(photo: Dubai Golf Course)
14.10.2005, 19:17

Anyone for tee?


Having a sub-zero handicap doesn’t qualify you to design golf courses. Peter Harradine, Managing Director of Orient Irrigation Services and Golf Course Architect, tells FM Magazine what you need and what you need to avoid.

Having a sub-zero handicap doesn’t qualify you to design golf courses. Peter Harradine, Managing Director of Orient Irrigation Services and Golf Course Architect, tells FM Magazine what you need and what you need to avoid.



Peter Harradine.
Peter Harradine. © FM Magazine

“Golf is a great game,” enthuses Peter Harradine, Managing Director of Orient Irrigation Services and Golf Course Architect for Harradine Golf. “Golf is a game which is a drug – because you’re allowed to think. And any game where you’re allowed to think is a danger. With golf, it’s you against the golf course. My grandfather was in golf courses, my father was in golf courses, I’m in golf courses and I hope my son will be in golf courses.”


Harradine’s ‘genetic passion’ for the sport and its green arena is intense but coupled, fortunately, with a good sense of humour. The golfing tradition of the Harradine family goes back to 1920, when Albert Hockey, the stepfather of Peter’s father Don, designed his first course. Nine years later, 18-year-old Don Harradine established the present company by designing his first course in Switzerland. Since then, Harradine Golf has designed or re-modelled more than 200 golf courses in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East.


Peter Harradine set up Orient Irrigation Services 27 years ago on the persuasion of a ‘friendly sheikh’ he met at the time. Describing the company as ‘the biggest, the best and the oldest’ landscaping company in Dubai, Harradine wears both a landscape architect’s hat and that of a golf course design consultant.


Golf courses that the company has been involved with in the region include Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Doha Golf Club (pictured above), Jebel Ali Hotel Club (Dubai), Creek Golf Club (Dubai), Arabian Ranches (Dubai), Sahara Golf Course (Kuwait) and Al Hamra Golf Club (Ras Al Khaimah). Eight more golf courses are currently in progress and a string of others are making their way to the drawing board.


Harradine, who is the immediate past President of the European Institute of Golf Course Architects, is not short of opinions when it comes to the glorious game, the design of its courses and the impact the commercial world is having upon both.

What would you say are the unique characteristics of designing and maintaining golf courses in the Gulf climate and market?

Well, there is a misconception that maintaining grass here is more difficult than in Europe. And that’s not true at all. It’s a lot easier here than it is in Europe. The reason is mainly that the grass used here – called ‘Bermuda’ grass – is very heat-tolerant. Here, you grow your grass in sand, and grass grows best in sand. Grass loves sand. So growing grass in sand is very, very easy.


Maintaining it is also very easy because you have the same day one after the other here. You know when it rains, you know when it doesn’t rain. In Europe, you have a downpour one day, then it snows the next, then it gets flooded, then for two weeks it doesn’t rain, then there’s a big wind – the climate’s a big problem in Europe. You never know what’s going to happen.


Because you know exactly what’s going to happen from one day to another here, you have an artificial irrigation system with which you can use as much water or as little water as you want. You control everything here. It’s very easy.

How important is the quality of maintenance on a golf course?

Quite honestly, a golf course – and maybe with a building it’s the same – is made or broken by the maintenance. A well maintained golf course, even if the course is not all that good, will please a golfer. Whereas for a very well-built golf course that is poorly maintained, people will say ‘It’s a rubbish golf course’. It might have great views, great holes but ‘Crikey I can’t putt, I can’t hit the ball’. And golfers will take any damn excuse. If they miss a shot, it’s always the fault of the course!


The only problem here is the three months in summer. Those are killer months. There are only certain species that will survive them. So you can’t plant certain kinds of plant species here. And some species that grow very well in winter, you have to replace in summer because they just won’t survive. But there are around 400 species that will survive here.

What proportion of operating costs would you say water makes up here on a golf course?

It’s very high. These days there are new water-saving products that actually cut the consumption down by about 40 per cent. In the old days, without water-saving techniques, we used to use about one million gallons a day on an 18-hole golf course here. That’s if it was done properly. Otherwise, it would be more. Now with water-saving, we use about 700,000 gallons of water a day. But I know that some golf courses here use a lot more than that, sometimes double the figure.


