Golf's expanding global horizons are taking on spectacular proportions in the unlikely setting of Dubai while China, India and a host of other countries are lining up to jump onto the bandwagon.
The latest converts to the ambitious Gulf emirate's booming golf course design program are none other than world No. 1 Tiger Woods and European Ryder Cup hero Sergio Garcia.
Woods, in selecting the venue for his first venture into golf course design, chose neither California nor Florida, but Dubai, recently announcing a spectacular development that will feature a par-72 course, a golf academy, 300 luxury villas, 20 mansions and an 80-room VIP hotel all embossed with the famous Tiger stamp.
The resort is scheduled to be completed in late 2009 and until then, Woods will be a regular visitor in his private jet to compete in the Dubai Desert Classic, which he won for the first time last year, and oversee his multi-million US dollar creation.
"I am excited about the challenge of transforming a desert terrain into a world-class golf course," Woods said.
"I have a vision of creating something that is uniquely mine and I want to realize this vision in Dubai," he said.
"I have been amazed by the progress of Dubai," he said.
"From the time I first came to play here in 2000, I wanted to be a part of this amazing vision," he said.
Garcia is the latest addition to the design team of the Jumeirah Golf Estates, who are laying down a stupendous four-course setup called Fire, Earth, Water and Wind.
Australian legend Greg Norman is designing Fire and Earth, Fiji's Vijay Singh will mastermind Water and Garcia will be responsible for Wind, which is being described as Dubai's first links-style course.
The emirate already has seven top-class courses in commission, including the perfectly-manicured Emirates Golf Club, established host to the Desert Classic.
The new additions will take the number of courses up to around 20 in the space of 28 years, a remarkable achievement for a country that depends on treated sea water to turn parched, barren land into glistening greenery.
It's all part of Dubai's bold plan to use golf's increasing global popularity as a vehicle to lure tourists, businessmen and developers from Europe, the US and Asia.
That approach seems to be working, long-time associate Norman said.
"To see the growth in Dubai to where it is today and where it came from is phenomenal," he said.
"I think it's just the mirror image of what's going on with the high-rise buildings around Dubai," he said.
"A lot of people really didn't pay much attention to how big Dubai really is and the other GCC countries around here because it's been tremendous growth," he said.
"I think it's great for the whole world because you're seeing things happening that maybe you don't see anywhere else in the world except Shanghai," Norman said.
Norman's mention of Shanghai is apt as all indications are that the world's most populous country is entering a golf boom that could shortly create a third major axis in the sport after the US and Europe.
Course construction is gathering pace in China, especially around Shanghai, the nation's largest city and showpiece of its industrial and commercial development.
Big-name stars are lining up for a share of the action and top tournaments are being relocated to Shanghai every year.
It means extra travel time for many of the biggest names in golf, but many like South Africa's Ernie Els say that is a price that is worth paying.
"I feel the game is changing quickly," he said in Dubai.
"I think the real market is here and the Far East. I'll go to Shanghai definitely once, maybe twice this year," he said.
"I'm going to go to the Johnnie Walker and I think I've got enough time after that back in the US to really get myself prepared for the Masters," Els said.
After the Gulf and China, India is seen as being the next target with players like Jeev Milka Singh and Jyoti Randhawa breaking through on the international scene.
Norman is one who has his eyes fixed on golfing projects in India.
He is even looking further afield to the eastern Mediterranean, Turkey, Jordan, Brazil and Central America.
The international rush comes at a time when the US market is stagnant.
"Going back to the 60s, 70s and 80s, golf was classified as an elitist sport," he said. "It's not that way anymore."
"People are seeing the viability," Norman said.
"Just look at here in Dubai. Golf has been the barometer and been in sync with what's happened here with this growth," he said.
"If you're lucky enough to be involved and caught up in the vortex of it, then great," he said.
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