04 Jun 2024

Surviving Summer – How Courses Cope With The Heat

Words: Will Kent Photography: Provided by Stuart & Getty Images

The Middle East can be a brutal place to live from now until September, with most of the region comfortably reaching over 40 degrees Celcius. Many of us choose not to play golf during this period, opting to watch the game on TV in the air conditioning instead.

However, there may be less people outside teeing off, but requirements to maintain courses to the best possible standard are still ever present. Hundreds of people are out working in the heat to ensure these areas of land are maintained. The average golfer probably doesn’t quite understand the level of effort going in every day.

“A lot of the misconceptions around agronomy in this region is that we just cut grass and rake bunkers,” said Horwood, who has also previously worked at Quail Hollow, the Grove as well as the Els Club. “There’s so much that goes on behind the scenes. It’s more detailed than most would think.

“With summer now here, the biggest challenge to maintaining the course through these months is the fact that the heat we experience is exceptional. With that comes a lot of pressure on irrigation systems. The turf is constantly stressed. It’s not easy, and we have to deal with water quantities and the water quality too. Our water quantity can be reduced in the summer due to increased demand in the city and less tourists creating waste water which we rely on.

“When it’s above 41 degrees Celsius, the turf doesn’t want to be here either so it needs water to ensure it survives. If it doesn’t have water for 48 hours, the plant is almost dead. We’re constantly battling dry spots and irrigation. We have over 4000 sprinklers on site, so keeping those maintained and operating properly can sometimes be a very labour intensive task.

Water is crucial to the survival of grass, especially during the summer months

“The extreme temperatures that the team have to work in is the other big consideration. They’re quite well-versed now on what to do, and we always do a training session before summer highlighting how to look after themselves. We make sure to provide electrolytes, shade, rest areas and training so the team understand what their body is telling them. We’re humans, not machines, so it can be quite tough on the guys out here.

“The good thing is from June 15 to September 15 we follow the Dubai Municipality direction of working hours so from 12.30pm to 3pm nobody can be outside working. That helps, but as you know it’s still hot outside of those hours.”

Despite the heat, you will always find players out there lathered in sun cream and drenched in sweat getting their golfing fix. The game isn’t just a winter-only sport here in Dubai anymore, with Jumeirah Golf Estates experiencing increased traffic throughout the entire year. Less people are put off by the heat nowadays.

“The summer months in recent years have been getting busier,” explained Horwood. “We have enough members here at JGE, whether that be seven day or midweek, so we get a lot of usage from members despite the heat.

The agronomy team are constantly at work throughout the entire year

“It’s still a busy golf course in comparison to what most would expect, just based on our membership numbers. The weekends have a full shotgun on each course both days. Fridays are busy because most people are on half days.

“What we do see sometimes is that buggy tyres can create burn, but other than that, the grass is growing and the recovery is a lot better in the summer. We see a lot more damage during the winter months, through divots and usage. It takes seven to 14 days during the summer for a divot to recover, whereas that can be up to 28 days in the winter. There’s an example why we do prefer the warmer months just because the course can recover quicker.”

There’s also the strong argument that golf courses in the region are unsustainable with a truly incredible amount of water used to keep them in shape. They require a massive amount of resources to look the way they do. However, Stuart was keen to stress that they also come with huge benefits.

“A golf course with the trees and grass produces enough oxygen for five to eight thousand people per golf course,” he explained. “Living on a golf course is beneficial to your health, but also the environment. We’re an oxygen farm, really. On top of that in the summer months, the temperature on or around the course will also be at least a degree less than the city. The grass has a huge cooling effect.”

Stuart is often followed by his dog Bella at JGE


The final event of the DP World Tour season is now less than six months away, with the agronomy team now looking ahead to the week. The players often comment on the stunning condition that the Earth course is in during the tournament, and it’s no surprise given the manpower and time put into making it the best it can possibly be.

“We start the process from August after our final aeration,” explained Stuart. “The plan starts with bunker renovations and adding new sand. With nearly 100 bunkers on site it takes a lot of time and effort from the team.

“Our bunker sand comes from Oman, and there are a lot of logistics involved in getting that. The sand for top dressing greens is also from Saudi. Again, a lot of logistics involved in that over here. We have sprayer applications most days, and it’s so important. Without chemical or fertilisation application on turf the condition would be a lot worse.

“Course conditioning is our priority and we continue verticutting and topdressing all surfaces weekly until 10 days before the tournament. On top of this we have a lot of details like landscape trimming and topping up the woodchip to improve presentation.”

Nicolai Hojgaard with the the team following his win last year at JGE

It’s a mammoth task to keep the 7,675 yard Earth course in tip top shape, whilst also not neglecting the 18-hole Fire course. It requires an enormous amount of labour and man hours from a large team to complete the job.

“We have a permanent crew of 77 and for tournament we have up to 25 contracted staff on site daily to help support the team with the additional workload,” he added. “The team will work 12 hour days up to six weeks out from tournament and during prep week and tournament week. There are no days off and working hours from 4am and not leaving until 10pm some days. The team are used to this now and perform extremely well, and my assistant Oliver Maskell is also a great support.

“Tournament days are a bit easier for us because we can’t be on the golf course from 10am until 4pm so they get a nice break. Practice days and Pro-Ams there’s still a lot of attention. They have to be focused for a long period.

“It’s quite a large team and one of the biggest things we have is trying to manage different cultures, different religions and managing the various holidays through the year. When it does get to the tournament, they do all understand and we all knuckle down as a team.”

It can be easy for us recreational golfers to gloss over the amount of effort put in to making Jumeirah Golf Estates – like many other courses – look and play so pure. It’s a credit to Stuart, his team and many others in the region that they look in the fantastic condition that they do. Your work is appreciated, and the game is more enjoyable for your efforts. Thank you.

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