YAS LINKS - 18 POINTS
It sounds ludicrous before you arrive, the idea that someone could have created an authentic links experience in the middle of the utter nonsense that is Abu Dhabi. Because, let's face it that's what Abu Dhabi is. 50 years ago fewer than 100,000 lived there. It is a land of immigrants, many of those from the West are looking for a fast buck and a good life while those from the east toil to build it. Well, something like that.
There is nothing remotely classy about Abu Dhabi from what we saw on a very short tour. Maybe we just didn't see the good bits. There are massive signs of wealth and huge grandiose statements of power but it is all pretty vulgar for sure. And then there is Yas Links.
Kyle Philips is the architect and that is pretty obvious for anyone who has played another of his courses before you have finished even the first hole. It is wide open, with some clever sculpting and the lines into the hole are more important than an unerring accuracy of the tee. Fans of The Grove and Kingsbarns will not be disappointed, more than anything it actually reminded me of Castle Stuart, another open design - if not a Philips.
What is truly remarkable about this course is that is plays like a fantasy links golf course. The fairways run fast, the greens are hard but true and fair and it is perfectly possible to play bump and runs, or putt from a mile around the green. The only part of the set-up I would say doesn't play like a real links course are the bunkers - the sand in them was far from a North Berwick or Gullane consistency and it seemed hard to really get under the ball. That irony was not lost on us!
This is links golf really on steroids. All but one of the par 3s are on the water - 8 holes in total and there is no links course in the world which would command such a topography so consistently. I cannot imagine how much earth was moved a couple to sculpt this course out from the desert and then to maintain it with such a feel to it.
Of course, the whole thing is contrived and unfortunately the surroundings do remind you of that. When we played there was a massive construction taking place behind the first green and then you have a host of 5 star hotels next to the course on the back 9 before facing Ferrari World as you play in. You never therefore get any sense of being away from it all, from every hole you can see some man-made architecture or some gratuitous show of wealth being built.
Yet, the course itself is wonderfully playable. I had something of a mare out there but even I could appreciate that the fairways were wide, the carries were never crazy (playing off the right tees) but often breathtakingly picturesque. I would say that this course has had more 'must take a photo' moments than almost any other I have played. So much so that I would say it is almost impossible to pick out a signature hole. If I had one criticism it would be that the 18th is just a ridiculous hole. It's 569 yards off the middle tees, playing with the water hard along our left all the way before a thin strip of lands leads to an isolated green. It is beyond most mere mortals to score a par on it which seemed a shame for a finishing hole.
When it came to scoring this course none of us had any doubt that is would be an 18, the only question was how high up. For me, it was better than Kingsbarns by virtue of the ground playing even more linksy (amazingly!) and the views being even more spectacular. Castle Stuart probably just pips it as it feels a more 'natural' layout but still with making the most of the water. What great company to keep though and definitely the pick of the UAE courses we saw.
There was only one drawback with the whole thing and that was the pace of play. It was chronic. We asked to walk the course and we were looked on slightly oddly and following a phone call to the pro we were told we could as long as we kept up with the group in front. Oh, the irony. It took us 5 hours and a half hours to get round and we waited on every shot - we could have played it twice in the time. There were few long walks from green to tee and not too many lost balls given the wide fairways but the problem was there were several groups on the course who appeared to never have set foot on a golf course before.
On returning to the clubhouse we saw an advert which meant this was quite possibly the case 'have a week of lessons and then play the course'!. The marshals on the course recognised the issue after the third hole, and did nothing which made any difference at all. We saw people missing the ball completely, taking well into the double figures on short par 3s and basically having no sense of getting around a golf course at all. We played it in February, I can only imagine how hellish this would have been in the summer's heat. Did it ruin the experience? No. Could it have been a much better experience? Absolutely yes.
The club itself seemed like a really nice one to be associated with. The service in the clubhouse was great, the atmosphere really nice and there were lots of deals around to bring along guests and enjoy what was a truly remarkable course.
BOOKING THE COURSE
This was the best course we played in the UAE and was the cheapest and was good value I thought given the incredible experience we had. We paid 650 Dirham (about £125) which included the cart which we didn't use. We didn't ask for a discount for walking the course - I think it is unlikely the answer would have been a yes!
I emailed the course a few months before we wanted to play at email@example.com to be told that booking opened 5 days before the desired day. Not wanting to risk not getting a tee time I asked them if they could consider again and the request was passed to the head professional who gracefully acquiesced. I then had to email a credit card details form which they didn't charge but would have if we hadn't turned up. If truth be told that all seemed a bit of an unnecessary palava but it all happened pretty quickly.
This is one of those occasions though where I would consider using a third party site such as golfbreaks.com to book through as they do seem to have some good deals - worth giving it a go.
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 (here 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, and have some interesting looking deals.
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......
Yas Links Abu Dhabi
P.O. Box 128008
United Arab Emirates
Phone: +971 (0)2 810 7710