The Emirates Golf Club, which celebrates its 25th anniversary on Friday, may not have the history of many other golf clubs across the globe, but very few institutions can boast of the kind of impact it has had on an entire geographical region.
The long-time residents of Dubai still talk about how passionately Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum pursued two projects which he believed would be the key to making his beloved city a preferred destination in the world – Emirates Airlines and Emirates Golf Club. Both have become unbelievable success stories.
Let’s just try and list some of the reasons why Emirates Golf Club has been a real game-changer:
It provided the base around which a whole new city has grown. You only need to see the contrasting pictures here to appreciate how things have changed in these 25 years.
1988: The Emirates Golf Course was Dubai's jewel in the desert.
2013: Emirates Golf Course remains a constant in the ever-evolving Dubai landscape.
Perhaps the growth of ‘New Dubai’ was inevitable, but Emirates Golf Club really set things in motion. It not only revolutionised golf, it kickstarted a chain of events that has led Dubai to be constantly named among the top sporting cities in the world these last few years.
Obviously, it is well documented now that the Majlis was the first green golf course in the whole of Middle East. Providing such world-class leisure activities was to prove a vital factor in attracting top business houses and tourists to the region.
If today we are spoilt by the choice of top sporting events in the UAE, Emirates Golf Club has a role again. The first Dubai Desert Classic, which was held in 1989 just a year after the course was inaugurated, was really the first mega sport event in the country. Now, you can witness elite athletes here in almost every sport that you fancy.
The much-loved James William, who was the head pro at Emirates Golf Club at the time of launch and is now with Jebel Ali Golf Resort, remembers the early days.
“When I first came over here, I remember there was a lot of excitement and enthusiasm about the golf club. The kind of support we got from Sheikh Mohammed and his office was amazing. However, I think there was a bit of worry too about whether it would succeed,” he says.
“But let me tell you, for Sheikh Mohammed failure was not an option. He personally visited the construction site several times and we could feel his power of conviction.
“Then, when the golf club opened, such was the response that we quickly realised one golf course would not be enough. Within a couple of years our general manager Rodney Bogg was already talking about the need to build at least another nine holes.”
An average of 40,000 rounds are played at the Majlis course every year, so a rough calculation reveals it is almost nearing the magical mark of one million rounds this year.
It is the only golf club that has a waiting list for membership, and Majlis is the most sought after golf course in the country which now has nearly 20 world-class courses.
The single biggest reason for the Club’s success has to be the Dubai Desert Classic. The oldest running European Tour event of the region has captured the imagination worldwide, thanks to the quality field they manage to attract every year and the fact that the golf course always creates intense drama.
Mohammed Juma Buamaim, who used to be the general manager of the club for several years, and is now the CEO of golf in DUBAi, the company that manages and promotes the Omega Dubai Desert Classic and Ladies Masters, said: “I think it has been a very symbiotic relationship between the tournaments and the Emirates Golf Club.
“We may have helped them get all the publicity, but what they do for the tournament is immense. For any tournament to succeed, it is vital to have a great golf course, and in all these years, I haven’t had one single complaint about the quality of the course from the professionals.”
The club has no more room to grow physically, but it still has an important part to play. It now has the unenviable role of continuing to set the benchmark of quality and service for others in the region.