They’re all on effluent water now here, and that’s a lot cheaper. Effluent costs between half and one fil per [imperial] gallon compared to potable which costs around 3.5 fils per gallon. Effluent water is very good for grass and for plants in general. Dubai and Abu Dhabi have very good effluent water.


The problem here is also that we’re very near to the water table. So as you irrigate, the water goes down and the water table goes up – and sooner or later a lot of trees die because their roots actually go into the salt water. The water table is getting higher and higher.

What causes it to rise?

All the leaks in the pipes, the sewage, the irrigation – everybody irrigates far too much. That’s why you hear people talking this baloney about re-using the irrigation water. If you are re-using the water, you’re irrigating too much. Normally, you’d put around 12 litres of water on every square metre. This means that the water would go down around 12 millimetres. Now, if it goes down 30 centimetres, you’re over-watering. If it manages to get into the drains and out again for re-use, you’re overwatering. It’s just marketing bull.


So landscaping is not all that hard here. It’s just that there are certain things you have to be aware of. Every country has its own problems.


What are your observations on how Dubai is developing as a golfing tourist destination?

If one believes what is said, there could be up to 30 more golf courses coming up in Dubai. In the next five years, they’ll definitely build another 10 to 15 golf courses.

Isn’t that too many for somewhere the size of Dubai?

The thing is, first of all, is it too many for what reason? Is it too many because they use a lot of water? OK. Or is it too many for the golf tourists? Not at all. Because the golf tourists will only go to a place where there are many golf courses. They won’t go to a place where there are only two or three courses.


So if you count the members that are already playing out there, plus the people who are going to live in the houses [around a new course] who are going to play there as well, how much is left for the tourists? There’s always a big problem between members and tourists. The members don’t want to see tourists on their courses because they don’t get tee time.


So you have to build courses for the tourists because the golfing tourist wants tee time too. And a golfing tourist will only go to a place where there are at least 10 courses. He wants to play a different course every day. Golf is a great game and it brings the ‘right’ kind of tourist. The guys that play golf spend money, so they’re good tourists to have.

How many courses exist in Dubai at the moment?

There’s the Festival City one, Emirates has two, the Montgomery, then there’s Arabian Ranches, which we built, there’s Jebel Ali, which is half a course because it’s only nine holes, then there’s Nad Al Sheba, the Creek. So there are seven 18-hole golf courses already plus a 9-hole.

Is it true that golf courses alone don’t make money and peripheral revenue-generators have to be created?

Return on investment on a standalone golf course, such as the Emirates or Abu Dhabi’s, doesn’t exist. You can’t make that money back. That’s why all golf courses now have real estate around them, because the real estate pays for the golf course. Even in Europe, golf courses don’t make money, unless they’re in the middle of a town where people will go there and pay a lot of money to play because the location is fantastic.


The concept of making money from golf courses was born in the States, where they want to make money out of anything! Every sport has been ruined because of this obsession with making money. Nobody cares about the guy who’s playing the game any more, they just want his money. And that’s the Americans’ fault, unfortunately. They’ve ruined sport completely. Everything has become an industry, a money machine.


And that’s why in America they started building houses around golf courses. They realised that they couldn’t really make money out of stand-alone golf courses. But Dubai built the first golf course [Emirates] so that Dubai would be on the golfing map, and Dubai achieved that. All members of the golfing community know Dubai. The Dubai people didn’t build that first golf course to make money, they built it for prestige, they built it so that Dubai would get known. And they’ve achieved that.


If they make an operating profit on it, they’re happy. Emirates Golf Club and all the other golf courses definitely make an operating profit, but do they get their return on investment? They don’t even know what it means!


But the golfer himself loves standalone golf courses. He doesn’t like real estate around the golf course. So everything’s a compromise.

Are any of the 10 golf courses to be built in Dubai in the near future stand-alone courses?

No, unfortunately, they are all real estate projects. Most of our projects now – I’d say around 95 per cent – unfortunately are golf courses with real estate. That’s the way things are going.



What’s wrong with property developers building golf courses?

Our main problem with these real estate projects is that a lot of these urban architects have no clue about golf courses at all. They give us areas that are much too small and that are dangerous as well because of the new equipment [bigger clubs] and all that. We just can’t do it.

