Bernie McGuire, Emirates Golf Club, Dubai
I sit here in the front row of the Media Centre overlooking the ninth and 18th greens at the 2023 Hero Dubai Desert Classic and it’s just not the same.
The stunning Majlis host course remains a picture postcard setting but it’s outside the front gates that has changed as the Dubai of today, and in a gross understatement, is not the same as when I first attended the European Tour event in 1993.
Thirty-years ago the Dubai Golf Club was still well on the outskirts of Dubai with a large parcel of the desert having been gifted by His Highness General Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, on whose instructions that the desert flora was to be maintained in its natural state.
The club opened by 1987 and there’s a photograph taken by good friend and colleague, Dave Cannon of the golf course very much an oasis in the middle of the desert.
Two years later in 1989 we witnessed the first hosting of what was then the Karl Litten Desert Classic, named in honour of Litten, the designer of the Majlis course.
In making my way in 1993 to the then Dubai Desert Classic I vividly recall you could walk across a two-lane Sheikh Zayed Road. There was no traffic whatsoever. No sign posts indicating Abu Dhabi to be located some 125 kms to the south.
Players, caddies, officials and the media used Diera as our base for the week as it was the only available location, offering not only hotel accommodation but restaurants, shops and the opportunity, I recall, to visit the thriving markets.
Deira is old Dubai, with its origins dating back to the mid-1700s, and was developed before the discovery of oil and laid out along what is known now as Dubai Creek, that separates Deira from Bur Dubai. Diera was an important sea trading port.
Diera’s about 35 kilometres from the golf course and we would board buses to take us back-and-forward. On my first visit, I excitedly jumped aboard the bus wondering where we were headed. We left bustling Deira but soon there was nothing. Nothing but desert. Yes, there were a couple of ‘sad-looking’ hotels while I also recall the sight of camels and broken down cars.
It was a bitumen roadway but very sandy given the effects of the wind.
As the bus turned left into the golf club here was the site of a cluster of Bedouin-like tents – one at the front gate to the club, one clearly out on the golf course ahead of the stunning sight of a much larger structure that was the clubhouse. Each and every year I have returned since my first visit in 1993 I marvel at the structures and think how much they remain a wonderful juxtaposition between modern ideas and the traditional roots in Dubai.
The first sign of any neighbours to the golf club was the opening in 1998 of the Hard Rock Cafe located straight across the road from the Emirates Club. The building resembled a mini Empire State Building with two crossed concrete guitars, and it quickly became a famous landmark. It captured the freewheeling spirit of the times in a city that was set to expand far beyond what people thought possible.
I remember visiting the Hard Rock Cafe on an early visit and walking up the counter asking for a beer. No, that was then not on any menu in Dubai.
The Hard Rock Cafe was located in the then growing Dubai Media and Internet Cities and larger plans for the neighbourhood sealed its fate as it closed in 2009 and stood empty for a few years before the demolition crews moved in and the structure was torn down in 2013 to make room for the now 16-lane Sheikh Zayed Road.
So what happened to the two guitars? I believe they are located downtown, not far from Dubai’s main airport.
And in talking of structures, it is the skyline that has changed, and continues to change, in returning each year to the tournament.
In prior years, players would be on the Emirates Club practice range and there would be the comment: “Just look over your shoulder and there’s another sky-scrapper going-up. Come back tomorrow and there’s another”.
It’s still the same 30-years on from my inaugural visit as there’s the sites of cranes everywhere.
One of the great comments I recall someone once said was: “It would be nice to visit Dubai when it’s all finished”. The response to that remark is that Dubai will never be finished.
Maybe I am showing my age but all Middle East tournament stops on the DP World Tour have changed so much since my first visits to venues such as attended the Qatar Masters for a first time in 1999, being present at the inaugural Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship when American Chris Di Marco, and accompanied by his wife, who acted as his caddy, won the event.
I was there reporting on the inaugural 2011 Volvo Champions event in Bahrain where large oil pipelines running down the outskirts of the host Royal Bahrain golf course and in the streets of the city are a feature.
I again look around the media centre and there’s DP World Tour staff and others who were still toddlers when I first travelled to Dubai, so much so, they have no idea what it was like 30-years ago in travelling to Dubai.
Saying this the great pleasure for me is to have been here in Dubai for a first time in 1993 and to have come each year since to admire how much the city has changed. To also have the opportunity to be present at the opening of many golf clubs in the region including Al Zorha GC, Al Badia GC and to also have been present on a near two-hour journey from Dubai to the opening of the Abu Dhabi GC, as well being present for the opening of Saadiyat GC and not to forget to meeting golf designer Kyle Phillips on the 8th hole at Yas Links, at the time being the only hole to boast grass.
For me, it’s been a wonderful 30-year experience I am so pleased to share with you.
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