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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

'There was nothing else like it': Dubai Creek celebrates 25 years of golf

January 28, 1993. Shirley Bassey strides onto the stage for one of the biggest parties Dubai had ever seen. About 2,000 people crowd the pool, terraces and clubhouse, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, attended and it was all topped off by a stunning fireworks display – then something relatively rare for the emirate.

But this was no regular concert. That heady night 25 years ago marked the official opening of Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club.

“It was an absolutely amazing evening,” says Rodney Bogg, the club’s general manager that year.

“Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid was there and once he’s there, everyone is buzzing.”

The idea for Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club was seeded in the late 1980s and construction started in September 1990.

The centrepiece was a striking clubhouse inspired by the lateen sails of a traditional dhow. And in the days before Burj Khalifa, it was the most iconic building in Dubai – so much so that it features on the Dh20 note.

It was designed by British architect Brian Johnson, who was also behind Emirates Golf Club, Bab Al Shams and more recently Al Seef, a development back on Dubai Creek and inspired by the wind towers of Bastakiya.

Dubai Creek Golf and Marina Yacht Club golf course in February 1992. Howard Boylan / Getty
Dubai Creek Golf and Marina Yacht Club golf course in February 1992. Howard Boylan / Getty

“It needed to say Dubai. And it was by the Creek, an important part of the city where all the dhows would shelter from the storms,” he says.

“The difficulty was turning it into a building. From every angle, you can see a dhow sail.”

Johnson spent £100 to build a small model to show how the sails fitted together, which he describes as the best investment of his life.

“It’s like a favourite child and has a special place in my heart.”

The opening of Dubai Creek must also be understood in the context of the time. The Gulf War had only ended in 1991. It had created a lot of uncertainty in the region yet here was a bold statement from Dubai to the world. But the club was not just about tourism. The first golf academy in the country was established there. A driving range, par-three course, putting green and advanced golf studio were also introduced to encourage a new generation of golfers onto the fairways.

“This was really pioneering stuff,” says Mr Bogg. “There was nothing else like it.”

The role Dubai Creek played in attracting Emirati players is also noteworthy. Chris May is chief executive of Dubai Golf, which overseas Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club and Emirates Golf Club. “It provided a really welcoming environment which was particularly important for encouraging new golfers and in particular among the Emirati community.”

Twenty-five years on, 18 members and 15 workers who joined in the first year are still there. Ramani Gurusinghe is one. Ms Gurusinghe is from Sri Lanka and has worked her way up from the front office to director of human resources.

“I expected to see a lot of sand,” she recalls of her arrival. “There were a lot of workers coming from Sri Lanka to the UAE then and people sang songs in Sri Lanka about how difficult life was and how the desert was.

“But when I came, I saw all the green and it was very different.”

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In 1994, Ms Gurusinghe’s father became seriously ill. She had to spend months at home so reluctantly she took her resignation letter to Mr Bogg. “I was very sad and crying and telling him thank you very much but I need to go and I needed a lot of time. He said “How strong is this building?” I didn’t quite understand but he said. “As long as this building is here, you will have your job”. He then tore up my resignation letter and threw it away … We’re very proud to be a part of [the club].”

A second member of the “25 club” is Ricardo “Ricky” Del Rosario, who has been manning the baggage drop since he arrived in the UAE from The Philippines more than two decades ago.

Ricardo “Ricky” Del Rosario. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Ricardo “Ricky” Del Rosario. Chris Whiteoak / The National

“I know a lot of the players and say “how are you today” and they are happy to hear me. I feel like this is my house.”

On the course, Colm McLoughlin is one of the founder members. While the Irishman is perhaps better known as the chief executive of Dubai Duty Free, he swapped the sand golf course of Dubai Country Club for the green and has been playing at Dubai Creek for 25 years. He has been the club captain of both Emirates Golf Club and Dubai Creek – the only person to have received this honour.

“We had seen it being built along with Creek. We saw the workers and then suddenly this lovely green oasis appeared. A lot of us jumped at the opportunity to join,” he says.

His membership number was 004.

“Even at that time, the attitude was: do it better and do it bigger. Build it and they will come,” he says.

In the years after 1993, Dubai Creek would stage more concerts by the likes of Tom Jones, Stevie Wonder, Rod Stewart and Roger Waters. In 2002 Elton John played to a crowd of 14,000 – unprecedented for its time. Dubai Desert Classic took place there in 1999 and 2000 and in 2005, the Park Hyatt opened on the spot where the concerts had been held. The marina remains one of the busiest in the city.

Today, a sense of home abounds across the club – along the fairways, in the clubhouse and down it’s leafy paths. It has the feel of a peaceful world, away from the stresses of the city despite its location in the heart of Dubai.

“Dubai Creek has a special place in people’s hearts,” says Abdullah Al Noon, the Emirati club manager. “When they come down here and play, they have the Creek, the heritage, the building and the greenery in the centre of town – it’s a hideaway and greatly loved between the local golfing community and international visitors.

“It’s a big responsibility,” he says of being club manager on the 25th anniversary. “To sustain it for another 25 is the goal. I would say a clubhouse like this will never come into existence again.”