The future of the European Tour's Race to Dubai could be under threat after parent company Nakheel assumed the day-to-day running of Leisurecorp, according to UAE daily The National.

William Johnson, Chief Sports Writer, reports:

David Spencer, the driving force behind the Race to Dubai, which culminates with the world’s richest golf tournament here in the UAE, was yesterday relieved of his duties after the running of Leisurecorp was re-absorbed by parent company Nakheel. The removal of Spencer, who is on medical leave, from his role as chief executive of Leisurecorp, raises doubts about the future of tournaments he has been involved with.

Leisurecorp had pledged US$100million (Dh367m) to the European Tour for the naming rights of the organisation’s Order of Merit for the next five years and will stage the glamorous end-of-season tournament – the Dubai World Championship.

The company are backing the European Open at the London Club in England later this month, have acquired the famous Scottish links of Turnberry, host venue of this year’s British Open Championship, and own Pearl Valley Golf Estates near Cape Town which is the home of the South African Open. Leisurecorp’s flagship development, Jumeirah Golf Estates, home of November’s World Championship, is due to have four courses but development of two have been postponed.

Nakheel’s owners, Dubai World, made the changes in reaction to the global financial crisis. The message yesterday from Nakheel was that it would be business as usual.

European Tour officials, who have had to deal with various setbacks following the downturn in the banking sector which is responsible for a large proportion of tournament sponsorship, saw no reason for immediate concern. 

They were satisfied by the tone of a statement issued by Nakheel.

Nakheel’s statement said: “While the real estate activities of Leisurecorp are part of Dubai World’s current consolidation, Leisurecorp’s golf business activities continue as usual. Due to ongoing health reasons, David Spencer is currently on medical leave although he continues to be closely involved with Leisurecorp’s golf activities.

“Following the consolidation of Dubai World’s real estate businesses, when David Spencer returns to full fitness we expect him to play an important and active role as a consultant on all matters relating to golf and the relationships with The European Tour and the R&A.”

That proposed consultancy role is understood to be in the region of 10 hours a week – a considerable reduction in responsibility for the man whose catchphrase when entering his exciting partnership with the European Tour was: “Dreams are the blueprint of reality.”

The Australian-born Spencer, who learned the rudiments of sports marketing working in his homeland for broadcasting magnate Kerry Packer, certainly practised what he preached as he adopted a no-expense-spared approach to realise those dreams as took the golfing world by storm.

Sponsorship of the European Tour’s Order of Merit has been secured at a cost of $10m per year and the prize fund for the Dubai World Championship which will be staged at Leisurecorp’s UAE headquarters at Jumeirah Golf Estates will be a mind-boggling $10m, of which a world record $2m goes to the winner.

Last week Leisurecorp were so keen to make that tournament -- the richest in the history of the sport -- a big success in the eyes of the golfing world that they have made it free admission to spectators. Over 13,000 have already registered an intention to take advantage of that opportunity to watch 60 of the world’s top players doing battle on the Greg Norman-designed Earth course.

Earth was the first of four planned courses to be completed at Jumeirah Golf Estates and was described by designer Norman as being in excellent condition to stage the DWC. 

A second Norman-designed course called Fire was finished more recently but proposals to add two more courses on the complex -- Wind and Water -- have been shelved for financial reasons.

The Water course was due to be started last October but that did not happen. There was no set starting date for the Wind course.

Colin Smith, marketing director of Leisurecorp, said: “The focus for us this year has been to complete the two courses which are capable of staging the Dubai World Championship and we have achieved that.

“We will move on from there when the market is right. It is too early to say at the moment when that will be

“We will see where the world is in a few months time. It’s normal for people all around the world to re-evaluate projects because of the financial climate. And we are doing exactly that.”