x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Dubai Country Club 'unlikely to reopen'

Deposits have been returned to prospective members of the beloved institution.

On a roll: During its heydays crowds flocked to Dubai Country Club tournaments to compete, or just spectate.
On a roll: During its heydays crowds flocked to Dubai Country Club tournaments to compete, or just spectate.

DUBAI // The man behind the cancelled project to resurrect the Dubai Country Club - the first golf club in the region, the first host of the Dubai Rugby Sevens, and one of the only watering holes in the city when it opened 40 years ago - has admitted the club is unlikely to reopen.

The club closed four years ago to make way for the Meydan Racecourse and was expected to reopen in Dubailand this summer, but the contract with the master developer was cancelled late last year.

After a year of bureaucratic entanglement, dozens of prospective members have now been given their deposits back.

The current chairman of the club committee, Andy Staines, said plans to bring back the beloved club were no longer tenable.

"It would never happen now," he said.

"No one would be willing to commit to something like that. I'm not very happy about it, but this is where we are.

"We were so close, we were really sure that this was going to happen. Ultimately, we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time."

The original club in Ras Al Khor was built on land gifted by the late Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Rashid.

However, it was demolished in 2007 to make way for tower buildings connected to the Meydan Racecourse.

The club, a non-profit organisation, was given Dh24.2 million in compensation for its eviction - on condition that the funds, held in escrow by the Land Department, were used for its rebuilding.

Fresh plans for a new club in Dubailand were unveiled in July last year. They included a 1,700-square-metre pool complete with an artificial beach, a dozen tennis courts, three squash courts, a gym and an indoor sports hall.

Club officials said at the time that several hundred people had expressed interest in joining, at an annual cost of Dh15,000 per family.

However, the contract with Dubailand was unexpectedly cancelled late last year, leaving the club Dh4.9m in debt, not only to prospective members, but also contractors and planners who had been signed up to work on the project.

Over the past month, many of the 70 people who paid Dh3,000 each to reserve their membership at the club have been refunded, Mr Staines said.

"The majority of people who are owed money have been paid back," he said. "There are still a few more who we haven't been able to reach."

The payments were held up by the need to convince authorities that the funds would be used to repay the debt. Mr Staines described the period as "extremely traumatic".

"When they cancelled the contract, everyone was out of pocket," he said. "We had to claim against our own compensation. It was a battle."

The original Dubai Country Club opened in March 1971, and was immediately popular. Sheikh Rashid generously ordered the building of a road to the club, which was some way out into the desert.

David Burns, a 62-year-old British company director, arrived in Dubai soon after it opened. "It played an important role for the community at the time," he said.

"It was the beginning of the Rugby Sevens and first sand golf course in the region.

"A lot of business was conducted informally at the bar. It was a centre for social functions and membership was vetted. It was the place to be when it first opened.

"Like all these institutions they eventually get older and more tired. Other options became available. There were grass golf courses and better places to drink, which were closer to town. It was inevitable that people started to drift away."

Even so, when the city's rapid development finally caught up with the club in 2007, it still had about 880 members.

For Mr Staines, its final demise marks the end of an era. "It's never been replaced," he said. "No one has done anything like the Country Club. It's still missed."

mcroucher@thenational.ae