Area guide: Abu Dhabi, UAE
Whether it is the height of their skyscrapers or the strength of the fields in their golf tournaments, the emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai love a little competition like only neighbours can.
In most aspects of life, Dubai is bigger. But that doesn’t of course necessarily mean better. And you could coherently argue a case that Abu Dhabi’s limited offering is pound-for-pound at least the match of Dubai’s.
Not, obviously, in terms of numbers, because it only has three courses to the 15 and counting of Dubai. But in terms of calibre to the number of holes each emirate possesses.
So, there is an impressive consistency across the courses here that is in contrast to Dubai, where variances are notable.
Peerless weather, better value than you expect and varied off-course attractions make Abu Dhabi one of the most attractive winter golf options.
Golf in Abu Dhabi: Abu Dhabi Golf Club
Lacks the seaside views of others in the city, but definitely don’t let that put you off.
It would be so easy to think of Abu Dhabi Golf Club as an after-thought in your plans given the coastal thrills you will know lie await after you’ve read more of this article. But don’t.
And don’t just include ADGC in your plans because you want to follow in the footsteps of the world’s leading players who compete here each year in the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship – although that patently also has appeal too.
Just ink ADGC on your itinerary because it’s a very, very strong course in its own right.
Unlike the other two, it is close to the city centre and an even shorter drive from the airport. And rather than sea views, the backdrop to the holes are more akin to the skylines seen in Dubai.
It was designed by Peter Harradine around seven salt water hazards punctuated by palm trees, shrubs, 90 bunkers and drystone walls.
The charismatic Harradine routed it notably astutely around the water hazards on a square site with both nine’s returning to the eye-popping falcon clubhouse, which is one of the most distinctive in the world.
What ADGC also does especially successfully is offering a mix of exacting holes and ones that give you a chance. The conditioning, too, is absolutely immaculate.
In this golfer’s view it is one of the most technically proficient courses in the Middle East.
There is also a separate nine holes of good quality as well as a luxury Westin hotel on site.
The Westin is a tempting proposition. Situated 40 yards from the 1st tee and even closer to the range, it offers standard Middle East opulence with a myriad facilities.
That could be the selection of pools you can choose from, or the well-equipped gym or the sports bar. Or it could mean the bewilderingly compressive spa, whose treatments include a golfer’s massage which for some golfers (possibly including this one) is something of a guilty/superfluous pleasure.
Let’s just imagine for a minute that I did love a massage and have had a few in various golf resorts; well, the Westin’s is the best yet.
Something I am even more obsessed with than massages are breakfasts. And the Westin breakfast bows to no golf resort.
Oh. My. God. Just a joke how good it is and there’s no way you can come close to trying half the things that look amazing. Just make sure you do have the curry. Yes I know, for breakfast. Just trust me.
Golf in Abu Dhabi: Yas Links
A slightly misleading name because it’s not Leven or Royal St David’s, but is nevertheless a Middle East coastal classic.
Yas Links is regarded by many as the leading course in the Middle East, and I wouldn’t disagree. When a new course now opens in the region, this is the standard by which most measure it.
It is a typically winning combination of a terrific location maximised by an excellent design, which tends to be what you get when you employ Kyle Phillips, who is arguably the safest pair of hands in golf course architecture.
It has been ranked in World Top 100s, but here’s my (hopefully) more tangible assessment. If I wouldn’t quite have it in the upper echelons of a Great Britain and Ireland Top 100, it would do extremely well in a Continental European one.
For my money, it would be in the top 20 of that comfortably and more like the middle of the top 10.
It is visually majestic, whether you enjoy views across sparkling water or take pleasure from rolling terrain and rough-edged bunkers.
And there are a selection of all-world holes, from breathtaking short holes to sporty two-shotters to demanding par 5s.
The common ingredient in all the holes is the clever strategy employed by Phillips. You can be penalised off the tee but it is hardly unforgiving. But the most demanding aspect is the undulations on and around the greens, making the short game here a demanding, intriguing experience.
So, the drama of this spectacular gulf-side track is matched by its nous and nuance.
“Yas Links is a very authentic links course, not only because of its rumpled, all-sand base fairways, but also thanks to the Paspalum grass that runs through tees, fairways and greens, and the areas around the greens, which are firm and fast – similar features as the old fescue grass links courses of Scotland,” Phillips told me last year.
It is located by the edge of the gulf but it isn’t what we’d expect on our coastlines simply because of the grass type. In terms of topography, challenge and aesthetics, it is.
Host to the star-studded Abu Dhabi Invitational, it is located on Yas Island, 30 minutes’ drive along (almost certainly deserted) motorways from downtown Abu Dhabi.
And if F1 is your thing, you’ll enjoy playing towards and alongside holes with the Yas F1 circuit in view.
Our Golf in Abu Dhabi guide continues on the next page, with one more showstopping golf course and everything you need to know about what to do away from the fairways…