A golfing revolution is underway in the Middle East and believe it or not this golfing revolution is in Qatar. This is the story behind the all-new Qatar International Golf Club, a place that believes everyone can be a ‘golfer’. It’s a fascinating facility that one day could be credited worldwide for helping to grow the game we love. With an ambitious approach, Qatar International Golf Club is a visionary project that is aiming to change the way golf is taught, played and shared. To learn more about this ground-breaking facility, which involves the designs and input of two-time Major winner and Ryder Cup legend Jose Maria Olazabal, Worldwide Golf’s Mike Gallemore speaks to Ed Edwards, the General Manager of this exciting new world-class golfing destination being developed in Qatar Foundation’s Education City in Doha.
Worldwide Golf: Not too many people would think a golfing revolution could start in Qatar. Why Qatar, why golf and where did the idea come from?
ED EDWARDS: Qatar has long been associated as a successful host of major international sports events. It’s a sport loving nation with many sports, especially Olympic sports, enjoying world-class facilities which go beyond hosting events to offer the local community an environment to learn and play at the highest level. Yet when it comes to golf, Qatar is underserved. There’s only one grass course, Doha Golf Club. Although there is demand for golf, it currently comes mainly from the expatriate population. For golf to grow in a relatively new market like Qatar, additional facilities are essential to take the game into the local community and turn Qatar truly into a golfing nation. This is the vision of the Qatar International Golf Club – and our starting point. While education is fundamental to the success of our vision, it is also the reason why the course sits amongst the learning environment of Doha’s spectacular university and science community in Education City. As a facility it will be totally unique to the region and the world as a single destination, which will not only service current demand, but is dedicated to growing the game of golf.
Worldwide Golf: Apart from the Ex-pat Europeans, Australians and South Africans in Qatar there are very few Arab Nationals who play golf. Do you believe that the Nationals will take to the game
ED EDWARDS: This is exactly the challenge and opportunity that lies at the very heart of what we’re trying to achieve at the Qatar International Golf Club: To grow the game amongst Qataris and encourage more Nationals into the game. The Qatar Golf Association actively promotes the golf within the country and has developed a strong national team that performs on the international stage. We see the addition of our facility complementing their efforts as well as helping to promote Qatar as a golf destination.Our vision is simple: To create a place where everyone can become a ‘golfer’. We believe this can be achieved by offering new formats which are fun and exciting, regardless of ability.To do this we started with a blank canvas and worked on creating a new journey for golfers that can take everyone on a pathway from absolute beginners through to professionals. The project is a ‘World First.’ Nowhere else is anyone putting a complete journey together and connecting all the steps to create a purpose-built facility that guides players and offers as much enjoyment as possible at every stage of the journey.
Worldwide Golf: A golfing revolution in Qatar creating a new journey and pathway into the game are big claims but what makes it so special – and achievable?
ED EDWARDS: We have a simple yet comprehensive approach to growing the game. With the vision of turning Qatar into a golfing nation, we’ve carefully studied the game, listened to the experts in the industry and developed relationships with like-minded partners to ensure this facility responds to the challenges golf faces and grasps the opportunities that exist now and in the future. With golf returning to the Olympics in 2016, growing interest in Qatar and other emerging markets, the game has so much to look forward to, particularly with this project. It really will be a game changer.Our journey starts in a family golf-themed park. The first interaction with golf begins through fun and short formats, like adventure golf and foot golf. The next step encourages players to progress their interest and ambition to a double-ended driving range. On one side we plan to have the latest ball flight technology in each of the 28 swing bays, allowing both serious practice and fun gaming. Since education is vital to our vision, the other side of the range has a state-of-the-art Centre of Excellence, with swing rooms, golf fitness studio, classrooms and club fitting studio as well as extensive outdoor practice facilities.The next progression is from range to course and a floodlit Par-3 course, allowing players who have recently taken up the game to experience getting the ball in the hole for the first time. The course also allows more experienced golfers the opportunity to hone their short-game skills. Next up is a unique Championship 6-hole course, also floodlit, designed to offer a golf experience to suit different skill levels and in a reduced time period. The last step of the journey is our 18-hole Championship course which has been designed with the vision of hosting a professional Tour event. It is also where the legacy of the other steps of the journey comes to fruition.
Worlwide Golf: Qatar International Golf Club is starting a programme with the schools to educate the pupils on the benefits of playing golf. Is this initiative showing signs of being successful?
ED EDWARDS: Yes we’re absolutely thrilled to see our schools programme starting to flourish. The initiative known as the ‘Pearl Coaching Programme’ is headed up by Director of Instruction, PGA-certified Rhys Beecher, and will give more than 2,000 pupils the opportunity to try golf for the first time, all whilst the golf course is still under construction. We have launched our pilot programme and there has been a strong uptake from local schools like Qatar Academy as well as the Al Markhyia Independent School for Girls with more joining early this year. This programme stems from our vision to grow the game. We believe it’s vital to inspire today’s youth and give them a chance to grow and develop their own golf game, alongside the development of the project itself. However, we want to go beyond golf and just playing the game. A great example of this would be the ‘World Soil Day’ field trip we recently conducted which allowed 30 grade 6 students to engage with the course as it develops. The field trip included planting their own ‘Sidra’ tree, supported with a class experiment to create their own soil profiles. This unique project is constantly evolving, whether it’s on sustainability, research and development or technology, which provides a real opportunity to educate the next generation in Qatar.
Worldwide Golf: Introducing any sport to youngsters is a good idea as far as fitness is concerned but is golf also favoured for the etiquette, fair play and sportsmanship that golf also teaches?
