On this day in 1988, Emirates Golf Club opened its doors for the first time. Thanks to the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, the region’s first all-grass course, the Majlis, is now one of the world’s most iconic layouts, the centrepiece of a resort with a second course (the Faldo), a par 3 academy layout and world class, resort-style facilities.
To celebrate it’s 30th anniversary, Emirates GC has unveiled a month of special “30 Dirham Deals” including a special that sees the fourth player in a fourball play for just 30 dirhams. We’ve run with the 30-something theme by coming up with 30 interesting facts from the first 30 years of the spiritual home of Middle East golf.
1. Emirates Golf Club was the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. Sheikh Mohammed founded the club, with His Highness Sheikh Butti Al Maktoum as the founding chairman. His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum took over as chairman in 1992 and presided over the club for an incredible tenure until 2009.
2. The story begins in 1986 when at Sheikh Mohammed’s majlis, the first discussions were held with Lars Waldenstrom (at the time the owner of Swedish Design). The conversation was that in order to bring tourists to Dubai (one of the main aims to diversify the Dubai economy away from purely oil revenues), there would need to be world-class leisure facilities. Golf was pinpointed as a key part of that strategy.
3. Sheikh Mohammed selected a site in the desert, 25km from the centre of Dubai – at the time, there were no buildings or construction – only sand dunes and natural fauna and flora.
4. A square kilometre of land was assigned to the designers and Karl Litten was chosen as the golf course architect. At the time, there was only one tree on the whole site, but once the irrigation system was installed hundreds of dormant seeds sprang to life, covering the course in natural bushes and trees.
5. The clubhouse is designed to represent traditional Bedouin tents. It was designed by Brewer, Smith & Brewer, instigated by Brian Johnson and Peter Summersgill, with an in-house competition to design the masterpiece won by architect Vanessa Tanfield. Brian and Daphne Adams, design consultants were also an integral part of the practical design stage. Al Naboodah Laing was employed to bring the construction of the course and clubhouse to life.
6. One of the final elements of the design and construction process was The Royal Majlis, a private facility designed for Sheikh Mohammed situated on the highest point of the golf course alongside the 8th green. Now, the Royal Majlis also plays host to very exclusive functions including wedding receptions and private parties.
7. Before the club was opened, a great emphasis was placed upon the marketing and promotion of the soon-to-open golfing wonder in the desert. In 1987, the team decamped to Muirfield, Scotland to host forty guests a day at The Open Championship. While there, Australian golfer Rodger Davis agreed to play in the opening tournament.
8. The first player to strike a ball on the Majlis Golf Course was F1 driver Nigel Mansell. He was in Dubai for a rally in the desert and was asked to strike some balls for promotional photos off the 18th tee, which hadn’t even been completed, so a few strips of turf were laid especially to capture the moment. Mansell recalls: “I remember hitting several balls off the 18th tee just imagining what the finished product would be like. It was truly an honour to be the first person on the planet to hit a golf shot on what has now become revered as one of the best courses in the world.” Mansell later went on to win both the F1 World Drivers’ Championship (1992) and the CART IndyCar World Series (1993). His signature was also the first name in the visitors’ book.
9. Just weeks before the scheduled opening of the club, one of the worst storms ever to hit Dubai struck, with four-and-a-half inches of rain falling in a matter of hours. The result? Emirates Golf Club became an island, cut off from the roads and the clubhouse and course were both flooded.
10. The club was opened on the 8th March, 1988 – the first grass course in the Middle East. Speeches were made by Chairman of Emirates Golf Club, His Highness Sheikh Butti Al Maktoum, who thanked His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashi Al Maktoum for giving Dubai such a wonderful facility. Other festivities included a trick shot exhibition from former pro golfer Noel Hunt, dancing and a police marching band. The highlight was a parachute display from the UAE National Parachute team, who delivered a golf club to Pakistan President Zia-ul-Haq. President Zia then inaugurated the golf course by striking a ball off a golden tee.
11. The first party took place immediately after the ceremonial opening. It went tremendously well, despite a few near disasters. Ice that had been prepared with great care for ice sculptures, went missing. After desperate calls from the team, they realised it was stuck in a lift with the ice carver, and a crisis was averted. The help deliver the food around the club, the team used golf carts, but as Mohammed Geziry of the Jebel Ali Hotel recalls, not everything went to plan. “One member of staff, Sunil, said he didn’t know how to drive the cart. “What do you mean?” I said, “just put your foot down and it’ll go, there’s nothing complicated about it.” So he did. He put his foot down and went straight through the pro-shop window and into the shop where he sat for some minutes looking very surprised. I didn’t know what to tell him as I’d said put your foot down, but forgot to tell him to steer!” Despite these mini-disasters, the party was a huge success, with the highlight an incredible fireworks display.
12. The opening tournament, The East-West Challenge, took place on Friday 11th March, 1988 and featured Australian’s Rodger Davis partnered with Graham Marsh playing against British pair Howard Clark and Sam Torrance. Following the flooding, the course was still waterlogged in places – but it was a great success, with the British pair emerging victors by a single shot.
