Wind in its Sails

Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club

Before Dubai became one of the world’s most popular spots for golf tourism, the sport had not been much more than a few enthusiasts playing on the ‘browns’ at the Dubai Country Club or in private gardens.

That all changed in the late 1980s as pieces of desert were transformed into the verdant greens of what is now known as Emirates Golf Club. Boasting the first, all-grass championship golf course in the region and a clubhouse resembling a Bedouin encampment, it quickly became a successful attraction.

A few years later, in 1992 the growing demand for golf courses resulted in the opening of another golf club: the Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club.

It later grew to become the only golf resort in Dubai that has a golf course, marina, yacht club, hotel, real estate, leisure facilities and golf academy.

The clubhouse, which resembles a dhow (a traditional Arabic sailing vessel), was designed as an impression of Dubai’s cultural heritage. Reflective pools surrounding the building strengthened the illusion of a floating building.

British architect Brian Johnson, who had been responsible for the design of the Emirates Golf Clubhouse with his previous practice, was contacted about the project when he was living in the UK. There, he had gone into partnership with Michael Godwin to form Godwin Austen Johnson (GAJ) after having lived in Dubai from 1975 until 1989.

The 60-year-old architect had decided that he wanted to pursue the profession when he was 13 or 14 years old. “I believe it is a vocation,” he says.

“It represents the meeting of art and science. It helps if you are broadly educated and interested in a wide array of subject whilst requiring a distinct balance of aptitudes. You need to be comfortable with maths but not necessarily a mathematician. But who knows what makes a good architect.

“Although my father was an architect, he did not press me,” he continues. “I have never actually worked on a project with him, although, even now at the age of 88, he is very active mentally and interested in what we are doing. We have bought a 19th century waterfront property in the UK to use as our GAJ (UK) head offices and he has been very helpful in his comments and input on that.”

Johnson carried out the Creek Golf Club project after winning an international competition held by the Office of the Engineer to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

He has since taken on more projects in Dubai with GAJ such as the Arabian Court Residence & Spa at the One&Only Royal Mirage and the Bab al Shams Hotel.

“The competition entry was submitted by courier and included a small model which illustrated how it worked,” he recalls. “This was particularly important since I was concerned that, to the casual observer, it might look a bit like the Sydney Opera House.” In fact, he fought to avoid any similarities with the opera house (and any Australian will probably agree it does not).

“It is totally different except insofar as it is a powerful visual image which uses the imagery of sails.”

The golf club took around 18 months to build at a cost Dh75 million and was a very high profile project at the time. It was constructed before the building boom and apart from the Emirates Golf Club, the four local football stadia, the Dubai Offshore Sailing Club, and some Dubai and Sharjah- based cricket grounds, there were very few other structured sporting facilities in the city.

With the design of the Creek Golf Club, Johnson aimed to excel in certain areas than his previous projects. For example, he understood the importance of a bag drop in a country where people expect a higher level of service than other destinations.

“The bags are dropped before you park your car and then are taken through an underground tunnel to the other side of the clubhouse,” says Johnson.

“They are then placed in the golf buggies to await your game. This tunnel had to cross the normal service tunnels that serve the food and beverage outlets.”

The service area was also made with a lengthy tunnel with loading bays underground to make it more unobtrusive and sound proof.

The clubhouse has seven different levels, although they are staggered so that it is not truly a seven-storey building with four underground floors. Nevertheless, there is a large amount of functional space within the mound that supports the basic building.

Furthermore, Johnson felt that the view of the 18th green from the spike bar had to be improved. “At the Emirates, the spike bar looks out

onto the practice putting range. In an ideal world, you should be able to watch the golfers coming in. We set up a full size raised platform in scaffolding during construction, so that the client rep could sit at an imaginary table and view the imaginary 18th hole, which was a piece of green painted plywood on another raised area. And it worked.” The par 71 golf course, measuring 6,900 yards, was designed with several unique features. A ‘floating tee’ is located on the sixth hole and three holes hug the shores of the creek itself. The fairways are demarcated by mounds, palm trees and artificial lakes.

Managing Director Rod Bogg points out that most of the undulation of the course was created from the soil that was dug out to create the lakes. They serve as both irrigation storage and design features. Only a minimal amount of fertiliser is used, as the growing climate for warm weather grasses is excellent.

“The grass is imported from America in refrigerated containers as ‘sprigs’ and simply broadcast across the prepared surface and watered regularly,” he explains. “As much as 60 to 70 per cent will take and grow in just a few months.

“The underlying soil is simply desert, with a top dressing of ‘sweet soil’ – a slightly better sand for growing turf grass.

“The entire course is watered by a computer controlled irrigation system, operating throughout the night. Warm weather grasses are used, but these have to be supplemented by cold weather grass during the winter. Virtually every living blade of grass, tree, shrub and plant on the course has been imported and nurtured on site.”

Bogg believes that the Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club differentiates itself from other golf clubs by being the only ‘resort’ in Dubai.

The marina has 121 berths with its yachts privately owned, mainly by residents in Dubai, with two charter boats available for rent. They are used for deep sea fishing or cruising up and down the Creek or the coastline.

The golf academy, which has a nine-hole par three floodlit course, caters to both beginners as well as more experienced players. A 36 bay driving range, practice greens, and a swing analysis studio add to the learning experience. The golf academy is managed by four Professional Golfers’ Association qualified instructors.

In 2006 the golf course was re-modelled and certain areas rebuilt to accommodate the hotel and villas, the latter being occupied by 92 residents from 33 different nations.

In addition, 10 furnished and serviced villas are let for short-term periods. Annual rents for unfurnished villa’s with golf course view range between Dh325,000 to Dh400,000.r

“We were responsible for the design of the residences and they have proven to be possibly the most profitable rental properties in Dubai because of their setting and, I hope, design,” says Johnson.

Johnson has since carried out many community projects, such as the Jumeirah English Speaking School and Dubai College and designed buildings for the Dubai Police Force.

Another of his sports projects is the Abu Dhabi Cricket Stadium, the largest cantilever of its type.

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