Concrete and steel wood & iron

Jumeirah Golf Estates has been designed in conjunction with some of the biggest names in the sport. Christopher Sell takes a look at this impressive development.

Coursework: Bob Knott
Coursework: Bob Knott

Targeting the lucrative and ever-present leisure pursuit that is golf, the Jumeirah Golf Estates, currently under construction in Dubai, will become the largest urban golf community in the world. Comprising four courses - each with an innovative elemental theme (Earth, Wind, Fire and Water) - the development is employing some of the most illustrious names in the game.

Greg Norman, Vijay Singh, Sergio Garcia and Pete Dye are all involved in the development, which, as it targets both leisure and real-estate provision, will offer a further step in providing the luxury levels of lifestyle that Dubai strives to offer, while transforming Dubai into a golfing destination. Jumeirah Golf Estates is wholly owned by Leisurecorp, which is a subsidiary of Istithmar, the investment company of Dubai World.

The first big challenge is that you have to import the expertise. We don't have hugely skilled golf course contractors in the UAE.

In a city that is currently under-golfed and under-developed, Jumeirah Golf Estates features four distinct golf course communities. Phase A, currently under constriction, consists of the 'Earth' and 'Fire' courses - designed by Greg Norman - and will eventually encompass 13 residential communities and homes for more than 1,000 people. Grassing is taking place on the back nine of both courses.

The approach of combining leisure with residences is not a new one, explains Bob Knott, senior development manager, Jumeirah Golf Estates, but it does offer a way to alleviate the heavy financial burden. "Golf courses are much like hotels. For hotels you need people in beds; with golf, you need people on the course," he says. "How they really work is to have them developed in conjunction with real estate, then the actual capital cost of developing a course is spread out over a thousand properties; the cost - while not nullified, will be hugely reduced."

Phase B will include the course designed by Vijay Singh. Construction of the Water golf course, featuring approximately 20 lakes, will commence early in the New Year. This phase, unlike phase A which is predominantly low-level housing, will feature high-rise apartment buildings of up to 22 storeys.

Phase C will feature the 'Wind' golf course, designed by Pete Dye, Sergio Garcia and Greg Norman, and could be the course that puts the development on the golfing map. "If you consider where we are trying to position ourselves, we are going to produce golf courses that are certainly very capable of taking on any major championship. We have been given an almost unlimited budget, so this could be a completely stunning and different course to what is in Dubai currently."

The final piece of the puzzle, phase D, centres on the Arabian Canal, which runs through the development. While it was always understood the canal would take this route, Knott is surprised at the speed of the implementation. "The concept has been on the drawing board for a long time, but it has come to fruition far quicker than anyone anticipated." Digging is to commence on the Canal in December.

But planning and implementation are two very different animals, and the task, while different from conventional concrete and steel, requires very specific skill sets, not just dealing with 50'ºC temperatures.

Grass for the course is cultivated from a grade (known as Bermuda) specific to a farm in Georgia, USA. A nursery has been set up to provide turf for the course and sports its own lake and water supply. In a process called stolonisation, Bermuda stolon's are grown to four inches long before being harvested. These nodes are then transported to pre-prepared areas of the golf course to be planted.

Before the grass is laid, specialist machine operators, called shapers, manipulate the sub-grade surface - essentially shaping the golfing landscape hole-by-hole. This is then capped with 1m of top soil (25cm is more commonly used), which guarantees the density of the grass on the playing surface. This top soil is a special type of sand which has been analysed for its consistency and structure. This follows the lines of the landscape, which has been created underneath exactly. Once the irrigation lines are brought in, the shapers are re-introduced to start to produce the features.

Once the grass is laid, the construction of the greens demands different applications again. Throughout the world, all greens are built to a USGA (United States Golf Association) specification, which is a method by which the green environment can be controlled. "Because no matter what standards we intend to grow grass on our fairways and green surrounds, the greens themselves must be the sports' finest playing surface; true, accurate and fast," adds Knott.

Once the sub-grade has been shaped, a drainage system is installed in the base via a gravel layer. A root zone is installed above this, which is a sand and peat combination in a 80:20 ratio. This material is tested every 500 tonnes. The purpose of this is to establish a perched water table system so that when water enters the green, by rain or irrigation it starts to percolate down to reach the sand, where it becomes stationary. This encourages roots to grow down for water, not upwards.

The primary concern of building and maintaining a golf course in the desert is the use of water, which can be prohibitively expensive. Bermuda grass has been chosen since it requires a lot less water and is far hardier than European varieties. However, to ensure a suitable amount of water will be present to irrigate the course - it is using 2.6 million gallons of water presently - all irrigation is TSE (treated sewage effluent). While currently this water is being supplied by Dubai Municipality, the plan is to have a dedicated plant and water supply which will be taking all the sewage and effluent from the Palm Jumeirah and Jumeirah Village.

The approach to construction also illustrates a willingness to avoid previous mistakes such as building lakes that are too shallow, resulting in water that deteriorates in quality. "What has happened here in the UAE, is that lakes are constructed to 1m and 1.5m to 2m maximum," says Knott. "Because we are in one of the sunniest parts of the world, with intense sunshine and enclosed bodies of water, there is huge potential for degradation of water. Because the UV takes oxygen out of the water."

To counter this, all lakes on the golf course will be constructed to 5.5m in depth to ensure UV penetration is less effective, with aeration units situated at the base of lakes as an added back-up. There will be 20 lakes in the Fire course alone.

Knott explains the construction of a golf course isn't simply to offer Dubai more leisure opportunities; rather it is underscored by savvy business understanding. "There are two major factors in development that give major uplift to residential property values. The first is water, while a close second is landscaping; a golf course can lift the value by 40%.

"But the cost nowadays of constructing golf courses is very high. We are spending $40 million plus on these two courses alone, and that is without the infrastructure. So when you are spending that sort of money you need to ensure a return on that capital investment."

To secure the finance necessary to develop a golf course is one thing, to carry it out is another. Knott acknowledges there is a dearth of skilled workers who can operate on a site that is idiosyncratic in construction.

"The first big challenge is that you have to import the expertise. We don't have hugely skilled golf course contractors in the UAE. We have great access to labour but, in terms of the expertise, we need to import it. The shapers, for example, are from the US, Australia and Canada, while our project manager is from South Africa."

Grassing of the course should begin this week, with the two back nine's completed by mid-January, and the remaining 18-holes by the end of April/beginning of May 2008. Once complete, the development should be home to 100,000 people.

According to David Spencer, CEO, Jumeirah Golf Estates, Dubai is severely under golfed as a city, with the current 270,000 rounds per year well below the estimated 420,000. The 1.17km2 development will go some way to redressing this shortfall, and provided the courses are developed to the quality being suggested, Dubai may well soon see championship golf played on the most innovative golf courses in the Middle East.

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