For 27 editions and counting, the Omega Dubai Desert Classic has delivered sporting theatre beyond regular European Tour season compare.
The canvas for this magic is the Majlis, the marquee course at Emirates Golf Club which proves a layout needn’t be monstrously long or set up like a U.S. Open snore fest to lure players and patrons alike.
Leaderboard charges, largely courtesy of the three reachable par 5s on the back 9, are common place. The collection of 15 other equally compelling risk-and-reward holes ensure southward scoring fluctuations are just as likely, and no less dramatic, especially if the wind whips up.
Craig Haldane is the agronomy artist entrusted with ensuring Karl Litten’s 29-year-old canvas is a fair and aesthetically fitting test each February.
Dubai Golf’s Director of Course Maintenance is sizing up a 10th ODDC as chief superintendent and as ever the club’s harsh desert environ presents new challenges.
A noticeable shift in seasons – by Haldane’s calculations the summer heat lingers six weeks longer than it did when he first began working in the region 16 years ago – means still active Bermuda growth has complicated overseeding with Ryegrass seed to the fairways, tees and rough.
A subtle change this year has seen the green surrounds overseeded with a new variety of ryegrass. The Poa Trivialis allows Haldane’s team to mow lower than normal, bringing the old school bump and run into the Classic equation. The greens remain Bermuda year round but a new tool means the surfaces promise to present even smoother than before, if that is even possible.
“The obvious question re greens is ‘how fast’ are they, when in fairness our aim has very little to do with green speed. For us the smoothness of the ball roll and firmness of the surface is priority,” Haldane explains.
“For the past three seasons we’ve been monitoring our greens moisture levels on a daily basis using a device called ‘The Pogo Stick’ which measures the volumetric water content as a percentage on all surfaces. This means we can manage all our greens to a specific moisture content giving us greater consistency and allowing us to water each individual green on merit.”
The Pogo Stick might have proved its worth, but for Haldane his key resource is his dedicated staff, 90 percent of whom have been at the club as long as he has.
“Our aim this year is, as always, to present a well maintained golf course that is tough but fair. Rough is mown with a progressive cut from 32mm to 64mm and then to 75mm. We want golfers to have the opportunity to hit the ball into the green but to also realise that unless they are hitting it from the middle of the fairway, their ball will likely not hold the firm greens.
“Seeing professionals hacking out sideways is certainly not the goal. If players keep it in the short mown areas they will score well with firm and true greens.”
Cue more Majlis magic.
Editor’s Footnote: Every year Haldane and his team like to spice things up with a mowing surprise. This year hasn’t disappointed with spiral targets mown into the tartan fairway patterns. The centre of each of the “landing targets” are 300 yards from the tee except on the 2nd and 17th holes which are at 90-100 yards to the green given they are short par 4s.
The 18th has an additional target in the lay up zone in front of the water at 90 yards.
– This article first appeared in the February edition of Golf Digest Middle East. Image and video footage courtesy Craig Haldane/Dubai Golf