Septech's sweetspot

Septech's approach shot landed straight in the hole with a contract to construct the first Ernie Els' first golf course in the Middle East.

Iwan Hughes
Iwan Hughes

Septech's approach shot landed straight in the hole with a contract to construct the first Ernie Els' first golf course in the Middle East.

Situated in the heart of Victory Heights, lies Ernie Els' 18 hole signature golf course, The Els Club.

It was a competitive tender we won on price after our ability to construct.

The course is Els' first to be developed in the Middle East and one of the first to bear his name directly, which sits perfectly with Dubai Sports City's aim to house well known and prestigious sporting names within its 50million ft2 development area.

"Right from the start we knew we wanted to embrace the uniqueness of this amazing environment and incorporate the natural dunes and native plants into our design, both from an aesthetic and strategic standpoint," explains Els.

"We call it a 'desert links' and I think that captures the essence of this golf course nicely. I mean, there is a genuine sense that you are playing golf in the desert and that was definitely one of the single most important design goals of ours. We really didn't want something that looked artificial."

Back in 2005, the owner of the course, Victory Heights Golf Residential & Development Company, tendered the contract to construct the course. After a short-list of competent contractors, it was awarded to Septech Emirates.

"It was a competitive tender so we won it on price after pre-qualifying our ability to construct. It was signed on 14 December 2005 and the effective start date was 1 February 2006," says Iwan Hughes, project director, Septech Emirates.

The scope of works included site preparation, setting out plant and equipment supply, drainage, irrigation system installation including pump station, car path construction and top soil mixing and placement.

Irrigation operations

In a region where water is a precious commodity and in an industry that requires a large amount of water for landscaping, irrigation is a key factor in the construction of golf courses.

The aim of the irrigation system at The Els Club was to water the course, its 18 holes and practice facilities, from one pump station.

The construction of buffer lakes was necessary in order for this to happen.

Irrigation maintenance is the biggest issue for Troon.

The watering window is seven hours and a nominal 12mm a day (3.3 inches a week) is applied over the watered area during this window.

Treated sewage effluent (TSE) water is used to feed the landscape and a fully automated irrigation system has been installed to ensure that water is used efficiently.

"The system is automatically controlled by the Rain Bird Irrigation System that has a computerised central controller and a fully automated flowtronex pump set to feed the system," explains Hughes.

Irrigation downstream operation

"The Rain Bird PAR+ES Irrigation Controller can electrically control up to 72 watering stations, whilst each station can control from one to four valves. It enables six different watering schedules for automatic operation and each schedule can have up to 12 start times a day," he adds.

There are also two manual schedules that offer additional watering flexibility. The overall automatic settings are also controlled by the Rain Bird Smart Weather system, which considers changes in weather conditions in order to optimise the irrigation cycle in terms of necessary water demand.

For example, if it is raining irrigation might not be required and the irrigation schedule will be automatically curtailed in order to prevent the waste of water.

Temperature, relative humidity, wind run and solar radiation may also impose adjustment to the irrigation cycle, dependant on base weather settings.

"On course, weather stations provide an efficient means of controlling irrigation in response to variable weather conditions, by way of the smart weather software developed by Rain Bird," Hughes says.

Pump station upstream operation

The pump system is controlled by a Rockwell (Bulletin 150) Smart Motor Controller (SMC).

The control logic ensures efficient operation of pumps on demand in line with design operating pressures.

This in turn enables optimised use of electricity and power consumption as well as offering protection and longevity to the pumps and the irrigation system as a whole.

The total grassed area is 500,000m2, there is 46,000m of UPVC pipe and 1990 sprinklers.

Maintenance manuals

Hughes says the irrigation system is the main maintenance concern for management company, Troon Golf.

But explains Septech Emirates has ensured that detailed and in depth manuals have been handed over to Troon to ensure effective maintenance.

"Irrigation maintenance is the biggest issue. The construction records enable Troon to trace and pinpoint each irrigation branch, tee and sprinkler pop-up. We completed a survey of the course by GPS so a particular area of the system can be identified using auto-cad. This helps when people have to go to certain areas of the course," he says.

Information on the pumps, filters, irrigation controllers and the electronics has also been handed over, along with comprehensive operation and maintenance manuals.

Shielding sand

You would think that in a region where sand is plentiful, there would be no problems in acquiring some.

Septech Emirates had sourced the right sand grain to ensure golf balls would not bury themselves in the sand and the right colour to suit the architect, but the Saudi Arabia authorities soon stopped the export of the perfect grain under a royal decree.

"We got as far as two trailers across the border when it was declared that particular colour of sand could not be exported from Saudi Arabia, according to the Saudi authorities. A royal decree meant we couldn't bring it in and it was a colour issue," explains Hughes.

Troon sourced a new sand grain from Saudi Arabia and according to Hughes it was late in the day and flexibility was key to ensure it was delivered on time.

"The reason the sand is important is because of the way the ball lies in the sane. Not all sand is the same. The grain size, mix of the grain and particle size all effect the way the ball will land in the sand, because when it comes in from the air, if the particle size is wrong, it will bury itself," he adds.

Septech Emirates is currently in the defect liability period for The Els Club, but is still working on site due to it being awarded the external soft and hard landscaping packages for the Victory Heights showrooms.

The original contract value was AED 32.5m but has now changed due to the additional scope of works.

Course details

Project name: The Els Club (formally known at The Dunes) at Dubai Sports City

Owner: Victory Heights Golf Residential & Development Company

Managed by: Troon Golf

Developer: Victory Heights Golf Residential & Development Company

Main contractor: Septech Emirates

Architect: Ernie Els Design

MEP contractor: Septech Emirates

Project size: Total golf course area of 85 hectares including: total grassed area of 500,000m2 with 18 USGA golf holes, driving range and Butch Harmon Golf Academy, storage lake and irrigation pump house.

Number of in-house FM staff: On completion of golf course construction, FM staff of approximately 20 to 25, including golf course superintendent and assistant superintendent, head mechanic, irrigation supervisor, landscape supervisor, two foremen and 13 to 18 general labourers and operators.

Preventative maintenance in place: By Troon Golf

ISO certified: ISO 9001:2000

Power source(s): Temporary generator power

Irrigation design by: Hydrogold Pty Ltd, Australia

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