Golf travel: Why you should visit the United Arab EmiratesSeptember 12, 2013 Courses & Travel
Why Abu Dhabi is now the place to go for golf in the Arabian Gulf
You wouldn’t think the pictured course was in the heart of the Arabian desert, would you? And 50 years ago you would’ve been right. Back then, the UAE was home to less than 100,000 people and was essentially a desolate block of blistering sand.
The discovery of oil in 1962 changed all that. With monumental revenues piling up through exportation of crude oil, the government sought to improve the lives of its people and invested heavily.
The world watched spellbound as billionaire Emiratis built megastructure after megastructure, seducing slack-jawed tourists and expats with everything from the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab to sensational souks, and sprawling tax-free shopping centres.
The bustling metropolis that exists now is characterised by its dredged islands, man-made waterways, opulent hotels, and an array of top class golf courses, like this one on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, which was designed by Gary Player. Saadiyat Beach is one of three Abu Dhabi courses in Golf Digest’s Middle East top-four, so it makes sense to start your Emirati journey here.
The capital of the UAE, Abu Dhabi has slowly become the cultural heart of the country. For a while, it seemed nothing could halt the steaming locomotive that was Dubai, but the global financial meltdown put pay to countless property projects. Abu Dhabi, with its larger oil reserves, escaped relatively unscathed.
The city is now leading the way in tourism and is at the centre of most of the new architecture and investment. Indeed, two new galleries – the Louvre and Guggenheim – are set to open in the next few years, while Ferrari World, a theme park home to the world’s fastest rollercoaster, is located opposite the city’s F1 track, which has a Grand Prix every year.
You wouldn’t think the pictured course was in the heart of the Arabian desert, would you? And 50 years ago you would’ve been right. Back then, the UAE was home to less than 100,000 people and was essentially a desolate block of blistering sand. It goes without saying that off the course you are spoilt for choice. And although there are only three recognised grass courses in the city, they are all superb. The Player-designed Saadiyat Beach is the first course in the Middle East to be located on the sea front.
Visually stunning, it is a serious examination paper which can measure a whopping 7,806 yards. The holes are littered with bunkers and water hazards, too. Although extremely enjoyable and respected, Saadiyat is arguably the quirkiest of Abu Dhabi’s offerings.
Abu Dhabi GC, on the other hand, is relatively traditional. The eponymous host of the city’s annual Tour event is one of the strongest on the circuit. It is slightly resort in style but very difficult and interesting. The greens are lightning quick, and the fairways and tees like carpets.
If Saadiyat is the fast-paced thrill ride, and Abu Dhabi GC is the technically-sound resort layout, Yas Links is a perfect middle ground. Renowned architect Kyle Phillips (Kingsbarns and The Grove) has sculpted what can only be described as the best example of links golf in a hot climate I’ve seen.
Long fescue grass, rippling fairways and mountainous dunes give the impression you’re in Scotland, just with much better weather. And no deep-fried mars bars. It is fair to say that Abu Dhabi GC is possibly the best all-round course in the city. Saadiyat Beach and Yas Links are stunning in their own right, but you could argue a lot less playable everything being equal.
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