Of all the golf courses hosting championships, Craig Haldane and his maintenance team at Emirates Golf Club are faced with the toughest challenge. Unlike his counterparts, he has to prepare the Majlis course for two major tournaments – Omega Dubai Desert Classic and the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters – in the gap of two months.
And yet, the 42-year-old South African, who joined the Emirates Golf Club the same year when the inaugural Ladies Masters was played (2006), has never failed to deliver.
Year after year, Haldane and his team have been showered lavish praise by the battle-hardened professionals for producing mint-condition playing surface.
Expect more of the same when world No2 Rory McIlroy, 14-time major champion Tiger Woods and some of the finest names on the European Tour descend on the Majlis course for the Desert Classic from February 2-5.
Haldane is a firm believer that birdies are good, and he’d do everything to create the most conducive environment to facilitate low scoring.
Speaking about his philosophy for setting up the golf course for tournament play, Haldane said: “The tour really have the final say on set-up. For my team and I, it’s to present a well-polished golf course that is good on the eye and to prepare surfaces that are pure.
“We see little value in watching the pros hacking out of rough all week…us amateurs do a good enough job of that already. Let’s see birdies and exciting finishes instead!”
The set-up, Haldane said, will not differ much from previous years.
“Rough will be tough but fair. We believe players need to have the option of going for a green knowing that the rough will do enough to prevent that shot from being held on the green as against having to hack out sideways as their only option,” said Haldane.
“We typically have three cuts of rough. A width of semi rough at 32mm, intermediate rough at 64 and our main rough at 75mm. The 32mm and 64mm are maintained daily, while the 75mm will have the final cut early on during the week of the tournament then left as it is.
“Greens here are quite flat so we have the ability to get the speeds up as desired. However, our aim as always is firmness and trueness. We have managed our surfaces well throughout the season and I believe we will be in a position to present firm surfaces this year if the weather behaves and keeps the rain away.”
Haldane said there will be a couple of minor changes on the golf course for the championship.
“We have extended the 12th tee by some eight yards and also expanded it to the left for a potential angle change on this hole, while simultaneously doubling up as an alternative tee for the 18th. Using it as the 18th tee, however, will only be decided post practice round and after some player feedback,” he revealed.
“We have further enhanced some of the mowing lines on fairways and brought the 18th in slightly at the landing area of the drive, as well as the lay-up.”
When asked if it is a challenge to present the course in championship condition twice in a gap of two months, Haldane said the key really is in keeping the course in good condition all the time, and in timing the overseeding process.
“It really depends on when we overseed and how well that takes. If we present a Bermuda course for the ladies (as we did in 2012), and then overseed after that, it’s challenging as we are doing some disruptive works between play,” he explained.
“If the overseeding is done around late October or early November and takes well, we are pretty much set for the remainder of the season.
“We aim to keep the course in great condition year round, so between events it ticks over nicely. For each event you certainly push the boundaries a bit and I believe this is the key to it all.
“You just can’t go too far too early or it potentially has a knock-on and negative effect on the events, particularly the men’s if things go south on us during the Ladies.
“Growth rates decline rapidly (on greens surfaces) from late December onwards so recovery is slow should you have any issues.”
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