As I sit on the plane back to the States after almost a week in fascinating Abu Dhabi, I cannot stop smiling. What a fun and memorable trip.
For over 20 years I have been fortunate to travel all over the world, but my time in this region has been limited. The last few years on the tour I did play in Dubai and thoroughly enjoyed it, so I always wanted to come back. As a matter of fact, it was in Dubai where I played in my very last event as a professional golfer in 2008.
This time, I visited for two distinct reasons: 1) To continue my efforts to grow the game of golf, and 2) In furtherance of my Solheim Cup captain’s duties.
The last few years, the Abu Dhabi Sports Council has established a goal to increase women’s and girl’s participation in sports. To drive this mission forward, it launched the first-annual Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies Open on the Ladies European Tour.
My family and I arrived on Sunday afternoon after 24 hours of travel. It’s far to go, but thanks to sponsor Etihad Airways, the service was as smooth and relaxing as possible. Upon our arrival, the anticipation from the kids was high. There was no time for the hotel, as they wanted to explore the city right away! Since we wanted to keep the kids awake and there were a few hours of daylight left, we thought the pool and beach at the Saadiyat Beach Club would do the trick. It certainly did and we all slept great once we returned to the hotel.
The next day, Monday of tournament week, players started to arrive. Perfect timing for a tournament photo call, which appropriately took place on the signature hole of the Gary Player-designed Saadiyat Beach Golf Club. There were five players taking part of the shoot. We had a bunker challenge, posed with a classic Arabian falcon and mixed in some casual, fun group photos.
The day continued with media interviews and a demonstrational clinic for 50 kids at the Abu Dhabi City Golf Club Academy . I really enjoy sharing my passion for the game and it’s so rewarding to see them light up and show interest. In the evening there was welcome reception and we got to experience some Arabic mezze and cuisine.
The local lamb dishes with traditional Biyani, a long grain spiced rice, were delicious!
As a new tournament on the schedule, the field was full and I had the pleasure of catching up with some players that I don’t see that much in the U.S. The mixture of talent from all corners of the world it was both refreshing and intriguing. With my Solheim Cup team in mind, I had an eye on several of the players and hope they play well enough to qualify for the European team in Des Moines, Iowa 10 months from today. The Rolex World Rankings and LET Solheim Cup will primarily determine the team, but I will also have four captain’s picks to round out the squad.
The week was full of inspirational activities, both on and off the course. Both Abu Dhabi Tourism and the Abu Dhabi Sports Council took great care of us and we got to experience many popular tourist excursions. We enjoyed the fantastic Al Ain Zoo and the largest man-made safari in the world, along with the peaceful Telal Resort where we rode camels in the desert. The kids really enjoyed the Yas Waterworld and Ferrari World, which boasts the fastest rollercoaster on the planet. We had a blast at Nurai Island where we enjoyed the beach, infinity pools, a surfing machine and swings in the ocean. We were also very impressed with the Sheikh Zayed Grande Mosque and Emirates Palace. All were truly beautiful, peaceful and educational places!
As the event’s ambassador, I attended sponsor lunches and dinners, conducted media interviews, promoted the tournament and Solheim Cup on TV, participated in the kick-off press conference, and did as much social media interaction as possible. We also had some great meetings and are hopeful to one day hold an ANNIKA Invitational UAE.
It was a very successful trip and I want to congratulate the tournament and its organizers, Wasserman and the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, for this historic initiative. This was a great start for an event that will surely grow in time. It was a very memorable trip for our family and we feel lucky to have been able to share these experiences and learn about other cultures.
Hope to see everyone again next year.