Earth course - jumeirah golf - 16 POINTS
The Race to Dubai. The thing they talk about on Sky Sports for the whole year. The pinnacle of European Golf. And it all ends here.
When the course first hosted the season ending event here the houses were still half built and it was all a bit of a joke really. Well, now the houses are built, the course has fully matured and this is probably as good as it well ever be - and it's just fine.
One word of caution, before we start, would be leave yourself plenty of time to get here - when you enter the Jumeriah estate the courses is still some way away and bizarrely there are virtually no signposts to the golf, it's a good 10 minutes drive from entering the gates.
Something that surprises is that from the first tee this doesn't look like just a golf course in the middle of a housing estate. The vegetation looks far more established than just a few years old and the course is well defined around the edges with the Housing being actually fairly discreet when you are playing
The condition of the course in early February was tremendous - as good as I've ever seen from tee to fairway to green. The fairways were lush, the bunkers brilliant white and the greens perfect, this was a golf course in the very best condition.
The problem with this golf course is that until you get to hole 16 there is absolutely nothing memorable about it. The holes tend to merge into each other and they feel very samey. You drive from a slightly elevated teebox to a fairway dotted with bunkers which look hard to miss. If you do miss then you then have an approach shot to an elevated green which is very well protected with sparkling white sand. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing particularly wrong or bad about that and it is perfectly satisfactory - it's just not something you are going to be remembering for years to come.
The 16th was one of the first really memorable holes, unfortunately not for the right reasons. Three of us hit fantastic drives, melted right down the middle just to find they had hit the most sloping fairway which took the balls into a pond on the right hand side - a hole you would play very differently the second time. The 17th is a great par 3 over water - the pin was on the right hand side when we were there and you can see why it plays such a part in the end to the tournament when the pros are here.
The 18th is a cracking par 5. Stenson hit a 3 wood to 6 inches to win the Order of Merit in 2013 and won 'Shot of the Year'. There is a plaque on the fairway to mark the spot. Rory and Justin Rose have both had famous moments here as well and there's a nice video from the European Tour to remind you of those moment to whet the appetite. It certainly makes for a great finish to the round. I played my second up the right hand side with a mid iron rather than going for it and wedged on with 2 putts on this huge green for a par. It's a great setting to end the round.
So I can see why so many people like this course. It was immaculate, the service on the course and in the clubhouse was very good (if eye-wateringly expensive - 4 small cans of Heineken and 4 of the most basic cheese sandwiches set us back £60 on the course). The finish is a great one and you won't hate the other holes - it just doesn't have the wow factor of Yas or the Emirates but it's well worth playing if you are in the area.
BOOKING THE COURSE
You can book the course at dubaigolf.com who manage all the times for here as well as the Emirates, Dubai Creek and the Faldo course. They will send you a form to fill in and return by email - there is no online functionality yet. It is another expensive tee time at 995 Dirham (£190) on both weekdays and weekends. This included a GPS activated buggy.
Given the cost this is one of those occasions when it may be worth getting a quote from an operator to see if they can do you a good deal - see below!
Unlike other tours tips this is a bit more of a travelogue for our trip. I've only been there once so apologies for lack of options but here is what we got up to. The content is the same on the pages for all four courses we played.
We decided that a trip to these parts to play was likely to be a fairly rare event and so we played the best courses in the area - 2 in Dubai (Emirates and Earth) and 2 in Abu Dhabi (Yas Links and the Abu Dhabi Golf Club). This was the only course of the 4 which we played which is not on the European Tour but was probably the best. They do play a pro-am every year while the 'Desert Swing' is on and I dread to think how much someone pays to assemble what is an amazing field of the best in European golf.
We decided to go and play around the time of the European Tour being in the area. The logic being that a) the courses would be in great condition b) we could watch a bit of professional golf and c) it was a good time to get out of the U.K.
We flew in from London on the Friday night of the Dubai Desert Classic and arrived late into the airport. It was relatively easy to get through and then into our hotel. We stayed at the Marriott Harbour Suites hotel which was a great find. You can book 2 or 3 bedroom apartments for the price of a hotel room which was really well situated for the golf as well as next to the Palm and several great restaurants.
On the Saturday we watched the Classic. This will be the subject of a blog at sometime which I will link here but it was a great day. You get very close to the players, there is no problem getting around the course to watch every shot (no Chambers Bay problems here!!) and the atmosphere was great - almost like an exhibition. Anyway, more of that later.
