Timeframe: Landmark creek golf club put Dubai on world stage 30 years ago

Architecturally stunning, Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club was a bold statement in a region still suffering from the Gulf War

Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club on New Year's Day, 1993, weeks before it opened. Getty Images
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For all the monumental, record-setting projects that define Dubai today, one building that helped introduce the city to the world was a relatively diminutive dhow-shaped structure.

The Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, was the city’s bold statement to whoever was hesitant to visit the region as it emerged out of the 1991 Gulf War. It also signalled the nation's penchant for curious architecture.

A world-class course with an instantly recognisable golf club was meant to show that, in spite of uncertainty perceived from the region, Dubai was a safe tourist destination.

Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club is still a landmark in Deira, even against the soaring towers huddled in the skyline. The clubhouse is renowned for its design that reflects the lateen sails of a traditional dhow. It was even featured on the back of the Dh20 bank note.

It was designed by British architect Brian Johnson, who has been behind several other projects in Dubai, including the Emirates Golf Club, Bab Al Shams and, more recently, Al Seef, a cultural and retail development along the creek that takes its cue from the traditional wind towers of Bastakiya, more commonly known as Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood.

The clubhouse opened on January 28, 1993, with a party that was unlike anything Dubai had seen at the time. Welsh singer Dame Shirley Bassey performed in front of 2,000 guests, including Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai. It was also one of the first events that featured a lavish fireworks display. It was a novelty for Dubai, a city that would come to be renowned for its frequent light shows.

“It needed to say Dubai. And it was by the creek, an important part of the city where all the dhows would shelter from the storms,” Johnson said in a 2018 interview with The National. “The difficulty was turning it into a building. From every angle, you can see a dhow sail.

“It's like a favourite child and has a special place in my heart.”

Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club is not only about tourism. The UAE’s first golf academy was established there. It also featured a driving range, par-three course, putting green and advanced golf studio to entice those who may have never picked a golf club before. The golf course, designed by architect Karl Litten, was overhauled in the mid-2000s.

Since its opening, the venue has also become a frequent entertainment venue, hosting the likes of Stevie Wonder, Sir Rod Stewart, Roger Waters and Sir Elton John.

“When you have the Eiffel Tower in the background, everyone immediately knows you are in Paris. So it is a symbol of Dubai,” Johnson said.

“The creek has a special place in my heart. It is in a fabulous location, a fabulously visible location ... It was a fantastic opportunity to do something a bit different and we pulled it off. Dubai made it possible.”

Updated: June 23, 2023, 6:01 PM