossible lie, because he ended up hitting the ball left-handed in a way that looked like he was hitting it with a croquet mallet. He overshot the green, but I thought he had a chance to save bogey on the hole. Unfortunately his next chip was not good and he ended up with a double-bogey. Both Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy fared better on the 13th where they each sunk putts for birdie.
The next day was Friday, and I could only spend the morning at the tournament since I had some work that needed to be done for people back in Waterloo. I took some pictures of the trophies that were on display, including the Dubai World Championship trophy, the US Open trophy, and the Claret Jug. I spent most of the morning walking back from the 9th hole to the 1st hole. I got pictures of Graeme McDowell, and watched as Like Donald and Louis Oosthuizen each birdied the 5th hole. My main objective that morning was to catch a few holes with Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy who were the second last group to tee off on Friday. They had a large gallery, so I knew I might not get a good view of them. However, I walked on the right side of the 1st fairway, when most people walked down the left side. It was interesting to see how different golfers interacted with each other. Sergio and Rory were chatting as they walked down the fairway together. Some of the other players definitely wanted to be left alone as they moved along the course.
I spent basically the whole day on Saturday at the tournament. Not surprisingly, both Friday and Saturday were definitely busier than Thursday. I walked with Miguel Angel Jimenez and Darren Clarke from the 8th green to the 18th green. Unfortunately for them, they were the third group off on Saturday morning. Darren Clarke was not having a good round, but Jimenez was doing better than the previous two days. At one point, as I was walking away from the tee area, Miguel’s caddy walked beside me. We had a 30 second conversation, where he was complaining that it was difficult to walk this course because there was sand everywhere except the fairways and the greens. I have to agree with him; each day I came home, my feet and legs were covered in dirt. There were no cart paths along most of the fairways. I was surprised at how quickly both the players and the caddies walked. I could barely keep up with the caddie, and he was carrying very heavy bag.
On the 14th hole (I think) both Clarke and Jimenez were in the bunkers after their tee shots. They both hit the green on their approaches, but their caddies were back on the fairway raking the sand while they were standing on the green. They were waiting for the caddies to arrive to pull the flag, and eventually Miguel got it himself. By this point, Darren Clarke knew he was out of the race for the tournament (he ended up in last place as it turns out), and he went from frustrated to relaxed. He and Angel were joking around like they were out for a causal round of golf. They even did a fist bump when they each made birdies on the 15th. It was fun to watch them finish the round.
After they were done, I went back to find Sergio Garcia to follow him for the last 11 holes of his round. I had never really figured out if I liked Sergio or not, but after watching him in this tournament live, he seems like a good guy. He was smiling and chatting most of the round – although this round his playing partner was not interactive. At one point he was flirting with a girl in the crowd – I am not sure if they had met the night before, or they knew each other. After he made a great chip on the 14th hole for birdie, he tossed the ball to a kid as he walked to the next tee. Overall, I was really impressed with him, and I would definitely be rooting for him in the future.
When Sergio was finished the 18th hole, I decided to spend the rest of the day sitting in the grandstand at the 18th green. I spotted several seats up high, but as I made my way to them I saw one empty seat in the front row. I asked if it was taken, and was told it was available. I watched the last seven groups finish their rounds, including an eagle by Paul Lawrie, a birdie by Rory McIlroy after a lucky bounce of a rock near the green, and a bogey by the eventual tournament winner Alvaro Quiros. Quiros made up for that bogey on the final day when he made a very long putt for eagle on the 18th, to win by 3 strokes. Unfortunately I had to work on Sunday, so I only got a chance to see that shot on television rather than live.
Overall, for me, watching this world class golf event was one of the highlights of my time in Dubai. I only wish that there was a tennis tournament here where I could have seen Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic. Unfortunately, they don’t have that tournament until February.