Saadiyat is an island sanctuary off the coast of Abu Dhabi. Saadiyat, which translates as 'island of happiness', is one of the Tourism Development & Investment Company's (TDIC) flagship developments. Occupying twenty-seven square kilometres, the entire project is due for completion by 2020 and is created around an eco-sensitive philosophy with a special, low density masterplan.
A premier island destination, as well as a modern, integrated residential community, Saadiyat will eventually be home to an estimated 160,000 residents with a full complement of leisure and tourism facilities, as well as civic and cultural amenities.
Along with a cultural centre, marina, nature reserve, lagoons, beachside hotels and residential properties, TDIC were commissioned by the Abu Dhabi Tourist Authority to deliver the Gary Player designed Saadiyat Beach Golf Course.
Overseeing the project has been Director of Agronomy, Marcus Hastrup.
Q: How have you found working in such a creative environment and being responsible for delivering perfect surfaces in a full scale golf development such as this?
A: TDIC has been very proactive in ensuring that a quality product is delivered to the tourists and residents of Abu Dhabi. It has been a great experience working alongside the TDIC team, as they have assisted in everyway possible to complete the task in hand. It is a spectacular location, with a design and team to match. I personally find it both challenging and rewarding in managing a high class facility but, like all challenges, if you have the right team then it makes the challenges that much more pleasurable.
Gary Player has been the design inspiration behind the course. How have you turned his dream into a reality?
Gary Player, as we all know, is a legend of the game of golf. What he and his team have been able to achieve with this project is remarkable. The way that the golf course blends in with the natural beaches is a credit to all involved. He demands a lot from himself, so we have put this principle into place with the work ethic and attention to detail with our team. Mr Player coined the phrase "the harder you work the luckier you get". Our team has taken this approach throughout the project and consider that the smarter and harder we work the results will take care of themselves.
How many hectares does the golf course cover?
The golf course consists of:
• Greens: 1.8 hectares
• Tees: 3.5 hectares
• Fairways and rough: 35 hectares
• Native Rough: 56 hectares
How significant is the impact that climate conditions make on the management of the grass used once bedded in?
Like anywhere in the world, the climatic conditions have a great influence on how we manage turfgrass. Here in Abu Dhabi we experience the extreme heat of the summer whilst the winters are mild. The annual rainfall averages 100mm. With the heat of the summer, soil temperatures increase substantially and can average in the mid to high 30s. Through this period the plant becomes quite stressed and we do see a reduction in growth. The autumn and spring are our peak growing times, this coincides with our renovations of the turf surfaces to ensure that we receive optimum recovery.
as there been a specific grass type used for this golf course?
Yes, we specified warm season grasses. The fairways and rough consist of 419 Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon x C. transvaalensis germplasma), whilst the greens and tees consist of Mini Verde Bermuda grass, which has proven to be the better of the ultra dwarfs currently available. We are the first course in the region to utilise Mini Verde. In the native areas, the plan is to utilise Sand Dropseed (Sporobolus cryptandrus).
What are the growing characteristics of the grasses you are using?
The 419 Bermuda grass, which has stood the test of time for sports turf growth, is from rhizomes and stolons. It has a rapidly spreading growth habit which produces a dense sward that assists in recovery from injury.
The Mini Verde is a stoloniferous Bermuda grass with a high shoot density. It is able to tolerate the close mowing heights that are required for greens as well as having a quick recovery period from ball marks and renovations.
The Sand Dropseed is used in the outer rough areas. It is a warm-season, rhizomatous grass and takes eighteen to twenty-four months to fully mature but, once matured, it acts as a perennial tufted bunch grass. As the name suggests, it survives in sandy areas - we have plenty of that here!
Due to the slower development of the Sand Dropseed, a sheeps fescue will be utilised during the first winter to ensure that we have coverage of our native rough areas.
Being a beach front golf course is there any issues with regards to salt residue?
When we get the strong winds off the Arabian Gulf the holes that are close to the beach do get quite a bit of salt spray and residue. Although, at times, it can be frustrating it is part and parcel of a beach golf course and adds to the character of the facility. We monitor salt levels in the soil on a daily basis to ensure that we are keeping constant track of where we are at and, if we are experiencing any salt build up, we manage accordingly.
How many greenkeepers do you have working on the project with you? Where are they mainly from?
Saadiyat Beach Golf Club is managed by Troon Golf, one of the world's leaders in golf course management. We have a total of fifty-eight personnel in the agronomy team. The positions range from Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent, mechanics, equipment operators, groundskeepers, landscapers and irrigation assistance. The team is made up of Australians, Philippinoes, Sri Lankans and Indians.
Has there been any issue in getting machinery where you needed it to be on an island project like this?
With Saadiyat being tweny-seven square kilometres, and in proximity to Abu Dhabi city, we have been able to utilise the resources available to us and, therefore, we had no major concerns with machinery.
I believe the water usage practices have been managed in an environmentally sensitive way. Can you elaborate a bit on that for us?
The turf industry is very aware of the environment, and we are no exception, particularly in the UAE where water is a valuable resource. We have made every effort to ensure that we have the latest technologies in place to assist in managing our water effectively and efficiently. We have installed a live weather station that provides us with up-to-date information, such as air temperatures, wind speeds and, very importantly, evapotranspiration rates.
To further assist us, we have soil sensors placed strategically around the golf course in greens, tees, fairways and rough areas. These supply us with information such as moisture content and salts. These factors will assist us with irrigation scheduling, along with constant visual monitoring. Throughout the grow-in we have been placing catch tins to assist us with measuring the uniformity of our irrigation system, as well as monitoring the amount of water being applied. The irrigation system, in itself, is quite complex as we are running a hard line system between our native rough and Bermuda grass areas. This enables us to concentrate the water on the specific required areas.
Are any other golf courses planned for Saadiyat in the future?
Saadiyat Island has another facility in the design stage which will be set amongst the native mangroves.
Marcus Hastrup began his career in 1992 when he undertook an apprenticeship at Melton Valley Golf Club in Victoria, Australia. Two internships followed, at Bear Lakes and Indian Creek Golf and Country Clubs in the USA, before returning to Australia as assistant superintendent at Lismore Golf Club, NSW.
In 2000, he began his career with Troon Golf, working as a greenkeeper at Pelican Waters, assistant superintendent at Brookwater and superintendent at Pacific Harbour (all in Queensland) before becoming Director of Agronomy at Abu Dhabi Golf Club and, most recently, Saadiyat Beach.