Exclusive Interview with Francisco De Lancastre David – Cluster General Manager of Abu Dhabi’s Three Championship Golf Courses

All Square spoke to the Cluster General Manager of Abu Dhabi‘s three championship golf courses about the impact of Covid-19 on golf in the UAE capital.

Francisco was appointed to the role by Troon, the global leader in upscale golf course management, and manages the day to day operations of Abu Dhabi Golf ClubSaadiyat Beach Golf Club and Yas Links Abu Dhabi. We asked him what measures have been taken to make Abu Dhabi a safe place to play golf this fall and winter.

How did you deal with the COVID-19 situation initially?  

We initially learned about COVID-19 in late January / February. As we worked with several tour operators in Asia, and particularly in China,  we started to receive group cancellations or requests to change dates. So, from the beginning, we knew this was serious and would impact our business in some way, shape or form, and we started to prepare for potential contingency plans, operationally and financially, early. We just wanted to be ready for any event. In the end, unfortunately, those plans proved to be useful.

What safety measures have been put in place to allow golfers to play at your golf courses?  

We have implemented many safety measures to protect our colleagues, members and guests visiting our clubs in Abu Dhabi. These include thermal scans at the entrance to each facility, stringent social distancing measures, 3-balls only, 1 person per cart, a cap on capacity both on the golf courses and in food and beverage outlets, and many other protocols to ensure we are able to welcome everyone to our properties safely. One of the great advantages of being part of Troon, the world’s largest professional golf club management company, is the ability to reach out to different resources and implement what suits specific facilities, ownership groups and regulations in certain countries.

Did you use the lockdown period to make changes to some of the courses?  

Abu Dhabi Night Golf

In Abu Dhabi we were fortunate that we only had the golf courses closed for a period of 14 days, however, we took the opportunity to do some maintenance work that was scheduled for a later time. We did not do any renovations to greens on the Championship greens, as we were under the understanding that the closure could be lifted at any time and we wanted to have the greens in perfect condition for when we reopened. However, we did do green renovations on the Academy courses we have at Abu Dhabi Golf Club and Yas Links Abu Dhabi.

How do you see activity resuming locally?  

We have resumed our activity with some restrictions, as mentioned earlier, however, we have seen a rejuvenated interest in golf in general from the local community and that is fantastic to see. Our sport is played outdoors and presents itself as a great opportunity to exercise in a safe and healthy environment. Food and beverage and fitness are important drivers of our business as well, and we see those parts of the business taking a bit longer to return to full capacity. As we approach summer in the UAE we enter our low season, so that will allow us to reset and prepare for a hopefully stronger Q4 when international travel is expected to resume in some capacity.

Are you confident that Abu Dhabi will be a safe destination to travel to this fall/winter?  

Definitely. Abu Dhabi and the UAE have done a tremendous job during this global issue and I am fully confident in the country’s ability to provide a safe and healthy environment to everyone visiting in fall and winter. The safety of the destination is a priority for all stakeholders that represent the tourism industry.

What role did golf play in the development of Abu Dhabi as a travel destination?  

Golf played and continues to plays a great role in the development of Abu Dhabi as a tourism destination. We at Troon are fortunate to manage three world-class venues in Abu Dhabi: Abu Dhabi Golf Club and its iconic Falcon Clubhouse, host of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA, a Rolex Series event each year; Saadiyat Beach Golf Club, a masterpiece design from golfing legend Gary Player; and Yas Links Abu Dhabi, a world-class layout and ranked top 100 in the world, designed by the acclaimed Kyle Phillips. The three facilities are essential in providing exposure to our destination and will continue to do so in years to come.

Can you tell us about this year’s edition of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship?  

HSBC 2020

This year’s edition of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA was again a huge success, and we are extremely proud of our team and all the work and passion they put into delivering one of the biggest tournaments on the European Tour schedule. We were able to host many of the top players in the world including Shane Lowry, defending champion and current Open champion, and the likes of four-time major champion Brooks Koepka, who always adds something special. We were delighted to see former world number one and Ryder Cup legend Lee Westwood putting on an amazing display all week, culminating with the win on Sunday. A truly deserving winner of the Falcon Trophy.

What should happen for Abu Dhabi to strengthen its position as a leading golf destination?

Abu Dhabi is already a great golfing destination, not only because of its great golf courses but because of what the city has to offer. In the last few years, we have seen the opening of amazing cultural sites such as the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the Louvre Abu Dhabi and Qasr Al Watan, the Presidential palace. Also, from an entertainment standpoint, we have seen the opening of Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi, which now complements the existing Ferrari World Abu Dhabi and Yas Waterworld Abu Dhabi. Apart from this, Abu Dhabi offers great beaches and night-time entertainment, with some of the best restaurants in the world calling Abu Dhabi their home.

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