RAK builds golfing oasis

First freehold property projects and now its own top flight gulf club. Construction Week plays 18 holes at Tower Links Golf Course - Ras Al Khaimah’s latest high profile development project.

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By  Colin Foreman Published  April 17, 2004

RAK builds golfing oasis|~|TowerlinksBody.jpg|~|Tower Links will be ready for play later this year|~|Until the opening of Bahrain’s Formula One circuit, Dubai has been unquestionably the region’s premier sporting destination. Events such as the Desert Classic, the Dubai Tennis Championships and the World Cup have planted the emirate firmly on the international sporting calendar. Critical to developing Dubai’s sporting reputation has been the construction of world class venues, such as the Emirates Hills Golf Club, Nad Al Sheba Racetrack and most recently Dubai’s own Autodrome. The other Emirates are now sitting up and taking notice. Ras Al Khaimah will soon have its first golf course as it attempts to cash in on the sporting dollar. Construction Week visited the project. Initial plans for Tower Links began after Sheikh Faisal bin Saqr Al Qasimi approached turnkey golf course provider Hydroturf at the end of 2001. The company then embarked on a six month feasibility study and budget assessment period. The most obvious and largest stumbling bloc was the availability of sufficient water to support the 18 hole course “Before a project like this can begin you have to realise that in the summer months the course will require a million and a half gallons of water each day,” says Colin Baxter, managing director, Hydroturf International. “You might have the land and you might have the money, but without enough water the project can’t begin,” he adds. Ground water is commonly used for water supply, but with the sea so nearby this water has a high salt content, about 14 000 ppm and is not suitable for growing standard grass. However, to overcome this problem, salt tolerant paspalum grass was used so that the groundwater could be utilised. However, seawater tide still posed a significant hurdle in the construction of the course. In some areas around the course, the tide rises by up to 1.8 m. “Our main concern was the root structure of the grass so we had to build up the golf course area by 3 m, so that even with a tide of 1.8 m the course still had a balance of over 1 m for the grass roots,” says Baxter. Sand fill material was brought in to give the course the desired shape. The design of the course incorporates four lakes that provide three or four days supply of water should the irrigation system suffer any problems. “Although saltwater can be put on the grass, the trees and green landscaping need clean water so one of the lakes has fresh water,” explains Baxter. With a solution to Ras Al Khaimah irrigation problems at hand, work commenced on the design of the course. The blueprint of the course had to take into account the scarcity of fresh water. For instance, the sandy waste areas replace the rough areas that flank the fairways. Vegetated ‘rough areas’ are possible in Europe where wall-to-wall irrigation is not necessary, just the greens and the tees require watering. In the Middle East rough areas cannot be used to fill out the course because wall-to-wall irrigation is difficult, due to the obvious water shortage. “For the design of the course we worked back to how much water was available. It is designed with a lot of sandy waste areas to reduce the amount of grass cover needed, which reduces the amount of water required,” says Gerald Williams, landscape architect, Hydroturf International. “To fill out the course you can do one of two things - you can do a lot of landscaping or do sandy waste,” comments Williams. Another concern during the construction was the preservation of the mangrove areas adjacent to the course. This meant that the chemicals and fill material used on the course had to be carefully considered. To ensure that environmental concerns were effectively dealt with the course gained ISO 14001 accreditation. This meant that there were periodic checks to assure the course was adhered to the policies of the ISO certificate. “It was important that the local community knew the mangroves were not going to be chopped or destroyed,” says Baxter. The combination of the mangroves, landscaped greens and the sandy waste has created a ‘unique’ golfing experience in the UAE, say the course designers. “No other course will have the contrast between mangroves, landscaping, green grass and the sandy waste areas,” says Baxter. According to Williams, playing over and through mangroves “is a different type of hazard.” Furthermore, the large sandy waste areas will help high handicap golfers to get out of trouble. “This a good tourist course, [which] is very enjoyable for people to play,” says Williams. Originally, the golf course was to be located south of the new Khuzam Road. However, after discussions with the client it was felt that the course could struggle because there are not as many local golfers in Ras Al Khaimah as there are in Dubai. In an effort to augment the income of the course, the owners decided to open up the north end of the Khuzam Road for real estate. This required a major change to the initial design. For the clubhouse, the client wanted something that reflected and combined the traditions and history of Ras Al Khaimah and the need to be functional and practical. Three different architects were invited to submit designs. The design proposed by Brewer Smith Brewer was eventually given the nod. “The clubhouse design is very much an architectural statement for Ras Al Khaimah,” says Williams. The upper floors of the building will be for social events with a bar and restaurant, while the area around the tower will accommodate a fine dining outlet. The office will also be on the upper floors. The changing rooms, pro shop and gymnasium will be situated on the lower levels. With the main body of construction completed in two years, the course has just opened. Final work on the course and clubhouse is due to finish in September 2004.||**||

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