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Classic course: Al Mouj Golf, Oman

Why this Greg Norman design and its seaside holes make a golf holiday to Oman (yes, really) an essential experience, insists Chris Bertram.
 

In Britain and Ireland, the game flourished by the sea not just because the land was ideal for the creation and maintenance of a golf course but also because it was not deemed valuable by anyone else.

As a result of linksland being so readily available to golf pioneers in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Britain and Ireland’s coastlines are relatively packed with courses.

In contrast, the reverse story is true in countries where golf developed later.

Even in the Algarve and Spain, where the game took off in the late 1960s, seaside sites were snapped up by hard-nosed real estate and hotel entrepreneurs rather than romantics eager to build another great golf course. This paucity of coastal drama is why water’s edge holes such as those at the otherwise unremarkable Vale do Lobo are so revered and is one of the reasons why modern courses that do have seaside stretches, such as Estonia’s Parnu Bay, catch the eye.

Further afield, there are even fewer opportunities to play by the coast. In the Middle East, for example, despite its hundreds of miles of sandy coastline, there are only a handful of chances.

It is a key reason Yas Links is so feted; it’s not a links as British golfers expect, but its Gulf-side location makes it undeniably captivating. Fellow Abu Dhabi course Saadiyat Beach has some coastal holes and Al Zorah in Ajman has a unique (albeit brief) tidal element.

But for the most prolonged action by the sea in the region, you need to go to Oman. Yes, Oman.

There’s more golf than you think in Oman. Much more. And its headline act is undoubtedly Al Mouj Golf, whose Gulf setting helps to explain why it overshadowed many well-known courses to finish hard on the heels of Yas in second place in our benchmark Middle East Top 25 ranking.

Al Mouj starts with an inland hole but thereafter you get regularly breathtaking views from tees, greens and fairways  perched on the edge of the Gulf.

The jaw-dropping par-3 2nd plays directly down to it, and then the three-shot 3rd and short 4th play right alongside it. Even when Al Mouj then turns slightly inland, water awaits on the 6th, a long par 4 where the lake on the right is never out of your mind.

That’s also the case on the start to the back nine and then on the 363-yard par 4 13th and the gorgeous mid-length par 3 that follows it, those latter holes being cleverly laid out around another lake.

They are the appetiser for the tasty climax though, with the final four – a 4, 5, 3, 4 finish – all played hard to the gulf with the snaking 18th an all-world finisher.

These spectacular holes aren’t the only reason for Al Mouj’s appeal though. It is a Greg Norman design and this golfer’s favourite course by the double Major champion.

Often on his courses it can feel as if he forgot not everyone can drive the ball as long and as straight as he could in his pomp (in fact, no-one in the whole world could, even in that glorious era of Faldo, Lyle, Woosnam et al – never mind us inconsistent mid-handicappers).

At Al Mouj though, his design lets you enjoy the scenery. It would have been a crime for it to be anything else, but crimes do happen on good sites. Here though, rarely are you so nervous and preoccupied over your shots that you can’t lap up the setting before and after you’ve hit.

That’s not to say it isn’t a challenge. It’s hosted the European Tour after all. But it gives you a chance to hit decent drives without devastating penalty, and around the green it is generally set up to promote successful recovery shots rather than dismiss them.

It seems obvious, but think about the last 10 ‘big’ courses you played and there’s every chance at least half of them seemed like they were desperate to penalise you.

Play vaguely well at Al Mouj, though, and you will get a lot back from it, and not just some Like-gathering pictures for Twitter or Instagram.

If you like the sound of Al Mouj but Oman seems like a long and slightly odd place to go for a golf holiday, here are some other reasons to keep thinking about doing it.

Firstly, there’s more golf, much more. In addition to Al Mouj there is fellow Middle East Top 25 course Muscat Hills and also Jebel Siffa.

They aren’t in the class of Al Mouj but if you’re the type of group/couple/family who want more than one golf course to play on a week-long trip, they will work out just fine.

Secondly, Oman is amazing. It has an even better climate than the UAE, and has more charm, history and natural interest.

When you’re not playing golf or relaxing by your pool in perfect temperatures, you could be taking a day trip to one of the Jebels (mountains) in a 4×4. We went up Jebel Akdhar, taking in some spectacular but do-able walks on the peaks and having a traditional, memorable lunch with a local family.

On the way there, explore Oman’s former capital Nizwa, which is packed with history. We booked this trip with Oman Golf Tours and, trust me, you need a 4×4 and a guide for it.

On another day, head for Wadi Shab, a truly stunning river canyon where the adventurous can swim all the way to the source and capture the beauty of its iconic waterfall. En route, swim in Bimmah sink hole, a cavernous hole in the ground filled with glistening water.

You can snorkel and dive off the world-famous Daymaniyat islands or spend an afternoon wandering around the souks of fascinating Muscat. The bold among you (we did), can take a day trip (with Oman Air) to Salalah, which is literally a tropical oasis in the Middle East.

So there is much more than just Al Mouj to lure you to Oman. But Norman’s course and its coastal allure is a good place to start.

How to get there

There are regular direct flights to Muscat from London Heathrow with Oman Air, and on a few days a week from Manchester. Expect to pay upwards of £500 for them. But there are also a lot of connections available that don’t add too much to your flying time and make it a lot more affordable (in that weird way two flights is often cheaper than one). Once there, hire a car – driving is stress-free – or use taxis, which are cheap.

Where to stay

The Kempinski is in the heart of the swish Al Mouj complex that also has shops, restaurants and the course. It oozes class in a way few Middle East hotels do. The lobby alone is sensational but chic. There are lots of restaurants to choose from – the Indian one is a must – and there are some terrific beverage deals, from wine evenings to a lively Friday pool package (Friday is their Saturday). There’s an infinity pool to chill by, a sandy beach yards away from that, and a predictably high-calibre spa and gym.

When to go

This is a real advantage, because Oman has THE perfect climate. It is genuinely a year-round destination because even in the summer – which is oppressive in the UAE – it is absolutely glorious. We actually went in the hottest month, August, and were never melting. Yet in December it is also heavenly. If you want a recommendation, I’d go for March to May, when you will definitely enjoy a hit sun but it won’t be humid.

Chris Bertram

Chris Bertram is a specialist in all things golf courses.
He was born and brought up in Dumfriesshire and has been a sports journalist since 1996, initially as a junior writer with National Club Golfer magazine.
Chris then spent four years writing about football and rugby union for the Press Association but returned to be Editor and then Publisher of NCG.
He has been freelance since 2010 and spends the majority of his time playing golf and writing about the world’s finest golf courses.

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