For your bucket list: Ayla, Jordan
It is a blend of ancient and modern attractions. It mixes the most basic lifestyle with luxury living. It stirs the soul as deeply as it indulges 21st Century whims. And it is as rich an experience as a visit to a country can be.
A golf holiday in Jordan is, you might have already guessed, far from standard.
Indeed even describing it as a golf break is possibly even stretching the usual terms of reference for what we expect to happen on this sort of thing, given Jordan has only one course.
So, your options for sating your thirst of the Royal & Ancient game are limited. If a golf holiday to you means eight rounds in four days on six different courses, this probably isn’t for you. But if you’re starting to make that judgement, I respectfully suggest you are making a mistake, because it means you will miss out on one of life’s great experiences.
The golf element is provided by Ayla, a Greg Norman design in the southern city of Aqaba. It is one element of a new high-end resort complex complete with marina, hotel and beach clubs.
It compares favourably with lots of Middle East courses and is the most fun and playable design by Norman I’ve experienced.
It will host the groundbreaking Jordan Mixed Open in April, when players from the Challenge Tour, Staysure Tour and Ladies European Tour compete in the same event.
And I predict Ayla will be a fine host, with players of all ages and both sexes enjoying being able to attack so many of the holes – unless it is especially breezy, which is entirely possible.
Ayla is, as I’ve already intimated, only one of the memorable stops on this Jordan adventure though.
Whether you fly into Aqaba or into the capital Amman in the north, you should explore almost the length of the country before or after the trip’s golf aspect.
I flew in and out of Amman, meaning it was the second part of the trip that the golf element dominated.
Amman is the capital but as you’ll soon realise, it is overshadowed by other attractions in Jordan. Even so, it should not be overlooked.
It is a bustling hillside metropolis with shops, bars, restaurants and cafes to enjoy, and in the amphitheatre and citadel it has historic attractions that would literally not look out of place in feted tourist cities Rome or Athens.
A morning and afternoon is just about enough there – although if you have more time than I did, it’s worth spending a half day in Jerash, north of Amman.
If your schedule does not allow that though, you instead start moving south, initially destined for Petra three hours away. This is one of the Seven New Wonders of the World and is increasingly popular with tourists. Simply, it amazes you around every corner.
It is hard to know what takes your breath away more: the enormous carvings into stone or the staggering natural beauty of the rock formations that reach into the sky. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was filmed here and the scenery is so jaw-dropping it feels almost as if man created it to be a film set.
It is all soaked up by foot – well, you can also hire a donkey! – snaking through narrow openings between sheer walls of rock to get to the Treasury – one of the highlights – and then a more rugged section over rocks to reach the famous Monastery at the end.
You need to set aside more or less a full day in Petra, while some people spend 72 hours here to soak up all the geology, archaeology and intricate carvings. However long you allocate to Petra, you’ll never forget it.
I then drove to Aqaba and set up base at the Hyatt Regency hotel within the Ayla complex, but you could stop off at the next amazing destination of the trip – Wadi Rum – which is more or less halfway between Petra and Ayla.
This also looks like it was built to be a film set and guess what, it was shots of Wadi Rum in Lawrence of Arabia in 1962 kick-started Jordan’s tourism industry. It’s hosted many films since, including The Martian, with Matt Damon describing Wadi Rum as “the most spectacular and beautiful place I have ever seen, and like nothing I’ve ever seen anywhere else on Earth”.
You can drive yourself in for a quick look at the Wadi – a valley of sand cut interspersed with towering islands sandstone and granite rock that is also known as Valley of the Moon – or you can go on a tour in a 4×4.
Or you can do as we did and do a tour then stay overnight in a Wadi camp, which includes a traditional Zarb dinner of chicken and rice cooked in exotic herbs and spices in the ground for hours and served with a selection of sensational dips.
The Bedouin who still live here are your guides, drivers, waiters and chefs, and reflecting on their simple existence is a stark reminder of the superfluous nature of much of modern life.
The overnight stay is glamping, Bedouin style. So you won’t wake up with a sore back, just a spectacular view out of your tent.
Nevertheless, you might be glad to return to the luxury of the Hyatt at Ayla. It is a smart, modern hotel with an infinity pool, good gym and excellent spa, a superb Lebanese restaurant and swish bedrooms. It’s also under five minutes from the golf club.
Head to the next page to see what our travel editor thought of the course…