Last March saw the Dubai debut of the Long Drive World Series, a new competition designed to take golf to the masses. The inaugural series comprised of just three events – in the UK and Portugal as well as the opener at Jumeirah Golf Estates – but in 2018 there is a full calendar that will take in four continents.
The opening leg took place in Dubai again in February and those behind the Long Drive World Series feel they are on to a winner, having injected plenty of pizazz into a game that has often struggled to garner universal appeal.
A 12-man roster of players with bags of personality will compete in a format that is quick, easy on the eye, and firmly focused on providing family entertainment.
Long drive itself is not a new concept. The World Long Drive Championship has taken place annually since 1975, while the World Long Drive Association (WLDA) – an American organisation – hosts events across the United States and Canada that are broadcast on the Golf Channel. Several players from the WLDA tour are slated in to take place in the new Long Drive World Series.
The first genuinely global long drive property has its roots firmly in the business world. Beginning life as an “out-of-the-box marketing idea” for UK wealth management company MJS Capital, it has quickly evolved. Jamie Marland, the Dubai-based Operations Director of Long Drive World Series, has played a central role in taking the idea forward.
“It started with MJS wanting to do something a bit different with their marketing budget,” Marland tells Sport Industry Insider. “They decided a long drive event could be fun and get the company’s name out there. The first thought was to do an event in Dubai.
“It started off as a marketing initiative but we didn’t even really end up putting MJS front and centre – it became more about the sport and creating a memorable event. We peaked at about 600 spectators which, for an event that was organised in just a few weeks, everyone was pretty happy with.
“There were a lot of entrepreneurial minds involved in putting this together so inevitably after the first event proved to be a success, the idea snowballed and out of that came the Long Drive World Series. It was like any good idea, a conversation that just took on a life of its own.”
TAKING GOLF TO THE MASSES
Determined to differentiate themselves from the WLDA, Marland and his team set about planning a full season that would give people the world over a taste of long drive, and potentially introduce many new fans to golf.
“After the first event, we immediately had countries and cities asking how they could get involved with hosting. We sat down to see whether it would be possible to more events and decided that that the resounding answer was yes.
“What we are doing is different to what’s happening in America, the spiritual home of long drive. We want to make it more about the entertainment factor. The players we have on board all have great personalities and that helps create a more interactive, more spectator-friendly sport.”
“There has been a lot said about the declining popularity of golf and we want that to change. The European Tour are experimenting with new formats, which is great, and we also want to open the game up to more people.”
The first event certainly seemed to capture the imagination of both the audience and potential sponsors, who were quick to express their interest in being part of an extended series going forward.
“We knew that to make the concept successful we would have to fund ourselves initially as sponsors won’t jump in blind. Naturally in Dubai you have friends and contacts prepared to help you out at the start which was great. That’s the direction we went, reaching to our immediate network to bring in the funds.
“After we put our money where our mouths were, and made the first events successful, sponsors showed more interest. Now we are looking at a headline sponsor, so it would be the ‘Long Drive World Series sponsored by X’, plus a series of Golf and Silver packages for which we’d be looking predominantly for companies in each country who want to show what they’re about.”
There is a near 1 million AED prize pot to be stretched over nine events in 2018. Jumeirah Golf Estates hosted the season opener in February, while Mexico, South Africa, Sweden and China are among the other host countries, with Turkey the final destination in November.
SPONSORS ON BOARD
A title sponsor would obviously help the Long Drive World Series immensely and discussions are ongoing; a global TV reach, secured by some major broadcast deals, certainly presents an appealing prospect to companies looking to invest. Other partners already on board include Mayfair Wealth Management, Royal Brunei Airlines, and crypto currency platform Gimmer
But even if sponsorship falls short in 2018, Marland insists the long Drive World Series can cope financially.
“We’ve got Sky Sports on board and that’s great for us. OSN, beIN Sports, Movistar and Direct TV are there too. IMG is our production company and of course they also open up the door to quite a lot of regions.
“We’re confident about landing key sponsors but we’re in a position whereby we can make it work without them. We didn’t want to be one of those events that came, saw, didn’t conquer and withered away.
“That’s not what we’re about. We are here to change the sport and to grow the brand internationally.”
It’s certainly a bold ambition but Marland and his team certainly appear prepared for the long drive ahead.
Long Drive World Series Calendar 2018:
February – UAE
March – Mexico
April – South Africa
May – United States
June – United Kingdom
July – Sweden
August – Russia (August)
September – Portugal
October – China
November – Turkey