They do it in Dubai

They do it in Dubai

Emirates Golf Club’s Craig Haldane shares relatable management strategies from one of the world’s most unusual places.

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March 11, 2018
Guy Cipriano
Course News Personnel Management Show & Event Coverage
Craig Haldane’s view of Dubai changes whenever his eyes leave turf level.

“It’s amazing,” he says. “You become a bit oblivious to it. You look back, wipe your eyes and you go, ‘Where did that come from?’ We have been enveloped by the city. It’s a very unique skyline. Some people have the oceans and the mountains. We have that skyline backdrop.”     

Haldane is the director of golf course maintenance at Emirate Golf Club, a 45-hole facility boasting the first 18-hole grass course in the Middle East. His maintenance philosophies are akin to the city where he works: continuously changing as the bosses aim for grandeur. 

Emirates Golf Club hosts the Omega Dubai Desert Classic and Omega Dubai Ladies Classic and plays a leading part in the sprawling city’s shift from an oil-based to a tourism-driven economy. Haldane visited the United States last month to describe the scope of the Emirates GC operation to Golf Industry Show attendees. Even in a predictable climate – Dubai averages 2 annual inches of rainfall – Haldane strays from mundane maintenance, a point he imparts when interacting with global colleagues. “Don’t be scared to try something different when you have the opportunity to make a difference in our industry,” he says. 

What can American superintendents learn from somebody managing an elite facility in a water-deprived region? Plenty.

Embrace cultural differences 
Dubai Golf, which manages Emirates GC, employs more than 950 people from close to 50 countries. Philippines, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Australia, England, Mexico and Spain are among the nations represented on Haldane’s team.  

“In terms of the management, it’s really about creating an environment of inclusion and development,” says Haldane, a South African who moved to the Middle East in 2001. “That’s something I am really passionate about, making sure the guys are valued instead of coming to the course and doing what they’re told. It’s about making them part of the process. At the end of the day, we all have common goals.” 

Don’t push it 
Think the Southwest is toasty? Consider what outdoor workers in Dubai experience. Average summer highs exceed 105 degrees with humidity levels hovering around 60 percent, Haldane says. June, July, August and September are miserable. “The only way I can describe it is when you check the heat in the oven,” Haldane says.

Emirates GC, surprisingly, receives summer play, with tee times beginning at 6 a.m. Dubai regulations prohibit outdoor work between noon and 3 p.m. from June 15 to Sept. 15, but Haldane says it’s common for him to pull employees off the course at other times because of dangerous conditions. 

“There are situations at 9:30, 10 a.m. where the humidity is sky high and it becomes quite dangerous,” he says. “It’s really a feel thing. They understand it. You have to learn to manage your own expectations in terms of what you expect from the team. I preach to my guys – listen to your body. I’m not going to come down on somebody for taking a five-minute water break. You have to be sensible.”

A crowded schedule – the Omega Dubai Desert Classic is in January, overseeding commences in late October and the Omega Dubai Ladies Classic is in December – means Emirates GC must aerify all 45 holes during the summer. 

Provide housing  
Dubai Golf demonstrated tremendous foresight by constructing employee housing for employees. Haldane estimates 90 percent of the club’s employees live onsite. An allowance is given to employees seeking offsite housing on their own. Onsite housing along with lights on the Faldo Course allows Haldane to easily schedule split maintenance shifts. 

“I’m very, very blessed I have the onsite accommodations,” he says. “It saves the crew so much time during the day. We do the split shifts in the summertime, so they can go to their rooms and then comeback.” 

Emirates GC has a crew of 68 workers. Labor accounts for 55 percent of the maintenance budget, he says.

Guy Cipriano is GCI’s senior editor.