ED EDWARDS: Although we’re offering new formats and fun ways to play golf, golf’s enduring values remain. The very reason people love this game are an essential part of everything we do. Golf is a wonderful game but beyond being fun it has a strong focus on respect, honesty and perseverance – all important values for any society. We hope that through our various programmes and initiatives young people across Doha will embrace these values even more.
Worldwide Golf: I understand that you are also coaching teachers at the schools to play golf so they can pass on their enthusiasm and knowledge of the game to the youngsters – is this the way ahead for the project?
ED EDWARDS: Yes. The Pearl Coaching Programme focuses on the ‘teach the teacher’ premise. Since last October Qatar International Golf Club has been working with PE teachers throughout Qatar to give them the skills and equipment needed to run their own sessions which introduce golf to youngsters. It’s a very innovative and effective way to engage as many people as possible. We want to support beginners in schools all the way through to professionals playing the Jose Maria Olazábal-designed championship courses when the facility opens. This is a great way to do it. In fact, our own Deputy General Manager, Mohammed Al-Naimi, was amongst the very first to go through the ‘teach the teacher’ concept to become an accredited coach. It’s the perfect example of training a Qatari who now has direct experience of what can be achieved if golf is taught in a fun and engaging way. Mohammed is already enjoying the opportunity to teach his daughters the basics of the game.
Worldwide Golf: Can you explain the role of Jose Maria Olazábal and his input into the project?
ED EDWARDS: Jose Maria Olazábal is not only a golfing legend but also an accomplished course designer. His design team have been instumental in delivering the vision and are highly passionate about QIGC. Jose Maria shares our belief that long-term growth in golf can only happen if we make the game easily accessible and fun for the kids. That lies at the heart of QIGC and therefore it is a great partnership. I’m sure the 18-hole championship course will become world renowned and known for its design which embraces the natural landscape and strategically blends in a dry wadi riverbed and ancient rock walls to offer a unique Qatari environmental experience.Additionally, Jose’s layout of the 6-hole championship course will also share the limelight and get people talking worldwide about the project. It’s bound to get more people playing, especially the young. It’s a perfect progression into the ‘proper’ game, something that has been missing from our industry where players are ready to progress from the range to the par-3 course but perhaps aren’t ready to graduate to the championship course. We hope it will encourage inactive golfers to start playing regularly again. Al l6 holes are of tournament standard and can be played in less than 90 minutes. So they offer time-pressed golfers a tremendous alternative to the 18-hole course. Additionally, we see families enjoying this course together and we have included not just one but two kids´ tees on these holes, giving a total of seven different tee boxes providing the option of hitting to different distances.
Worldwide Golf: Can a project like this really be sustainable?
ED EDWARDS: Sustainability is fundamental to our success and we look at it from three different angles: Environmental, Social and Financial.
EVIRONMENTAL: We’ve been working with guidance from the Golf Environment Organisation, GEO, the international non-profit-making organisation dedicated entirely to providing a credible and accessible system of sustainability standards for the golf industry. Therefore, our golf course construction methods, plant palette, use of TSE water, recycling etc have all been considered throughout the design and construction phases. A comprehensive sustainability operational plan will also be activated closer to opening and our Golf Course Superintendent Darren Smith has been accredited by GEO which gives him the tools to not only spearhead our sustainability initiatives, but also assist other courses in the region.
SOCIAL: Our vision in growing the game embraces the local community, therefore our schools programme has already started and our community activation events will soon begin. In addition to introducing new golfers to the game, we also hope to encourage more Qataris to become involved with the golf and leisure management industry, like our Deputy General Manager Mohammed Al-Naimi.
FINANCIALLY: We need to be financially sustainable. Our development, like most others in the world, is expected to be financially sustainable and deliver a return on the investment. That’s one of the few aspects we’re not different!
Worldwide Golf: The QIGC has some unique on and off course features – can you talk us through some?
ED EDWARDS: The project proudly embodies the Qatar 2030 vision for human, social, environmental and economic development by providing a framework to grow the game of golf in Qatar. With demand for additional golf facilities in Doha soaring, we expect the destination to make a valuable economic contribution to Qatar’s leisure and hospitality industry as a major draw for residents as well as inbound golf travel. It will offer an exciting addition to Qatar’s blossoming tourist attractions. At the heart of the project there are unique features designed to directly engage the Qatari community. For example, in respect of the local culture and traditions, QIGC also features female-centric practice facilities in an effort to open up the game to more Muslim women.
Worldwide Golf: How do you see the future of golf changing its format over the years to come?
ED EDWARDS: Golf has to continue to be more accessible and allow itself to be shaped to suit modern lifestyles. The traditional form has still got its place but if golf of the future is played over shorter or quicker formats then so be it. It’s still golf with all its excellent qualities. Every sport has to evolve and golf, especially through its Olympic status, has a genuine opportunity to grow, particularly in new markets. It’s really interesting to see in some places in North America and Europe where golf club membership is declining in playing a full 18 holes, yet different formats of the game and innovations such as top golf, adventure golf,
Par-3 courses, golf simulators, pitch and putt, etc. are dramatically rising.
Worldwide Golf: Finally if anyone turned up at Qatar International Golf Club what would they see today?
ED EDWARDS: If someone turned up today then not only would they see the desert landscape turning green but also the golf course under construction on the 128 hectares site. So far we have completed the grassing of the driving range and 8 holes of the Championship course. Our schools’ programme is underway so they should also be able to see children swinging colourful golf clubs in the sports halls of our pilot schools.The project is greatly fortunate to have an innovative client and a fantastic project management team that is working in unison to bring the golf club to life.