As the year-ending Race to Dubai hurtles to its climax, the golfing world will be turning its eyes to the Middle East and all that golf has to offer in that part of the world. Dubai is easy to get to and makes for some great winter sun, so if you are thinking of heading that way for some golf then here are some tips and things to take into account.
First things first, what’s the golf like?
You'll find courses which are really well conditioned, with very good service and expensive tee times but no more than you would pay for similar quality in many parts of Europe. There is probably only one real world class course here at the moment but I have ranked those that I’ve played. Click on the course name for full reviews -
Yas Links (Abu Dhabi).
This has to be seen to be believed. Kyle Philips has created a modern wonder, a course that plays like a Scottish links with many jaw dropping holes. Wide fairways make it playable but you will need to be on your game to score well
Emirates course (Dubai).
This is probably the most established of the top tier courses and has hosted the Desert Classic since 2006. Some great holes in there and the iconic 8th tee shot will get your cameras clicking.
Abu Dhabi Golf Club
The one with the big falcon clubhouse. A very playable course but the lasting memory will probably be of the 9th and 18th holes dominated by that big bird behind.
Earth Course (Dubai)
Another course which only has a couple of standout holes, and they come at the end. However, the holes before that are perfectly serviceable and the course has matured well.
Saadiyat Beach (Abu Dhabi)
The most ‘resorty’ of them all and you will find a course which is set up for people to have fun and get around. Gary Player has a few too many questionable fairway bunkers for my liking, but no-one's perfect. Even Gary Player (although don’t tell him I said so).
The first 4 of these courses are generally ranked as the top 4 on the region. The newly opened Trump Dubai hasn’t had much play yet but I have heard from a couple of people who have seen it, that it is the best in Dubai already. I’ll be playing there in January and expect it to be biggly good.
Is the golf pricey?
I would say for the quality – great condition and service – it’s not too bad. Green fees at the above courses are between £130 and £200 at peak time on the weekend (which is Friday and Saturday here) but they all have good offers for off-peak play too so while it’s not cheap you will get more bang for your buck than at many UK courses where you may pay the same.
When’s the best time to go?
A better question may be when not to go. Unless you are a real masochist you should avoid the summer months. You can have a look at the climate data here and draw your on conclusions. Basically, it is too hot for most mere mortals to play between May and September but November – March are pretty perfect. You also have the advantage of being away when northern Europe is shivering which always cheers up everyone’s Facebook timelines!
Another good thing about this trip is there is only a four hour time difference from the UK, so jetlag’s not too much of a feature compared to some other long haul destinations.
Can I easily combine Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the same trip?
Absolutely. It is only just over an hour between the two and transport is cheap – a taxi from one to the other will set you back around £50. If you are seeking out the very best golf in the area then the trip between the two is well worth the effort.
Any tips for food, drink and shelter?
Some things in Dubai are quite expensive for sure, but with a bit of planning you don’t have to break the bank. A really good 4 star hotel on Yas Island, like the Radisson Blue, will only cost around £70 for a twin room for the night if you book in advance. And many will be delighted to hear that the good old Premier Inn has made it to these parts too – enjoy the good night guarantee!
Alcohol is generally only served in hotels and they definitely are trying to put you off consuming too much with the prices. Expect to pay around £10 for a pint of beer. Food isn’t marked up as much generally but you won’t be far away from London prices.
You needn’t worry about not being able to get a drink, if that’s important to you, and the hotels have gone out of their way to make sure there are bars with a good range of different themes so you should be able to find what you are looking for. Just note the point below about not being arrested.
Is there anything else worth doing when here?
It all depends what you are into really. If you like shopping in huge, vulgar malls then yes. If you like going for long walks in the countryside away from it all then, er, no. This whole place is basically just one shopping, food and entertainment sprawl. Personally, that doesn’t float my boat so I stick to the golf, but it may be worth spending a half day having a little tour just to get a feel for the place. You probably don’t need much more than that.
What’s the best way to organise a trip?
You can book online at all of the courses listed here and they are absolutely set up for tourists obviously, that’s why they exist really. Many of the staff you come across will be from the UK and it’s all very straightforward. Having said that, I have seen prices for packages on the likes of yourgolftravel.com and golfbreaks.com and they do often offer a discount over booking yourself, so it may be worth speaking to them to see if they can take some of the hassle out of organising it and save you a little cash.
What about human rights?
The media get incredibly worked up about the Open being held at all-male clubs in the UK but not a murmur is heard when it comes to hosting events in the Middle East – totally bizarre. There is a massive gulf between the rich (lots of whom play golf) and the workers who toil to serve them and some may find that uncomfortable. And this is far from a democracy. At the very least it’s worth reading up on the country you are visiting and going into it with your eyes open. There are a couple of articles here and here which may help you do that.
But I can still have fun surely?
Well, yes you can. And often you will feel that you are in a pub or club that could be in the south of Spain, but I would suggest you make sure you never forget where you are - keep your arms by your side when you’re out and about, for well documented reasons, and act civilly at all times. Magaluf this is not.
Any other tips?
Both times I have visited, it has coincided with big golf events – the Dubai Desert Classic and the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship. I would thoroughly recommend doing the same if you can. Entry is pretty much free to visitors and you get really up close to the players in a way you never will in the UK. The Emirates dig deep for appearance fees to assemble fantastic fields, so you are almost guaranteed some big names up there at the finish. The HSBC was particularly good and had lots of ancillary entertainment around the golf which made for a great day out.
The other tip would be to try and fit in some night golf. Both Dubai and Abu Dhabi have several options and it’s well worth experiencing.
So there you have it. Dubai is definitely a viable option for a winter golf break as long as you can tolerate the lack of culture, expensive beer and totalitarian regime. The greens should be rolling well though.......