x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Dubai set to draw Trump card with new luxury golf club

US realty tycoon's first Middle East venture scheduled to formally open next spring

Gil Hanse, centre, has been tasked with designing the course for Trump International Golf Club, Dubai, the first foray into the Middle East by Donald Trump, left. David Cannon / AFP
Gil Hanse, centre, has been tasked with designing the course for Trump International Golf Club, Dubai, the first foray into the Middle East by Donald Trump, left. David Cannon / AFP

In a largely stagnant sport that is associated with an unpredictable real-estate business model, billionaire businessman Donald Trump is one of the bold few who has laced up his golf shoes and marched noisily into the former camp.

A brand unto himself, Trump continues to throw his name and considerable promotional muscle behind the game, including the launch of his first Middle East project, Trump International Golf Club, Dubai, which is scheduled to formally open next spring.

The headline-devouring realty tycoon has continued to add to his golf portfolio abroad, while also flinging around copious amounts of cash and panache in his home market, the United States.

This week, Trump’s newest US purchase, the long-lived Doral Golf Resort & Spa outside Miami, will again host a mega-money World Golf Championships event featuring the top players on the planet.

After spending US$250 million (Dh918m) during the past two years to spruce up the property, including a complete overhaul of the Blue Monster course by designer Gil Hanse, the formal curtain raising begins with Thursday’s first round.

The venerable course reopened last month and, while early reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, the opinion of the players will matter most.

“Donald was very, very happy,” Hanse said. “But the main critical reviews will come when the tournament is played.”

Mind the feedback, since the critique from the rebranded Trump National Doral could soon be echoed in Dubai, where Hanse was again retained for the design.

It was at Trump’s insistence that Hanse – probably the hottest architect in the sport – was hired to build the Dubai course and replace an unidentified designer who was to have built the new high-end property for developer Damac.

“When Damac finalised the deal with Trump, he insisted we be brought aboard,” Hanse said.

The Dubai course is expected to feature the customary Trump flourishes. Trump is not so much into bells and whistles as he is klaxons and sirens.

“It will not be hard to look at,” Hanse said.

The Dubai project will be Trump’s 15th golf property internationally, just as Hanse continues to make a name for himself, globally, too. The American designer is building the heavily scrutinised Olympics course in Rio de Janeiro, which, because of legal and permitting issues with Brazilian authorities, has occupied most of his time in the past two years and delayed his commitment to the Dubai project.

Damac has no real background in golf, so Trump will manage the Dubai course and the high-end neighbourhood within the community that will be branded with his name.

“Whenever Trump is involved, there is an expectation that it will be of the highest quality,” Hanse said.

If not of the highest profile. The former star of his own reality TV show, Trump is a realty magnate and publicity magnet. He also seems to have grown more architecture-savvy over the years.

A couple of his early properties, in Miami and Los Angeles, caused smirks among many aficionados. Both featured distractingly artificial design features – including a massive man-made waterfall – that coalesced with the existing topography about as well as a camel in a Florida swamp.

Hanse said there are no plans for anything of the sort in Dubai.

With course bankruptcies becoming a weekly occurrence in the west – a reported 643 18-hole facilities since 2006 have closed in the US alone – Trump has emerged as one of the game’s bullish driving forces. Indeed, outside of Tiger Woods, few others associated with the sport have generated more headlines.

In 2014 alone, Trump lost a months-long court case tied to the establishment of an offshore wind-turbine farm within view of his new resort, Trump International, Scotland. After losing the case, he theatrically cancelled plans to add a second course.

Last month, he bought the critically well-received Doonbeg resort in Ireland for €15 million (Dh75.9m) and rechristened it Trump International Golf Links, Ireland.

Last week, he graced the cover of GolfWorld magazine, and today in Miami, he and Hanse have a news conference scheduled to discuss the redesigned layout of Doral, one of the longest-tenured courses on the PGA Tour.

The carefully coiffed, media-centric Trump knows how to market his product. He is part shaman and part showman, which is not always a bad thing when selling million-dollar properties in a battle-scarred economy.

No question, Dubai’s real-estate climate has had some well-chronicled setbacks since its last 18-hole course, Jumeirah Golf Estates, opened five years ago. In fact, when Jumeirah hosted the European Tour’s Race to Dubai finale last November, some of the community’s first residents had just begun moving in.

As evidence of the slump, when Hanse made a recent site visit to the UAE, he took a tour of the now-defunct Tiger Woods Dubai grounds, which was shelved after Woods’s firm had completed most of the design and routing work.

In fact, Damac took over a mothballed development that had already been pre-developed, stripped and levelled, Hanse said.

“It was quite a canvas,” said Hanse, who has handled 12 designs or course makeovers internationally, with the Dubai and Rio venues under construction.

Two holes, Nos 10 and 11, are grassed and effectively finished, and the Dubai course is on schedule to be completed by October, with a formal opening next spring, Hanse said.

Building in the arid UAE required some unique occupational adjustments, Hanse said. The course will be irrigated by reclaimed sewage and, because of poor soil quality in the region, topsoil called sweet sand has been trucked in from Oman and used to cap the grassed areas.

Not everything was sculpted and bulldozed. Hanse said the area’s rolling sand dunes, especially on the front nine, will be focal points of the design.

The course will measure 7,205 yards, which is short by modern professional standards. With three European Tour events already being held annually in the UAE, odds that another will be staged at Trump Dubai seem slim.

But few salesmen know how to command a spotlight like Trump, whose bluster at times could power one of those offshore wind turbines.

“I think if the opportunity came along for us to host something [professionally],” Hanse said, “he’d absolutely want us to be able to do that.”


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