OPERATION DESERT GOLF COURSE

THE BROADER PICTURE
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FOR A MAN who can have anything he wants, it takes a lot to have an extravagant dream. Ten years ago, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid al-Maktoum had such a dream. But Sheikh Mohammed's fantasy put even his resources to the test. In a land which enjoys just three days of rain a year, he envisaged a golf course made of grass, a thing of emerald green beauty, a little piece of Ireland in the desert. And he has succeeded: after pouring more than pounds 7m, as well as more than 2.5bn gallons of water, into his project, the Emirates Golf Club in the United Arab Emirates is the first grass course in the Arab Gulf States - and a vivid testament to man's power over nature.

Golf in the Gulf used to mean 500-yard long sandtraps, a patch of Astroturf for teeing-off and lime-green balls to ensure visibility in the rolling dunes. Rattling good fun, perhaps, for the casual golfer, but hardly up to international standards for a game of enormous global popularity. And it was this popularity that the Sheikh was eager to exploit. One day, some day - perhaps in 20 years - the oil that makes the Emirates so rich is going to give out; the country is going to need revenue from alternative sources. What better - and more spectacular - way than turning what's now perceived as a distinctly unglamorous destination into the world's most luxurious golf and holiday resort?

The course, near the seaside town of Jabal Ali, took 18 months to complete. There was, originally, just one tree on the site. Then the hard work began: 154 acres of fairway were seeded with grass flown over from Georgia, in the United States; more than 14 million cubic feet of sand were shifted to landscape the course, which was designed by American sports architect Karl Litten. Not surprisingly, there were problems. "The first thing we had to do was build a fence around the entire project area to keep out wandering camels," says Larry Trenary, a Dallas-based engineer who helped supervise the final stages of construction. "And you would shape a dune on one fairway, and the next day you'd find that the wind had picked the whole thing up and dumped it on another fairway." Watering the course was the most obvious problem: the desert is kept at bay by more than a million gallons of water a day, pumped from a nearby desalination plant and sprayed over the grass. Now the course includes artificial lakes, and there's a flood-lit driving range. And there are even gardens full of cacti imported from California and Arizona.

Not that the desert location is ignored; the club's restaurant, swimming- pool, and sports facilities are all housed in buildings cunningly fashioned to resemble a cluster of simple Bedouin tents. More prosaic remin-ders exist, too, such as the all-sand practice course (see above) near the main course.

Ever since its opening, the club has hosted the Dubai Desert Classic, part of the European PGA Tour, which begins this year on 14 March. A combination of huge appearance money, a first prize last year of pounds 75,000, reliably sunny weather, the world's best duty-free, tours on the Sheikh's private boat, and a generous helping of uninterrupted luxury ensures that the world's best players are only too happy to compete.

For the rest of the year, the club is full up with wealthy European and American clients, enjoying desert golf. There are a few UAE nationals dotted around the course, too; but they are less likely to be interested in the state of the greens than in the feel of grass under their feet. !

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