When the first tee shot of Commercial Bank Qatar Masters 2020 is struck at the Education City Golf Club this week, it will be a proud moment for the sporting mind behind the Qatar Foundation course – legendary golfer José Maria Olazábal.
The Spaniard, who twice won the Masters Tournament – one of golf’s top four prizes – and both played in and captained winning European sides in the Ryder Cup, the sport’s greatest team contest, has turned his attention to designing courses rather than dominating them since his top-level playing career ended.
And while he has masterminded the layout of golfing venues from Spain, Italy and Greece to China and Turkey, Olazábal says the Education City Golf Club – which will stage its first international tournament when it hosts the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters from 5-8 March – is special, not least because it reflects the environment of knowledge that surrounds it at Qatar Foundation.
The project is unlike any other they have been involved in so far, according to Olazábal. He said that it was his first design in the Middle East, and it was fantastic to work in a new culture and among so many different nationalities that took part in the development.
What made it extraordinary for me were the people and the location. We are right in the middle of several universities (at Qatar Foundation) and next door to a thriving city. We are surrounded by campuses, an amazing horse-riding stadium, and now even a World Cup football stadium, all merely a pitch away.
Olazábal and his team designed all three courses at the Qatar Foundation facility, and two key themes shaped their work. First is the setting within Education City, where teaching and striving for excellence are the focus of daily life, the designer explained.
He said that they made sure that teaching receives a prominent role at the club. They deliberately designed not only very generous practice facilities with a nine-hole par three course wrapped around them, but they placed them right in the heart of the club. He said that they wanted to leave no doubt about the importance of teaching and learning, whether you are young or old, a beginner or a professional.
Second is the land itself. A wadi runs through the north-eastern part of the site and also provides a bit of an elevation change on what is otherwise a flat piece of land.
We brought out the wadi as a strong characteristic and intentionally let the course to the wadi area early on in the round, to set the tone. We repeat the theme of the dry riverbed a few times across the courses, and I am pleased with how it turned out.
Through design features such as this, Olazábal says it has been possible to make the golf course ‘interesting’ despite being on what is essentially a flat piece of land. And with its nine-hole and six-hole courses being floodlit, golf can be enjoyed all year round – in the winters, when temperatures in Doha are perfect for golf, and in the summers, having the luxury of playing in the evenings.
He hopes that both top players and those for whom golf is a hobby, a social activity, or a way of staying fit, will gain from tackling the Education City Golf Club courses.
My view has always been that the golf course should be a challenging, but also fair, test for professionals and an enjoyable, fun experience for amateurs.
For Olazábal, creating a setting for golf that can be embraced by everyone is as important as designing a course fit for the best players in the world. Golf is fun, healthy, and a sport for life, no matter at what age you begin, he said.
It is loved around the globe and I see no reason why it should not be embraced here in Qatar and across the Middle East.
The Education City Golf Club has all the ingredients, and it is a public course. You’ll find some of the best and most modern training facilities in the world here, then a nine-hole course to try out the game, a six-hole course for those pressed for time, plus the 18-hole championship course.
Olazábal said that early on, when they started with the construction works, the club initiated the Pearl Program to bring golf to schools, and it turned into a massive success. Over 10,000 kids have participated in the programme so far. This is a fantastic way to start a new club, and a great way to bring the game into the local community.