Life on course

Jumeirah Golf EstatesImage Credit: Courtesy of Jumeirah Golf Estates

Those who pay close scrutiny to the UAE’s billboards may be forgiven for thinking the country is full of avid golfers, so prevalent are the adverts for on-course accommodation. But developers of this growing segment of the market insist golf villas, often set around championship courses, are not just for the golf enthusiast.

Feeling of tranquillity

“The golf course brings along a very beautiful, lush green environment which gives the feeling of luxury, tranquillity, relaxation and sport,” says Jumeirah Golf Estates CEO, Yousuf Kazim.

He estimates that at least 60 per cent of those families who move into the twocourse, 16-community estates don’t even play golf — at least not at the outset. “But they love to be in this sort of community. It brings along all these advantages with it. It comes with a clubhouse that has all the facilities like restaurants, swimming pool, gym and spa. There’s a lot of facilities they can enjoy.”

CEO of Majid Al Futaim’s first golf course development Almouj, Hawazen Esber, agrees. The course, set along prime Muscat real estate, has been open since 2009, though much of the accommodation is still being developed. Almost half the 4,000 residential units are built and tenanted. “I’m not a golfer myself but it seems to be a sport that eople like. But, more than that, it seems people like to live on golf courses and this is what’s more exciting for us as developers.”

Natural eco-system

Esber says part of the main charms of the development, also home to a marina and four hotels, are the lakes on the Greg Norman -designed championship golf course. The waterways, which have fish living in them and a natural eco-system, also attract rare migrating birds during the year.

“We have already a rating of being one of the top 100 golf courses in the world and we’ve won several awards in the region,” he says.

The course is the top one in Oman, says Esber. He has just signed a contract to host grand final of the European Challenge Tour for the next four years, starting this year. “It’s appealing first for the residents because they feel this is a nice area to play golf in or even learn to play since we have a good academy,” he says. “There are more learners than professionals coming in. But we get a lot of people coming from Dubai and Abu Dhabi to play golf and we’re working on bringing in other tourists.”

Jumeirah Golf Estates also has an impressive academy and training facility, recognised by the European Tour as a European Tour Performance Institute, and it offers a real bonus for families looking to engage children in healthy, active hobbies. “I know football has always been a popular game but… we’re trying to introduce [golf],” says Esber.

Focus on healthy lifestyle

Alongside mini golf courses, the developers are looking to introduce footgolf, a hybrid sport that involves golf holes and footballs, to appeal to a younger audience. But Kazim says the golf villa residents tend to have a particular focus on healthy lifestyles across the board — that includes cycling, jogging and working out on-site. And with a growing focus on healthy living in the GCC, with its obesity epidemic and struggles with diabetes and heart disease, Kazim expects the fad of golfing villas to continue.

There is also another added bonus for residents, with many of the top golf courses attracting PGA and other professional tournaments. To add to Almouj’s European Challenge Tour credentials, Jumeirah Golf Estates has the DP World Tour Championship, while the luxury Al Zorah development in Ras Al Khaimah, due to open at the end of the year, is expected to play host to a top tournament too.

Al Zorah CEO Imad Dana says the developers expect the first major tournament as early as December. “We will be big in golfing news,” he said at the Cityscape Global exhibition in September, without revealing further details. “We have been published in many golf magazines recently in anticipation. It is an international golf course, it fits international tournaments. Nothing is confirmed yet but it’s made to be [for international competition].”

Jumeirah’s Kazim estimates the high profile golf championships, which attract around 65,000 local and international visitors, add an additional 10 to 20 per cent to the value of the houses.

Championship value

But it’s not just about having any golf course, the CEO says. A championship golf course is vastly different to a normal course, which is different again to a nine-hole training course. “A championship golf course means you will change the design of the bunkers and all the other elements in a way that will make it challenging for the golfers,” he says.

Al Zorah’s course, situated alongside the sea, has even been designed to enable the changing tide to change one of the holes, says Dana. “It’s a very nice challenging course. The tide comes in, inside the golf course. In  the morning when the tide is high you will have a different course to the afternoon when it’s low-tide.”

Almouj’s Esber also sees other opportunities to add value to the development through the golf course.

“We haven’t captured that [full] value yet in terms of developing assets on the golf course itself but we’ve started on that and we’re adding at least one hotel on the edge of the golf course and other facilities within the golf course. We’re looking into developing a bigger clubhouse and some prime residential units where your front yard is the ocean and your backyard is the golf course,” he says.

The environment

But all the developers accept golf courses in the desert can be costly from both a financial and environmental point of view. Treated sewerage effluent is used on all three courses to minimise the environmental footprint in a region where water scarcity is a real concern,  while Majid Al Futtaim’s development also relies on native aspects. “Of course there is  grass and its expensive to maintain, but everything else is native plants and there are  some areas we intend not to touch so whatever plants come we don’t remove it, so it looks very natural,” Esber says.

Meanwhile, Jumeirah’s Kazim is looking into energy-saving technology and even methods to use temperature control to enable golf to be played year round. It is these endless possibilities he sees that make him believe there is room yet for more golf courses in Dubai.

Scope for imagination

“Currently we have 11 or 12 golf courses, but when people ask me if Dubai still needs more golf courses I always refer them back to Portugal, [which has] 38 18-hole golf courses. Still you can make it different. You never know when it will stop, frankly — there’s unlimited scope for imagination,” he says.

And while golf may not be on the weekend agendas of all who live on the courses just yet, Kazim is hoping their prevalence will mean the country will start to produce a generation of champions.

“My hope, I know it’s a long shot [but] if we are hosting this event which is very important, one day, in maybe five or 10 years, we’ll have some champions from the UAE itself competing.”

Amanda Fisher, Special to Property WeeklyPW

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