13. The Emirates Golf Club logo is based on three elements – a palm tree, a golf club and a golf ball.
14. In the early days of the golf course, it was not unusual to come across families trying to have picnics on the newly created green space. The local population quickly learnt, that sitting on a fairway with golf balls landing around them, was not the ideal spot to sit and have lunch.
15. The first hole-in-one was recorded by founder member John Wallis on the 29th April, 1988, on the 15th hole.
16. Celebrities have flocked to Emirates Golf Club over the years, from kings and queens, princes and princesses, to presidents, prime ministers, film stars, pop singers, sports stars and entertainers. They include: footballers Kevin Keegan, Jimmy Hill and Sir Bobby Charlton; cricketers Imran Khan, Brian Lara and Sir Ian Botham; motor racing legend Sir Jackie Stewart; rugby great Jeremy Guscott; five time gold medal Olympian, Sir Steve Redgrave; racing great Frankie Dettori; and arguably basketball’s greatest ever player, Michael Jordan. President Bill Clinton is one of the most prestigious guests to play golf at the club, while Prince Andrew has also visited.
17. Six days before the first anniversary of the opening of Emirates Golf Club, the first Dubai Desert Classic took place. It was the first major sporting event in the region, and was won by Mark James.
18. The Dubai Desert Classic has proved to be a hugely successful tournament over the years, with winners including golf greats such as: Seve Ballesteros (1992), Thomas Bjorn (2001), Ernie Els (1994, 2002, 2005), Rory McIlroy (2009 and 2015) and Tiger Woods (2006 and 2008).
19. Indeed, Tiger Woods is a huge fan of the club and its premier tournament: “The level of competition at the Dubai Desert Classic has always been outstanding. It’s a tournament I enjoy playing and I’ve been fortunate to have won it twice. It’s a great venue and you know that the Emirates Golf Club’s Majlis course will be in immaculate shape. The weather is typically beautiful and reminds me of my home in Florida. Since I first played there in 2001, the tournament continues to evolve and improve each time I compete. It’s amazing what’s been accomplished so quickly.”
20. Perhaps the player with the fondest memories of Emirates Golf Club is Thomas Bjørn: “I met my wife during the Desert Classic in 1998. Pernilla lived here at the time and with her father, Lars Waldenstrom, was involved in so many things, so it very quickly became my home as well. We met at the tournament pro-am and then a day or two later at the annual party that Lars always threw for the Swedish players and luckily for me that year he invited the Danish players as well, and it just became my home very quickly after that.
21. The first golf cart to end up in one of the lakes was driven by founder member David Clarke. After striking his ball in to the lake, he approached the edge in his cart, but forgot to apply the footbrake before jumping out and proceeded to watch the golf cart continue past him in to the water. The next day, reception asked why one member was dressed up in a snorkel and flippers….”Just in case I have to share a cart with David Clarke’ was his explanation.
22. More than 240 species of bird have been recorded at Emirates Golf Club. They include native desert species such as black-crowned finch lark and the hoopoe lark, to migratory types such as herons, sandpipers, plovers and barn swallows.
23. The lakes contain tilapia, which gradually dominated the original types of carp that had been introduced. Also in the saline lakes are Artemia – a type of crustacean that flamingos see as something of a delicacy. That’s why you’ll see many flamingos around Emirates Golf Club too.
24. In September 1999, Rodney J Bogg, the Club Manager at the time, was awoken by a phone call saying that the cart shed was burning down. Not only were 160 golf carts, a storeroom and a room full of golf merchandise destroyed, but so was the entire documentary archive of Emirates Golf Club. Following painstaking work, with hundreds of first-hand accounts, Rodney was able to compile the historical record of the early days of the golf club again.
25. In 2005, Sir Nick Faldo agreed to design the Faldo Course and the floodlit par-3 course through his design company, Nick Faldo Design. Work began on the new courses the same year and in October 2006 they were opened.
26. Construction of villas around the course began in 2007, with the first tenants moving into phase one of the development in 2009 and by 2010 the development was complete and the final villa occupied.
27. In 2006, Emirates Golf Club hosted the first Dubai Ladies’ Masters tournament, which was won by the world’s number one lady golfer at that time, Annika Sörenstam. The tournament has more recently been rebranded as the Omega Dubai Ladies Classic.
28. Emirates Golf Club is owned by wasl Asset Management. It took over stewardship of the Club in 2009, with a seamless transition continuing the tremendous momentum for pioneering golf in the Middle East that was established during the earlier years of the club. Christopher May is the current Chief Executive Officer of Dubai Golf who are owned by wasl Asset Management and manage Emirates Golf Club and Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club and Barney Coleman is the current Club Manager at Emirates Golf Club.
29. Over 2 million rounds of golf have been played on the courses at Emirates Golf Club (1.2 million of those rounds have been on the iconic Majlis course and some of the best by young Dubai-based Indian amateur Rayhan Thomaspictured above).
30. In 2017, work began on revamping the restaurant offering at Emirates Golf Club. It included the closing of Le Classique (which had been serving Dubai residents for 25 years), a new Jones the Grocer was opened and a totally new Spike Bar was built. This month, in the space formerly occupied by Le Classique, Emirates Golf Club will introduce a new restaurant.