The most important thing an urban architect or a developer should know is ‘Give us the plans first!’ Give your masterplan to the golf course architect first and we’ll say where to put the real estate and where to put the golf course.

The most important thing an urban architect or a developer should know is ‘Give us the plans first!’ Give your masterplan to the golf course architect first and we’ll say where to put the real estate and where to put the golf course. Otherwise it creates problems. Always.

So they obviously haven’t been doing that?

Not only here. It happens all over the world. The urban architect thinks that a golf course is dead easy – ‘Just put a dollop of green stuff in the middle here and tell them to build a golf course there’. You see these so-called ‘corridor’ golf courses where there is one long fairway which is lined with houses on either side – which is terrible. It’s very difficult to make a golf course like that interesting.


The other way is to have two fairways and again have the houses on either side. What is important to a developer is frontage onto the golf course. That’s all he cares about. He doesn’t give a damn about the course itself. So, theoretically, if a golf course is seven kilometres long, the developer can have 14 kilometres of frontage. It’s very boring and terrible for the player but the developer loves it.


So everything is always a compromise. We try to give as much frontage as possible and make an interesting golf course. That’s why we have to look at the contours and put the golf course in there first. There are courses being designed by developers that have these unrealistic bends in them. There’s one here being designed by a very famous player.

Does being a great player qualify a person to design golf courses?

No, they can’t design golf courses! They sign them and somebody else designs them for them. As I say, ‘a signature course is a course that’s been signed but not designed’. I’m often asked to design golf courses for The Bear, that’s Jack Nicklaus, and The Tiger, Tiger Woods, and for The Shark, who’s Greg Norman. So I often wonder if I’m supposed to be designing a golf course or a zoo!

What did you mean by ‘these unrealistic bends’?

On one of these courses that will come out very soon, the real estate lies in between the tee off and the green, as the crow flies. The fairway is a dog leg that bends around the real estate. But the golfer will see his target and hit straight for it. It’s a short cut. He doesn’t care if there’s a house in the middle. That is a big no, no. Many masterplans are like that. It’s being designed by one of these famous players who uses a designer, who uses another designer and basically it costs two million dollars for nothing.

Today, the golfer is like a kid with a Kalashnikov. These courses within real estate are becoming dangerous because balls are flying all over the place. The punter has no control over his ball whatsoever.

Is it possible to get the ball over the buildings?

Of course! If it’s a very good player. Especially with the new equipment. I know they are having big problems at the Montgomery, and that’s a very wide course. But balls are still hitting the real estate. Today, the golfer is like a kid with a Kalashnikov. These courses within real estate are becoming dangerous because balls are flying all over the place. The punter has no control over his ball whatsoever. Golf has become dangerous because of this new equipment. And wh have new equipment? Because of marketing, to make a buck.


You see the normal punters, the actual golfers who bring money, don’t play golf well. They’re bad golfers. So if you build difficult courses, these guys won’t go back to play on them anymore. The pros have become a hell of a lot better than they were many years ago, but the average golfer is not. Pros now average 300 yards a drive. A lot of our work now is in re-designing golf courses to get more length. But then the poor punter is going to be unhappy.


The new bigger clubs do not really help the average golfer. They’re a bit better: they can hit it now whereas before they’d miss the ball completely! However, where does the ball go? Left, right, no control.

So when you’re designing courses, do you take into consideration the typical standard of player?

Unfortunately, because of the marketing bull that we live in, the marketing bull that drives this world, unless you build an outlandish golf course, nobody talks about it. Do you think the media would ever mention a nice, good golf course where everybody has a great time? No! It’s got to be incredible, especially with the spin that goes on in Dubai. So me, as a golf course architect, I’d rather design something that’s completely outlandish and have everybody talk about it. It shouldn’t be that way.

Finally, how is it that so much business is done on golf courses?

The reason such a lot of business is done on the golf course is that it allows you to judge a person’s character. You’ll see if he gets angry, you’ll see if he can control himself, you’ll see if he cheats. Because in golf there are 200,000 ways of cheating! It’s so easy to cheat in golf. I would say that 90 per cent of golfers cheat. People take it so seriously.


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