Work on Abu Dhabi's long awaited Greg Norman-designed championship golf course is due to begin this year after a long delay caused by the global economic downturn, the former world number one golfer said yesterday. Norman signed an agreement with Hydra Properties in 2007 to design the golf course at the Bawabbat Abu Dhabi property development next to the Abu Dhabi International Airport.
"It went into a bit of a holding pattern for a while like a lot of projects have done around the world," said Norman. "But at the end of the day, when people have started a project there's an investment of time, money and effort. Everybody sets forth with the business philosophy of how do we extract the best value out of where we are today. Hydra's no different." Norman, who was nicknamed The Great White Shark in his golfing career because of his powerful build, white hair and aggressive play, said the construction was expected to take less time than anticipated.
"Now they've decided to accelerate the project, which is great for everybody - not just for my company but everybody in Abu Dhabi. I only found out about this in the last 36 hours." The course could be completed in less than a year, Norman said. "Building a golf course in the desert, the time frame can be fairly speedy," he said. "We've built golf courses and been playing on them within nine months. I'm not saying that's what's going to happen here but it can done very, very quickly. We'll do it in concert with the developer. He'll give us a time frame."
Norman said there were signs of financing conditions improving for golf projects worldwide. "I think improvement in conditions is definitely there. A lot of the projects that have been mothballed are starting up again." Norman's company, Great White Shark Enterprises, has other projects in the region, in Jordan, Egypt and Oman. He said his company's project at The Wave development in Muscat was progressing nicely and nine holes would be open by the end of the year.
There are two Norman-designed courses at Nakheel's Jumeirah Golf Estates development in Dubai that also has branded villas. "I've been a huge proponent and supporter of Dubai for nearly 20 years now. I went to Dubai when the Hard Rock Cafe was the tallest building on the road." There are 74 Greg Norman golf courses worldwide, with some 45 more planned. Andrea Sartori, a partner at KPMG property, leisure and tourism advisory services, said the golf development industry worldwide had been hit hard by the economic crisis with a number of projects with property elements particularly affected.
"Certainly the financial and economic situation has slowed down the process of development," said Mr Sartori. "We have seen so many projects being cancelled, or simply halted or postponed - the main reason of course being the lack of bank financing, as well as difficulties for consumers to buy second homes." Golf courses in the capital are an important part of Abu Dhabi's property and tourism development plans. This year, the Saadiyat Beach Golf Club opened in Abu Dhabi on Saadiyat Island. The Yas Links course also opened recently, with nine holes playable. The full course is expected to open later in the year.
Norman said Abu Dhabi had the potential to become a major golfing destination, largely due to its geographical location and winter sunshine. Average revenues at golf courses in the Middle East rose 4 per cent last year from ?5.8 million (Dh26.9m) the previous year, according to a survey of golf operators in Europe, the Middle East and Africa by KPMG. The average revenue for each course in the Middle East was more than six times greater than that of courses in the UK and Ireland.