Desert Miracle turns 30 – Key figures pay tribute to Emirates Golf Club for 30th anniversary

Dubai is famous around the world as a forward-thinking city which thrives on innovation and a ‘can do’ attitude and those principles are the bedrock of the emirate’s world-renowned golf scene.

Back in the 1980s the idea that a desert city like Dubai could provide a sustainable home to a lush green grass golf course was preposterous. But His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum thought otherwise. He became a driving force in the creation of the Emirates Golf Club, the UAE’s first 18-hole grass course, which opened its doors in 1988.

Just one year later, the venue hosted the opening event of the 1989 European Tour season in the form of the Dubai Desert Classic and the event has since hosted some of the biggest names in golf with its champions including Seve Ballesteros, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia.

Tiger Woods has won the Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club twice – in 2006 and 2008.

When it first opened its doors to great fanfare in March 1988 the stunning Karl Litten-designed course stood out like a shining emerald oasis surrounded by desert on all sides. A great deal has changed since then and it’s no exaggeration to say that the ‘Desert Miracle’ and the Dubai Desert Classic were the catalysts for the huge investment which powered the emirates’ march towards its current status as a global epicentre for golf.

There are now nine golf course developments in Dubai with another two due to open in the near future. The European Tour has offices there and since 2009 the season-long competition to crown the season’s No.1 golfer has been known as the Race to Dubai, which takes in around 46 tournaments across 29 countries and five continents culminating in the US$8 million DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates.

When Emirates Golf Club opened in March 1988 there was nothing but desert for miles around on all four sides. It's fair to say things have changed a little since then.


The floodlit Faldo course offers night golf which is perfect for the hot summer months.

The global connectivity of Dubai is promoted and celebrated around the world via each tournament that takes place on the European Tour International Schedule.

These days, as well as the Desert Classic, Emirates Golf Club is also home to the season-ending event on the Ladies European Tour, the Omega Dubai Ladies Classic. Over 2 million rounds of golf have been played on the Majlis and Faldo courses and the golf club has become a popular social hub with top class restaurants, bars and leisure facilities.

To mark its 30th anniversary this month, Worldwide Golf caught up with some of the key figures in the history of the club that was a genuine game-changer for golf in Dubai.

James Williams 

(Emirates Golf Club’s first Director of Golf)

“The first time I visited Emirates Golf Club I tiptoed across the driving range because the grass felt like a carpet! It was so impressive that I didn’t want to leave any blade of grass out of place. I started in 1987 and have been in Dubai ever since and had a great time.”

Peter Cowen 

(PGA Master Professional and coach to several Dubai Desert Classic winners)

“This year was my 29th year at Emirates Golf after having played in the first Desert Classic in 1989. It has changed a great deal since then. I remember the crowds of people who turned up to the first event just to see how Dubai had managed to build a grass course in the middle of a desert. It was a remarkable achievement. In the 30 years since then, Dubai has grown and grown. With all the buildings around the course it really is a tremendous feat for the Rulers of Dubai to make the emirate what it is today. Emirates Golf Club for me is the best course in the UAE. It has so much history with the tournament and, obviously, being the first-ever grass course over here. It’s a landmark of Dubai.”

Barry Lane 

(Played in the first Dubai Desert Classic finishing sixth)

“I remember first arriving in Dubai for the Desert Classic in 1989. There was a hotel at the airport, the World Trade Centre and Emirates Golf Club. There was absolutely nothing else. We stayed at the airport at that time it was only a 15-minute drive to the course. Nothing was built up so there was no traffic. The greens were like concrete, they were so fast. The layout has obviously evolved over the years and I got to see that first hand, being the only one to play the first 25 Desert Classics. I loved coming to play the course but it got a bit long for me in the end. On my 25th appearance I missed the cut. So I went to watch Rory hit wedges on the sixth whilst I was hitting drive and rescue, the previous days. I said to my wife: ‘I think it’s time now!’ It’s a great club and I really miss going there to play. It was part of my life.”

Colin Montgomerie

(Winner of the 1996 Dubai Desert Classic)

“When we first came to Dubai there were more camels on the road than there were cars! We drove through the desert and suddenly this green oasis appeared in the middle of nowhere, which was Emirates Golf Club. It looked spectacular. From the first time I played there to this day, the course remains a great challenge, mainly down to the fantastic design by Karl Litten.

Stephen Gallacher

(Two-time Dubai Desert Classic winner in 2013 and 2014)

“I first played Emirates Golf Club in 1999-2000 when my kids were small. I’ve seen the course mature, the trees grow and the clubhouse change, which has all been for the good. The course is the best it has ever been now. Winning the tournament in 2013 was brilliant. It had been nine years since my first win, so to get the second was very special. Then I went on to win again the following year playing with Tiger  Woods and Rory McIlroy in the final round, which is something I’ll never forget. My whole family was watching me so it was really nice for them to get to see me lift the trophy. I’ve had two holes-in-one and shot a 62 on the Majlis so it must agree with me. The golf club most certainly holds a very special place in my heart.”

Paul Broadhurst 

(Played in the first Dubai Desert Classic and finished third)

“When we first came here there was just sand absolutely everywhere. Then we saw this green oasis in the distance which was obviously Emirates Golf Club. Now you look at Dubai 30 years later and you can’t believe it’s the same place. Even on the course it’s different. You used to pick out a small tree to get your target line and now you pick out a tower block! It was certainly a game-changer for the region. Grass in the desert was unheard of. Emirates Golf Club set the benchmark for the golfing boom in the UAE.”

Sir Nick Faldo 

(Played in the second edition of the Dubai Desert Classic in 1990 and finished ninth)

“Back then, we were the pioneers. The Emirates Golf Club was an oasis of green grass and everything else was just sand. How times have changed! The players loved the event as it was different to what we were used to. We would see camels on the road on the way to the course and simply marvel at everything we saw. The course was always in great condition and I certainly wouldn’t have expected Dubai to turn out how it has done. I wish I had bought an acre of sand back then – that would have been a smart investment!

Christopher May

(Chief Executive Officer of Dubai Golf)

“Emirates Golf Club is an iconic venue and a much-loved symbol of Dubai. The Club pioneered golf in the region when it opened in 1988 and has continued to grow and develop over the past 30 years, leading the way in golf in the Middle East. With the continued support of our owners, wasl Asset Management, we look forward to building further on the heritage and reputation that has been created over the past 30 years.”