Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 29 November 2020

Forty years of sports history ends with closure of Sharjah sand golf course

Sharjah Wanderers Golf Club was founded in 1978 but a lack of new members forced it to shut

One of the UAE's last sand golf courses has closed for good.

Sharjah Wanderers Golf Club shut several months ago because of a lack of new members.

It marks the end of more than 40 years of golfing history and throws the future of the heritage game into serious doubt.

The club was founded in 1978 and, like many across the country, it was run on a voluntary basis. All expenses were borne by the members.

But membership dropped from about 30 to 15 members and, with running costs at about Dh10,000 a month, such a small number of players could not cover the bills.

I feel the game is going to disappear

Damian Murphy, former club captain at Sharjah

“Regrettably the club had to close,” said Damian Murphy, a former captain at Sharjah. “We had just 15 members and that was not sustainable. The youngest guy was 54.

“We were subsidised by Sharjah Wanderers Sports Club and we couldn’t expect that to go on. Course maintenance, water for the grass and bills were draining money from the bank.

“So we ran it for the final year, settled all our bills and closed the club at the end of May.”

Sand golf became popular in the 1950s when the early oil and gas workers carved rudimentary courses through inhospitable terrain. Oil drums marked fairways, while players carried a circular piece of astroturf to hit the ball. Not a green blade of grass was in sight.

The course was located on the outskirts of Sharjah city. Courtesy: Sharjah Wanderers Golf Club 
The course was located on the outskirts of Sharjah city. Courtesy: Sharjah Wanderers Golf Club 

In his 2011 book on the game, Abu Dhabi: The Sand Golf Years, Dennis Cox called it “the forgotten golf”. But he also notes that sand golf was the only game in town from the 1960s until the emergence of grass courses in the UAE in the late 1980s. It is also more environmentally friendly and costs a lot less to play. Eighteen holes at Sharjah was just Dh100 for non-members.

But the game has rapidly lost ground. Dubai Country Club closed in 2007, effectively ending sand golf in the emirate. Another course closed in Al Ain a few years ago.

An international world sand competition held in Abu Dhabi in 2004 and 2005 did not stem the tide and just two courses are left in the UAE: one close to Ruwais in Al Dhafra and the other at Al Ghazal Golf Club beside Abu Dhabi airport. But the future for Al Dhafra is also uncertain. The game lingers on in other parts of the Middle East and Africa but it is on borrowed time.

"I feel the game is going to disappear," said Mr Murphy. "People played sand golf because there was nothing else. They had to make do. But then came Emirates Golf Club, the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club and grass courses everywhere."

The 18-hole Sharjah course – a section of the Sharjah Wanderers Sports Club – was unique as it combined grass and sand fairways with browns, as greens are known in sand golf, which are made of compacted sand. The land was never owned by the club and it has now been taken over by the equestrian club. The golf course is now no more and another chapter in history ends.

“Time moves on,” said Mr Murphy. “And the world is worse off for it really. But these things can’t keep going."

Updated: November 17, 2020 11:54 AM

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