x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Dubai reveals its pioneering spirit once again

Question: which sporting clubhouse is the only one in the world to feature on a country's currency?

Question: which sporting clubhouse is the only one in the world to feature on a country's currency? It's not Lord's, home to English cricket, not the Campo Argentino de Polo in Buenos Aires, nor even the Colombo Cricket Club in Sri Lanka.

The answer is on the back of a Dh20 note. The Dubai Creek's clubhouse, with its three sails reminiscent of an Arabian dhow, has become a landmark since it was built 16 years ago and now you can look it, then fold it up and put it in your wallet.

I discussed the Creek's past and future over a pleasant lunch of fish at the Aquarium with Mustafa al Hashimi, the club manager of Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club.

"We're at the location where Dubai's history began," he says. By the middle of the 20th century, the Creek was silting up, effectively strangling the port's livelihood.

Sheikh Saeed , the former Ruler of Dubai, and his son Sheikh Rashid, the former Vice President of the UAE and former Ruler of Dubai, sold "Creek bonds" to pay for a survey to see if dredging was an option.

Then a loan was raised with the help of some British government officials living in Kuwait and the city's fortune was made, with boats no longer having to wait for a high tide.

In time the boats moved away to the port of Jebel Ali and one of the region's finest golf course's was built alongside the Creek. Then came the clubhouse, restaurants and gym and the Park Hyatt Dubai Hotel, for my money one of the best hotels in the region. But just as the boats moved away, so were people lured away to other, newer parts of Dubai such as Jumeirah Beach and the Marina.

Now Mr al Hashimi is determined to get them back. "We are trying to create that buzz again," he says. The first event, planned for November 4 to 6, is the Pre-Owned Boat Show. During the boom years, it would have been hard to think of an event less likely in Dubai. Who would want to buy a second-hand boat?

But people are beginning to realise value is sometimes more important than something new and shiny.

Mr al Hashimi is expecting 57 boats ranging from 18 feet to 85ft long to be lined up for sale - all are motor boats, with the exception of one sailing yacht - even though the show's motto is "Sell it, buy it, sail it".

The event will be open from 10am until 10pm, is free to enter and features live music, food stalls and even a kid's zone with remote-control cars.

For those who want to buy a boat, The Finance House will be on hand to lend the money, up to 70 per cent of the purchase price. There will also be an insurance company, along with many retailers willing to help you part with your money.

"I might even buy a boat myself," says Mr al Hashimi.

These are apparently not distressed sellers but people who have outgrown their boats and are looking for something bigger in many cases.

There are even a couple of berths available in the marina, something that was unthinkable a few years ago.

Depending on the size of your vessel, for about Dh60,000 (US$16,336) a year you can berth your boat.

The fee includes water and electricity, access to the gym and pool and even discounts in the bars and restaurants.

"People forgot we existed," says Mr al Hashimi. "We were a hidden gem. What we want to do is show that we are not a rough diamond anymore."

That evening I attended a nine-hole event at the Creek course. Among the floodlit holes groups of figures fired wedges and nine irons at a choice of two pins on the green. Two?

"You can choose which flag to go for," explained Jim Wheat, the commercial and business development manager at Dubai Golf. "The black ones are in a harder position but you must attack at least three of them in the nine holes."

I won't mention how our team got on - pretty appallingly actually - but it was good fun and most of the other players seemed to be enjoying themselves.

This was the first event of a league that will run for the next few months, with the winning teams from the Creek battling it out against the winners from Emirates Golf Club in May next year. (There are still places available; call Jim and he'll fix it.)

It is this sort of innovation - wacky golf tournaments and second-hand boat shows - that typifies the spirit of Dubai.

It is why when the motley assembly of journalists and editors turned up from Britain a year or so ago crowing at the decline of Dubai, outdoing each other with metaphor and innuendo, I felt they were wrong.

Yes, the housing bubble had burst. Jobs would be lost and rents would come down. Borrowings would need to be rescheduled.

Dubai was wounded but not finished. It still has the best infrastructure in the Middle East and now it's cheaper but, more importantly, it has the most dynamic population in the region. The same spirit that engineered the dredging of the Creek is now developing different events.

People may not be able to spare a whole day to play golf, so some clever fellow has come up with nine holes of night golf and a weekly league.

New boats may be out of some people's budget but a pre-owned one may not be.

Sometimes second-hand is not second-best.

 

rwright@thenational.ae