Andrew Whitelaw has watched Dubai grow into one of the world’s top golf destinations since he left Longniddry behind 17 years ago to carve out an impressive career in the United Arab Emirates.
And he takes immense pride to see the Emirates Golf Club, where he is general manager, welcoming world No.1s and major winners year after year for the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
Whitelaw cut his golfing teeth in East Lothian along with the likes of Raymond Russell, who went on to become a European Tour winner, and Paul Wardell when they were junior clubmates at Longniddry.
He still has fond memories of those days but his life now is just as exciting as he looks after a membership that is similar in size to that at Gullane, the biggest in the Lothians and comparable in another way due to the fact it is also holding a European Tour event this year in the shape of the Scottish Open.
“When I came here in 1998, golf was still in the early stages of development,” said Whitelaw, who arrived in the UAE armed with a sound golfing background as well as a marketing degree at Stirling University. “There were only a handful of clubs, it was a relatively small local market and investment was minimal.
“Fast forward 17 years and Dubai is now firmly on the map as an international golfing destination. Like the city itself, the golf market has undergone a transformation in which Emirates Golf Club has played a key role. We have welcomed a lot of competition in the market locally, other clubs that have the facilities, golf academies and restaurants to compete with ours.
“To give you a feel for the pace of development at our club alone, in the last decade we redesigned one course into what is now the 18 hole Faldo, later installing floodlighting on this course; we introduced a nine hole Par-3 course, we upgraded to the most technologically advanced irrigation system, introduced the Fit Lab fitness brand and spa facility and have undertaken a complete clubhouse renovation.
“We are constantly improving our products and services. The results range from having a 1200-strong loyal member base, to the Majlis course ranking in the top 100 courses worldwide and Emirates Golf Club being the host venue of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
“When you consider that Emirates Golf Club was the first grass course to open, and that was just over 25 years ago, you can begin to appreciate the pace at which the Dubai golf market and its reputation has grown in such a short space of time.”
Whitelaw left the Emirates Golf Club for a short spell to become head of golf operations at Dubai Creek before returning as director of golf then stepping up to become general manager in 2009.
“Dubai has very high standards in the hospitality industry,” he added. “In the golfing sector, Emirates Golf Club has always been at the forefront of the market, leading the way in the quality of the experience, in the range and choice of facilities, in technology and in the development of the game.
“We are constantly looking at ways to evolve so we remain current and relevant to our members and customers and to ensure we set the standard. Our success depends on being creative, quick to move plans forward and always willing to learn. That’s what keeps everything fresh and interesting.”
By the sounds of things, Whitelaw, who has played in the Dubai Desert Classic four times himself, will be involved in hosting the event won for the last two years by Stephen Gallacher for a long time to come.
“Dubai has been good to me and my family, we enjoy our lives here,” he said. “I’ve had some fantastic opportunities to grow and develop in my work and have had the privilege to meet and work with some of the world’s best players and key people in the international golf industry.
“It’s a dynamic and exciting place to live, constantly evolving and growing and I really enjoy being part of it, which makes it a tough place to leave.”
• Turkish Airlines fly daily from Edinburgh to Dubai via Istanbul with your golf equipment flying for free.