Grass is greener at Saadiyat course

Club launches on Wednesday and will slash its maintenance costs thanks to environmental innovations, the developer says.

Environmental innovations at the Saadiyat Beach Golf Club will slash the costs of maintaining the world-class course, its developer says. The golf course, the first element to be completed in the capital's multibillion-dollar cultural hub, is set to launch on Wednesday. The cost of maintaining a golf course in a harsh climate can be as much as US$250,000 (Dh918,262) a month, analysts estimate.

But Abu Dhabi's Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC), the master developer of Saadiyat Island, says the course has been designed to minimise the ecological impact as well as the maintenance costs. The course will use 60 per cent less water than one in a similar environment. As watering is a major expense for any golf course, this means Saadiyat Beach's costs will be lower, said Alan Gordon, the executive director of marketing and public relations for TDIC.

The course was designed by Gary Player , the renowned South African golfing champion and course architect. "One of the reasons we picked Gary Player is because he has a strong affiliation with the environment in his approach to course design," said Mr Gordon. The 152-hectare course has 10ha of sand bunkers, three lakes and 34ha of indigenous grass for the rough and surrounding areas, helping to keep the course's water consumption down. The course also has four desalination plants to provide the vast quantity of fresh water needed to keep the fairways and greens in good order.

"Water is becoming a more and more valuable resource," said Mr Gordon. "There are approaches where possible where we try to reduce operational costs while keeping a good experience for the golfer." The island will eventually be home to 160,000 people, the same population as Oxford in the UK, as well as home to the Guggenheim and Louvre museums. Nine hotels will be built on the Saadiyat Beach strip. The St Regis, Rotana and Park Hyatt resorts are expected to open next year.

The entire development, which will be completed in phases up to 2020, originally carried a price tag of $27 billion, but this figure has changed as construction costs and plans have altered, the TDIC said. The golf course is an important feature of the island as Abu Dhabi aims to attract high-spending visitors. The course opens with the Saadiyat Beach Classic, a charity tournament that continues on Thursday with international golfers such as Rory McIIroy and Darren Clarke.

The course would offer some opportunities for membership, but would also be easily accessible to the public and groups, Mr Gordon said. "Golf is a key high-value product that many destinations throughout the world are using to attract higher spending tourists," said Carlton Carugati, the general manager at the International Association of Golf Tour Operators (IAGTO). Golf holidaymakers spend on average 30 per cent to 50 cent more per person per day in a destination than the average leisure tourist, while the global golf tourism industry is thought to be worth about ?15bn (Dh77.85bn) per year, IAGTO reports.

Holidaying golfers account for more than one in 100 leisure trips across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and they spend an average of ?250 a day on a week-long golf holiday, 26 per cent of which is spent on playing golf, the KPMG golf advisory practice reported. "In recent years, the business of golf has witnessed unprecedented growth in the UAE and Dubai has been at the forefront of such development," said Mark Sandilands, the senior manager at the practice.

"More recently, we have seen Abu Dhabi enter the sector with a number of golf-related projects being launched." Another golf course, designed by Robert Trent Jones, is also planned for Saadiyat Island and a links championship course is due to open on Yas Island this year. "It is also important to note that the majority of new golf developments in the UAE and broader Middle East were primarily being built to support the sales of larger residential developments," said Mr Sandilands.

"Given this link between golf and real estate, we have seen the majority of golf projects in the Middle East being frozen or even cancelled over the last 12 months."