Chris Bertram on the high-class resort in the middle of Dubai whose verdant feel makes you think you're on a tropical island.
There are naturally plenty of cultural and practical differences between the Middle East and Europe. Some predictable, some less so.
Into the latter category, along with things like disinterest in solar energy (I’m no scientist but it feels like a missed opportunity) and perplexing road systems (guys, you had the ultimate blank canvas of an empty desert in which to plan perfect cities), are the absence of golf resorts.
As in, a golf course and a hotel on the same site and owned by the same company.
This is surprising. They love building golf courses in the Middle East. And they absolutely adore hotels. Hotels are the things Middle East life revolves around; it’s where, due to laws on ‘hops’ and ‘grape juice’, all the best restaurants are and where most people go out to bars. But it’s also where people meet for coffee, go for spa days and have gym membership.
Yet despite this hotel-centric culture, I reckon there are only three venues that can be considered 18-hole golf resorts in the whole region (Jebel Ali has nine holes): Abu Dhabi GC and the Westin; Al Hamra in Ras Al Khaimah; and the Address Montgomerie in Dubai.
The last of the trio is one of golf’s secrets in the Middle East. It has a lot of high-profile neighbours, literally, but its quality should be far better known.
It is, without question, the place to stay for a golf break in Dubai.
Geography alone makes this the case. Within 10 minutes’ drive you have two more of Dubai’s top-five courses, as well as arguably the best area in which to spend an evening.
One of the courses, Dubai Hills, is part of the same group along with Arabian Ranches and terrific play-and-stay deals incorporating the trio are available. The other club is Emirates GC, home to the Majlis course that hosts the Dubai Desert Classic every January.
At night, you can get to the bars and restaurants of Pier 7 or famous beach bar Barasti so easily, and cheaply (£2). So if you are put off the idea of a golf break in Dubai due to a fear of the unknown among the skyscrapers, hopefully this will persuade you that you really ought not to be intimidated.
Address Montgomerie has a lot more than just a good location going for it though.
Set in the heart of the Emirates Hills development, it has a super-playable Colin Montgomerie-designed course and one of the best and most distinctive (in a positive sense) hotels in Dubai.
The five-star hotel has won accommodation awards and I’m not in the least bit surprised. It is a boutique hotel of only 22 rooms and oozes class.
You won’t find the bling and glitz that make lots of hotels here just a bit OTT for probably lots of Britons’ taste, just sophisticated interior design matched with the highest quality products, amenities and services.
You’ll love the handcrafted leather details, the linen on the huge beds, the gourmet coffee and tea station, the opulent bathrooms and the in-house music and movie library. And you’ll appreciate the helpful and contentious staff, who routinely greet you by name and when charging something to your room from the pool menu, do nothing more than simply check they’ve got your number correct (they always did).
Breakfast is a la carte and al fresco, and a frankly glorious experience. Good luck deciding between the myriad tempting options, just make sure you make the shakshuka with lamb sausages one of your choices.
It’s wise to leave a gap between what will inevitably be a long and substantial breakfast and playing golf. So you can, in addition to the pool, head to the Spa and be pampered there. There’s also a well-equipped gym that is used by golf club members as well as hotel guests.
In fact that’s a point worth making; the Address’ play and stay arm is probably secondary to its role as a golf club. It is one of the most lively and popular golf clubs in the Middle East, with close to 300 members and a real buzz to the place at lunchtime.
It’s easy to see why so many ex-pats choose it as their club, because it is located in the middle of Dubai yet enjoys lush green surroundings.
So you get the iconic backdrops of uptown Dubai and Dubai Marina on lots of holes (my guess is even more than at the Emirates) but all in a cocoon of verdant relaxation that makes it easy to forget you are in the heart of one of the world’s most vibrant cities.
There are other reasons golfers are attracted here: the Troon-managed club has floodlit practice facilities, a nine-hole par 3 floodlit academy course and two golf shops – because one is never enough.
Plus there is one of the region’s top courses. Set within 265 acres of manicured fairways lined by powdery sand, landscaped gardens and lakes, Address Montgomerie is championship in length but its main aim is not to beat you up.
That is definitely not the case at all of Dubai’s courses but the Montgomerie is playable, forgiving and frankly just good fun.
The fairways are wide so you can swing away freely off the tee, but there is also plenty of challenge in locating greens that are often elevated and usually very well guarded by sand.
Water plays a significant part too, not least in the all-world finale, which is a suitably stellar climax to a terrific back nine.
The course is routed in two loops of nine, either side of the clubhouse/hotel, with the short 8th probably the pick of a solid opening half.
The stand-out second nine opens with a solid par 4 that plays over the undulating ground and mounding – almost pyramid-like at times and frame the fairways along with sprinklings of palm trees – that are such a feature here.
It is elevated, well bunkered, has run-offs around the green and is not especially big – and is a reminder that while the Montgomerie is not brutal, it has bite.
The quirky approach to 12, the ground every bit as funky as you’d find at Cruden Bay or Prestwick, foreshortens the approach and then once on it there is some cool movement in it to work out.
Then comes one of the Montgomerie’s highlights, an unforgettable par 3 entirely over water, the green reached by a bridge. The sheer expanse of water in front of, either side or, and behind the green – in the shape of the UAE – make it seriously intimidating… and thrilling.
There are a variety of tees, as on every hole, and off the Blacks from a very different angle – 3 o’clock on a watch face compared to the 6 o’clock position of the others – it is utterly fearsome.
The 14th also has water at the front of your mind, the land all linked by adorable wooden bridges helping to traverse some of the 14 lakes on the course. There’s more of it on 17, too, another short hole that plays over it even if there is more dry land around the green – including Church Pew-style bunkers – than on 13.
But it is once again the only thing on your mind on the aforementioned last, with water eating in off the right initially but then also on the left and in indeed around most of the green. It looks like a thrill-a-minute stadium-type hole but there is actually a good deal of strategy to it. But as ever, fun is to the fore.
“Within the group we have three courses, Arabian Ranches and Dubai Hills as well as the Vida Hotel group, which gives us a lot of golf and a lot more rooms than we have here, so if there are larger groups we can cater for them at Vida,” says Montgomerie’s director of golf Michael Neider.
“They are three different courses too, obviously with Dubai Hills being the world’s best new course and a lot of buzz around it and phenomenal conditioning.
“Arabian Ranches is a proper desert-style course with target golf tendencies of narrow fairways, which your better golfer possibly prefers, especially off the tee.
“Then we are more of a resort style I suppose. So you have a lot of variety to choose from.
“You can definitely get around our golf course ok, the greens are probably its defence. There are some outstanding holes out there, not least the 18th; there are some interesting decisions to make on the par 5.
“It’s a great finish actually because you stand on that tee box and you see the Dubai skyline and it looks incredible but then you think ‘ok I gotta play this hole and there is water all over the place!’ Around sunset it is pretty special.”