40 years of sport in the UAE: How Emirates Golf Course became Dubai's desert gem
As the UAE gears up for one almighty party to celebrate the country's 40th year anniversary this weekend, Sport360° continues to the country's proudest sporting achievements over four incredible decades.
Having looked back over the 1970s yesterday, part II of our juant down memory lane takes us to the 1980s where the UAE, still very much in its infancy, began to discover and construct its own identity, heroes and facilities.
It was during this decade that Dubai gave birth to arugably its greatest sporting achievement - the Emirates Golf Club, the Middle East's first green course. Joy Chakravarty picks up the story...
Among all the major achievements of the UAE in these 40 years, the creation of Emirates Golf Club – known to many as the ‘Desert Miracle’ – in 1988 has to feature on top of the list.
It was the first green golf course in the Middle East, and it truly laid down the foundation of the Royal & Ancient sport in the region. One year later, in 1989, the European Tour played its first-ever tournament outside the geographical location of Continental Europe.
The Dubai Desert Classic is now one of the most prestigious tournaments in European Tour’s international schedule, and more importantly, showed them the way forward in expanding to Asia and other continents and becoming the second largest Tour in the world.
A vision of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the club was conceptualised in 1986. German Karl Litten was commissioned to design the 18-hole layout on a 173-acre land earmarked for the project.
The club was officially launched in March 1988 with the then Pakistan President, General Zia Ul-Haq, an avid golfer, hitting the commemorative tee shot after placing the golf ball on a golden tee, in the presence of Sheikh Mohammed and Sheikh Maktoum.
A ‘West v East Desert Challenge’ was also organised with Sam Torrance and Howard Clark taking on the Australian pair of Graham Marsh and Roger Davis.
Sheikh Mohammed was not just happy with having the facility, he also wanted the world’s best players to come and experience it, and spread the world about the fantastic course.
In its very first year of operation, the club announced it would be hosting the season-opening event on the European Tour. England’s Mark James won the inaugural tournament, which offered a fantastic prize purse of approximately £299,000 (Dh1.7m).
That tournament has led to as many as five European Tour events in the Middle East in 2011, and the golf course has now inspired more than 25 green golf courses in the region.
Chris May, General Manager of the club, said: “The Emirates Golf Club was Dubai’s first world-class international sporting facility. Along with the Dubai Desert Classic, it put Dubai on the world sporting map. It was the pioneer of golf in the region and the foundation of growth for the game.”
The location of the golf club, considered to be way beyond the city limits when it was opened, was another example of how the Rulers envisioned the growth of the city. Today, Emirates Golf Club is the heart of New Dubai.
“It was a real challenge to get people out to the golf club in the evening,” added May. “A round of golf was almost a full day’s outing. But it just shows how well the Rulers had thought it out that today, a whole new world has developed around the club.”
OTHER HIGHLIGHTS OF THE 1980s
Motorsport: Mohammed Ben Sulayem, who has become a flag bearer for the motorsport not just in the UAE but in the entire Middle East region, won his first rally at the Acropolis Rally in 1984. A year later he won in both Kuwait and Dubai. Became Middle East Rally champion in 1986.
Cricket: April 1984, sees the famous Sharjah Cricket Stadium host its first international event, the Asia Cup involving three teams - India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. India, who won the World Cup the year previously, eventually emerged victorious to the delight of many Indian expats in the country.
Football: The opening of the Zayed Sports City may have taken place in 1979, but it wasn't until 1982 that it held its first major football event - the Gulf Cup of Nations. The winners? Kuwait.
Athletics: The UAE made its debut in the summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles in 1984 with eight athletes representing their country. Rashed Jerbah, who competed in the 4x400m, said: "We were all really proud just to be there representing the UAE."
Tenpin Bowling: UAE bowler Mohammad Khaja wisn the 4th Gulf Tenpin Bowling Championship in Bahrain in 1982, before compatriots Abdul Aziz Al Hakim and Abdulla Kareem clinch glory in the doubles at the 4th Arab Gulf Bowling Championship 12 months later.
*Look out for Part III of our nostalgic look back at the biggest sporting achievements in the UAE's short history tomorrow when we take a look at the 1990s.