Although he didn’t receive a paycheck, Craig Haldane got a big payoff from his first experience with golf course management.
While he was taking college classes in his native South Africa, Haldane needed to find a six-month work placement program to accompany his schooling. Having worked in his youth as a starter and pro shop attendant at nearby Fancourt, Haldane asked the resort’s director of golf, Jeff Clause, whether he could use him.
“He said, ‘I don’t have a place for you in our golf operations, but you can come and work on the golf course with the greenkeepers. And, oh, I can’t pay you anything either.’ That’s where it all started for me,” Haldane says. “I literally fell in love with golf, and the rest, as they say, is history.”
Haldane, a 12-year GCSAA member, has been a major player in history-making Emirates Golf Club in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where he is director of golf course maintenance. The first all-grass golf course to open in the Middle East, Emirates GC pioneered professional golf in the region. It hosted the first European Tour event held outside mainland Europe in 1989, one year after it opened, and that tradition continues this month as the Omega Dubai Desert Classic comes to town Jan. 25-28. It will mark the 11th professional event that Haldane has prepared for.
Mentored by superintendents such as Greg Leckie at Fancourt, Haldane spent five years in Bahrain, growing in another all-grass course. “The environment we were growing turf in was just so harsh. We needed to have a very good appreciation for the specific management practices required. I guess you could say it was the turning point for me,” says Haldane, who with his wife, Aneisha, has children Zahra and Haydn.
A single-handicap golfer years ago (“When the decision to become a greenkeeper was in the cards, I thought my golf could only improve. Boy, was I wrong,” he says), Haldane now has a prime view of the world’s best players. Past champions of this tournament include Seve Ballesteros, Ernie Els, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods. They play on bermudagrass, and Haldane uses treated effluent water as he keeps a close eye on soils and leaf tissue. It’s his honor to do it.
“I think having been the first event to be held outside of mainland Europe was what made it what it is today. The fact that this was quite literally an oasis in the middle of the desert made for unbelievable footage that went worldwide and got people talking,” Haldane says.
Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.