After the golf we went down to Abu Dhabi. It's about an hour in a taxi and costs around £40. One tip is to rent an official taxi - not a hotel car which will cost you twice as much or a random car off the street as we did (which is hard to trace when you leave your passports inside. This is not a forgiving country when it comes to passport loss.....).
We cashed in a bunch of Marriott points and stayed at the Ritz Carlton which was stupidly grandiose - a real folly. It was huge, and empty. Don't get me wrong, the design was incredible but there was no-one there and I can't imagine it ever having any sense of soul whatsoever. Suited our purposes fine though!
The first day we played at Abu Dhabi Golf Club - the one with the eagle behind the 18th green - which was a great first round. We then went out to a fantastic meal in Zuma before playing Yas the second day. Something we had not totally appreciated (but became quickly obvious) was that there is no culture, no centre, nothing really at all to either Abu Dhabi or Dubai. They are merely hotels and shopping centres connected by highways. Our taxi drivers were almost all awful. In Abu Dhabi the guy taking us to Zuma had only just arrived from Nepal and without our Google Maps we would never have got there. You would never go there for a cultural trip clearly but fortunately we were there for golf.
Following Yas we went back to the Harbour Hotel for the last two rounds in Dubai and had a night out in the Barasti Beach. This had a) the advantage of being right outside our hotel and b) the advantage of being somewhere you could just go to and buy some drinks without having to order a crazy expensive meal. There are many areas where you can hang out with the expats and have a Guinness or Heineken for around £8 a pint as well as some random Irish guy singing hackneyed songs. Not bad at all in the great scheme of things......
The third round was at The Earth course (via many, many, many lost passport stops) which had a lot going for it for me (29 points took the money by some chalk) but frankly won't live in the memories forever.
There will be many who tell you that a golf trip to the UAE will be relatively calm and you won't be able to drink too much. Well we did more than well on the drink front, stayed out late and basically had a perfectly fine time. Just don't be stupid in public seems to be the sensible advice. So having done all that we just went to a 'normal' restaurant this night, it wasn't really normal as the pavement outside appeared to be literally paved with gold and the service was impeccable but as it was not part of a hotel it didn't serve alcohol and the food was a fraction of the cost of other places we had been to - we ate like kings for less than £20 a head. Therefore, my advice would be if you are not a drinker then leave the hotel and go to a restaurant instead - you will be much better off!
We returned to the Majlis, scene of the last round of the Dubai Desert Classic, for our last round. Playing it only 72 hours after the last round of the event was an amazing experience. The course was set up phenomenally and to play a course in such a condition was something well worth doing.
The last night was a trip to Nobu in the Atlantis Hotel at the end of the Palm. It was something of a luxury but if your budget stretches to it then I would suggest you try it. There was a nightclub there which kept us going for a while before a couple of hours kip and off to the airport and home.
As I say, that is more of a travelogue than normal but if you are looking to replicate the itinerary then here is how it went -
Day 1 - Fly from UK to Dubai AM. Arrive late
Day 2 - Watch Dubai Desert Classic. To Abu Dhabi (1 hour)
Day 3 - Play Abu Dhabi Golf Club (16)
Day 4 - Play Yas Links (18). Drive to Dubai (1 hour)
Day 5 - Play Earth Course (16)
Day 6 - Play Emirate Majlis
Day 7 - Fly home AM (arrive UK lunchtime)
Clearly you could truncate this by taking off the day watching the golf. The weather was great, no need for rain gear and early-mid 20s, the mornings and evenings weren't even cold and it was perfect golf weather.
The flights to Dubai (or Abu Dhabi) cost about £310 and we went in early February. The green fees for these course was £800. We didn't have to pay for hotels as we did them on point but you could stay in comfortable 4 star hotels for £400 each for the week. Drink was very expensive and food not cheap so I reckon you would need to budget £60 a day at least (the sky is the limit). All in all then it would not be unreasonable to expect it to be £2,000 for a week's trip all in.
That makes some of the tour operator's trips look quite appealing. For example, golfbreaks.com has some interesting looking deals and had we not been sorted before for accomodation it may have been one of those occasions when going with an operator was worth considering.
Would I recommend a trip to Dubai and Abu Dhabi then? The golf was fantastic quality. Yas and the Emirates were fantastic and while Abu Dhabi National and The Earth didn't quite it their heights they were were still great and there are other options too. For winter golf, I doubt there is much better anywhere in the world. Just save up before you go......
Jumeirah Golf Estates
United Arab Emirates