Golf, we’re often told, is in a fraught position, faced with slagging participation, decried by critics as exclusionary, widely cast as an environmental blight. What to do? Maybe the answers lie in a far-flung country with a bone-dry climate, a tiny golf-playing population and a pock-marked record on human rights.
Introducing Qatar International Golf Club, a mega-golf development in the Arabian desert that aims to be an easy-access, eco-conscious playground for golf enthusiasts of all stripes.
Details about the project were unveiled Tuesday at the Golf Business Forum in Shanghai. Though the club won’t begin to open in phases until 2016, based on advanced descriptions it sounds like a panacea for golf’s myriad pains.
At its core, the development will have an 18-hole championship course, designed by two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal.
But because golf is a tough game, and 18 holes can be a time-sink, the club will also sport a high-tech driving range, an instructional center and two shorter Olazabal-designed layouts: a six-hole track, and a nine-hole par-three course. There will also be a hotel, a spa, a shopping center and assorted family-friendly diversions.
“I believe long term growth in golf can only happen if we make the game easily accessible and fun for the kids and that lies at the heart of Qatar International Golf Club,” Olazabal said in a prepared statement.
In addition to kids’ programs and shorter courses, the club plans to expand its reach through “female-centric practice facilities” that appeal to Muslim women while respecting “local culture and traditions.”
All this will play out in what has been depicted as an eco-friendly setting, designed in step with guidelines from Golf Environment Organization, an international outfit that lays out sustainability standards for the golf industry.
Early promises, of course, come easy. But growing the game seems like a reasonable goal in a country where golf participation could hardly get much smaller. According to a 2011 study by KPMG, Qatar’s population of some 2.1 million people includes just 7,000 golfers, fewer than 100 of them native Qataris.
None of which should be surprising, given the country’s history with the game. A former British protectorate, Qatar didn’t welcome its first layout until 1949, a sand-and-oil course constructed by a petroleum company and used primarily by expat workers. The country’s first championship track, the Doha Golf Club, opened in 1997 and remains the only grass course in Qatar. It has hosted the European Tour’s Qatar Open every year since 1998.
Ambitious as it is, Qatar International Golf Club is a long way from the country’s biggest sports page news. The decision by soccer’s governing body to award Qatar the 2022 FIFA World Cup has been a stubborn source of controversy and concern. Aside from allegations about corruption in FIFA’s bidding process, critics have complained that Qatar is ill-suited to host the Cup, citing, among other problems, the country’s searing climate and its checkered reputation with human rights groups. In the run-up to the Cup, Qatar has been pushing forward with a range of projects aimed to appeal to well-heeled residents and tourists.
Among the myriad amenities included in the master plan for the Qatar International Golf Club are blueprints for residential units and a soccer stadium that will be used in the 2022 Cup.