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19 April 2024

Monty's great designs

The Scotsman’s first foray into course design was in Dubai. (CRAIG SCARR) 

By John McAuley

When Colin Montgomerie decided to navigate his way from Abu Dhabi airport to Dubai after landing on Monday, he used his Lexus' GPS. As he scrolled the list of landmarks in the emirate, the device arrived at a familiar destination: The Montgomerie, Dubai golf club. A sense of pride swelled in him as he clicked 'select' and set off for his signature course.

Having embarked on his first dalliance with design in 2002, the former world No2 was back in its serene surroundings this week to host a corporate golf day for Aberdeen Asset Management – one of the Scotsman's primary sponsors.

Although attention would soon turn to this week's Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, which has raised the curtain on probably the most crucial year of his career, Montgomerie stressed course design was still high on his list of priorities. It has been, in fact, since he starting racking up European Tour titles as quickly as the Emirates' golf scene exploded.

"Course design was a thing I'd been pursuing for a while," says the 45-year-old as he looks out over the lush putting green at the club. "I was trying to put something together before my career had finished so that when I gave up the game I could move into it seamlessly without having to worry about what goes on.

"I wanted to overlap the design work with the golf and they have done rather well, which is great."

"Rather well" is an understatement. Montgomerie may not have enjoyed the most prolific past few years on tour – a position of 127nd in the world rankings illustrates that – but his portfolio now includes 12 playing courses with another dozen currently under construction.

His Carton House project, one of two courses situated in an affluent area outside Dublin, is now one of Ireland's most renowned golf destinations. Montgomerie's contract for the development stated that he had to commit five or six days from his swamped schedule to visit the site, but he wanted to give more, highlighting how much he enjoys this aspect of the game.

"You spend the allotted time on site, but when you go back to the computer room and see all the images that are then sent through and e-mails co-ordinated, you realise it's a lot more than that," explains the winner of eight European Order of Merit crowns. "Yet I spent triple that at Carton House.

"It's very close to home and I knew how much the Irish love their sport and how great they are at it, so I wanted to do something very special there. And it's turned out to be the best course I've designed up to this minute. I'm very proud of that."

While Carton House was built solely for golfing reasons, The Montgomerie, Dubai (TMD) fuses sport with real estate. In recent years, golf courses have increasingly been developed around holiday homes and other residential sites, as leading property firms attempt to cash in on the marketability of the game.

The model has been successfully adopted by the Scot, whose resplendent Riffa Views project in Bahrain – his second in the Middle East – opened last November.

The project's centrepiece, the Royal Golf Club, boasts some lucrative real estate, similar to those that enclose the course at TMD. Golf enthusiasts have already snapped up 850 of the 1,000 luxury apartments in the Kingdom, a figure that bodes well considering the current financial climate.

Montgomerie believes the region itself has a major part to play in its prosperity. "There's a family environment here where there's not the sort of crime you get in Britain. As a business, economically this area's been a huge success so it attracts all sorts of people and families, which is great.

"You see a lot of women [at TMD] who choose to come down here while their husbands are working, who have some lunch, use the excellent facilities or play golf themselves. It's just a good place to be."

Montgomerie admits to sharing a special affinity with the region, and Dubai especially.

His majestic drive off the 18th fairway and over the lake on the final hole of the 1996 Desert Classic was deemed 'Shot of the Year' by the European Tour, prompting Mohammed Ali Alabbar, Chairman of Emaar, to ask the newly crowned champion to help design a course on their site in Emirates Hills.

But, instead of naming it after the area, Alabbar felt a much-recognised surname had a better ring to it.

"He just liked the way it sounded, which I was all for," recalls the veteran with 31 Tour victories . "And every time I walk through the front door and my name's above it I think 'Hey, this is a bit special'.

"The big thing for me was yesterday, when I was at the Abu Dhabi airport and I wasn't quite sure of getting on to the Dubai road. So I plugged in the GPS, was asked for points of interest and typed in 'golf courses in Dubai'. "And it brought up The Montgomerie, Dubai," he reveals with a smile. "I was so pleased with that; it really impressed me.

"That's the sort of thing that shows you how much it really means to me."