Emirates Golf Club goes back to the past to head for the future

Bernie McGuire

Great shot of the course back in 1988 - Getty Images

Bernie McGuire

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By Bernie McGuire in Dubai.

For this week’s host of the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic, Emirates Golf Club, it’s been an exercise in delving into the past before heading to the future.

It’s remarkable that the first golf course to be built on the Arabian Peninsula will this week celebrate the 34th anniversary of the tournament. The Carl Litten-designed course was built in 1987 and two years later joined the European Tour schedule.

Back then, the course was sitting all by itself laid out in the desert far away from Deira, the then major port city in the Dubai emirate. Deira also is where the hotels were located, and in those early days, we’d be taken to the course driving on a two-lane road through the desert where camels would abound.

Also, if you walked from the entrance of the club you’d cross Sheik Zayed Road, the main road north to the capital Abu Dhabi. There was no traffic unlike the 16-lanes of madness present today. There were also some 416,000 living in the Dubai emirate back in 1987 whereas today there are close to three million residents in Dubai.

The Emirates Club was unique and instantly recognisable for its clubhouse and created to resemble a cluster of Bedouin tents encapsulating both modern ideals and also traditional Arabian values.

The golf world, as a whole, was introduced to the Emirates Club in 1995 when the Golf Channel televised a first live broadcast of a golf tournament, and it was Fred Couples who became the first American-born winner in capturing the title by three shots.

For the club, a big task came 11-years ago with work undertaken to modernise the clubhouse and now more-recently work has been completed in rebuilding all 18 greens on the championship Majlis course to their original 1988 specifications, as well as much-needed other work.

The work involved closing the course for some five months from early May to early October last year and, as such, will have presented just over three months of regular play and club competition ahead of Thursday’s starting Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic.

Firstly, all greens needed to be cored-out with the areas fumigated before the insertion of drainage ahead of applying a 10-cm gravel level. That was followed by work on the root zone mix and the greens shaping process.

The club chose a Tifteagle fine-textured, ultra-tough dwarf bermuda grass, an ultra-tough grass developed by a US Department of Agriculture turf-breeder who lives in Tifton, Georgia, and hence the name.

The new grass was shipped in refrigerated containers from Georgia with the first containers arriving on 13th June and the second a week later. The sprigs were planted while the Dubai sunshine and club watering did the rest.

This five-month exercise also presented other benefits to the Emirates Club in that it allowed the club to identify green surfaces that can benefit from enlargement while simultaneously enhancing bunker/green surface relationships. This reduced severely sloped areas to promote playability and increase ‘pinnable’ areas and should improve the overall drainage of green surfaces and areas surrounding the green perimeter by tying into the existing grade more suitably.

The club also used the 5-month closure to provide drainage to all greenside bunkers, something that had never been in place, along with extending a handful of tee boxes and also levelling a few others while a major tree-trimming program was also undertaken, bringing much-needed light and air circulation to areas where grass growth was struggling.

Slync.co. Dubai Desert Classic Championship competitors will be greeted also by new tees at the 13th and 14th holes, with the new position shallowing the angle of the dogleg and with length added to both holes.

Throughout the work, the club also kept members regularly advised with news and comparison photographs by way of the club newsletter and/or bulletins.

“The team did a tremendous job under the guidance of (superintendent) Matthew Perry to return the Majlis to the condition and standards expected of such an important course,” said Dubai Golf CEO Chris May in speaking with Middle East Golf Digest.

“On bringing the greens back to the sub base by removing 60- 70cm of the previous greens, the original shape size and contours of the Karl Litten design was evident, so members and guests playing the Majlis will notice very subtle changes in movement and slope on the greens as they have been returned to their original design.”

And with the Dubai event now elevated to a Rolex Series event, it’s only added to the tournament’s attraction as defending champion, Paul Casey explained, and himself a Rolex ambassador:

“I feel like it’s finally been elevated to a position that a lot of us had always thought it was,” said Casey speaking recently with The National newspaper.

“For an event which is so new in the annals of golf, it’s gained quite some prestige among the players.

“The trophy for the event has helped that. We can all agree that the trophies for the tournaments in the UAE are quite stunning.

“To me, it’s fantastic news. Rolex, and their continued support of golf, is very much appreciated by the bulk of the membership and I think also by golf fans globally. These events are significantly different, so I’m looking forward to it.”

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