Mind the golf balls: RAK Rugby enjoys new home at driving range

The club has been looking for a permanent base for years and has finally found it at Al Hamra Golf Club

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It has taken a few decades but RAK Rugby finally has place to call home.

In true Ras Al Khaimah style, it is a bit unusual.

The club has a permanent home at the Al Hamra Golf Club, where it has the run of two international size pitches and a state-of-the-art clubhouse.

This is a driving range and one of our two pitches. We do a quick check for golf balls

By day, the field doubles as a driving range.

As evening falls, golfers hit balls out on to the rugby field as rugby players warm up. Before long, the golf balls that dot the pitch are cleared and the rugby team takes over.

“This is a driving range and one of our two pitches,” said Liam Bruce, 24, the men’s coach, showing off the field.

“We do a quick check for golf balls.”

The men's team played their first home match on October 18, defeating Dubai Sharks 56-5 before crowds of Ras Al Khaimah residents cheering them on from the banks beside the pitch. By the end of the match, several had decided to join the team.

It was an landmark for Ras Al Khaimah sporting history.

Rugby has been played in the emirate since 1969 and its current rugby team was established in 1981 as the RAK Goats. The team proved to be as scrappy as their original namesake, achieving varied success over nearly four decades without ever having a permanent base.

But success on the pitch, endorsement by Ras Al Khaimah's royal family and corporate sponsorships eventually led to a permanent home at the five-star golf club.

“Call it fate, call it whatever you want, but there’s been a lot of hard work put in by a lot of people over a long period of time,” said Ryan Reaney, the chairman of RAK Rugby. “We’re just lucky to be here in the moment to see it finished.”

Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates -  RAK Rugby  (red) vs Dubai Sharks (blue) game at Al Hambra Golf Club.  Ruel Pableo for The National
RAK Rugby take on Dubai Sharks in their first game as their new home. Ruel Pableo for The National

The team previously trained at Tower Links golf course in downtown RAK. Prior to that, they were based on a sand pitch at the Bin Majid Beach Resort.

As Ras Al Khaimah's population shifted south to new developments outside the old city, the 30-minute commute into town became a challenge to attendance.

It has doubled since relocating to the emirate's more populated Al Hamra area.

The new fields yields technical advantages too. For instance, the new fields have goalposts so players can practise kicking.

Home games were previously played in the neighbouring emirate at the Sharjah Wanderers club, a 50-minute ride in a mini bus. Sometimes, they played in Dubai.

The team looks forward to hosting its first home tournament on January 31, where 12 women's teams will compete.

As the men warmed up on Wednesday night, the RAK Rugby women did a video analysis session in the member's room of Al Hamra Golf Club.

"For the last three seasons we've been going to everyone else's tournaments and we've had to host our tournament at the Sharjah Wanderers," said Kylie Masur, 31, the Canadian captain of the women's team.

“To be able to have our own place, show them what RAK’s about and have the home field advantage for us, is going to be massive.”

The rugby club will share the field with the emirate's Gaelic football club, the RAK Ropairi. The new clubhouse will have the colours and logos of both teams painted on its walls later this week.

“I’m from Northern Ireland and you see back home, there’s a lot that divides people,” said Mr Reaney.

"I would challenge you to find anywhere in Ireland where a rugby club and a Gaelic [side] were so collaborative. That's what rugby and what sports is about. It brings people together."

The team can now devote its energy to developing a junior team and community outreach projects, including work at schools and beach clean-ups in the season ahead.

The move takes rugby back to the community, said Mr Reaney.

“People come from their home countries, they arrive and they’re not sure where they’re going. They end up getting a studio or a one bedroom apartment in a place they don’t know anyone and it can be very lonely, expat life can be. Our goal is to act as family.

"Our motto is 'one club, one team' because that’s what we are. We are here to support each other, and that doesn’t just mean on the field, it means off the field as well.”