Emirates Golf Club, home of the Dubai Desert Classic and Dubai Ladies Masters, is to undergo extensive renovations which are intended to preserve the European Tour venue's claim to be the leading club in the Middle East. Rebuilding work has already begun on the distinctive clubhouse, which is on schedule to reopen in October, but a plan to make improvements to the Majlis course has been put on hold until next year because of a shortage of electrical power on the site.
With a strong three-pronged challenge coming from Abu Dhabi in the National Course (itself a European Tour venue), Saadiyat Island and the newly-opened Yas Links, Emirates are keen to retain what they regard as No 1 ranking. Chris May, the general manager of the Emirates club, said: "These are exciting times for golf in the region. It is important that we keep pace with the development of other facilities that are happening elsewhere in this area.
"We are proud to be regarded as the No 1 course here which comes from the feedback we get from our members and visiting players and we want to keep it that way. "People may have other opinions but I certainly believe we are the leaders. "History in golf counts for a lot and we have a great deal to offer. When you play here, particularly on the Majlis, you are following in the footsteps of champions like Tiger Woods, who won here twice, and Ernie Els, who has won here three times."
May appreciates the increased level of competition coming from Abu Dhabi and Jumeirah Golf Estates (JGE) where the lucrative Dubai World Championship was staged for the first time last year on Greg Norman's Earth Course. "We welcome rivalry," said May. "It keeps us working very hard every day. The status of No 1 is something that we don't take for granted. "We try to exceed the expectations of people who are coming to play here. Having new ideas and new facilities coming into the region actually helps us. As a destination that attracts tourists in significant numbers, having new facilities may be a reason that brings people back.
"The new courses at JGE and those in Abu Dhabi will help bring more people into the country and those people will want to play the Majlis and [its sister course] the Faldo while they are here. "The Desert Swing now is a very strong part of the European Tour. Strength in numbers is what it is all about. The Desert Classic has always had a good reputation and the players love to come here. "To have three tournaments in a row makes this part of the world very powerful. The quality of the fields attracted to three tournaments can be a lot stronger than being attracted to one."
The improvements to the Majlis course will be carried out under the direction of Craig Haldane, the course superintendent, who learned his trade on Gary Player's acclaimed course at Fancourt Links in his native South Africa. His main task will be to upgrade the irrigation system, which was put into place 22 years ago, but he is also keen to replace the existing bunkers on the course with more strategically placed sand traps to catch more drives from touring professionals than they do now.
"The intention is to protect the course a bit more from the possibility of getting murdered by the top players," said Haldane. "But there is a fine line between being competitive and ridiculous. "A lot of the bunkers at the moment are out of play for the professional golfers who can hit past them. That is a sign of the times because of the technology available to the pros nowadays. "We are aiming to bring our bunkers more into play but in doing that we don't want it to make it too difficult for the amateur golfers who have always enjoyed coming here." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org