Golfing around... Abu Dhabi 2010

26 Nov 2010 by BusinessTraveller
Minty Clinch discovers lush fairways, tricky lagoons and a whole lot of sand in the emirate.

(Click to enlarge)


Where is it? 25km north-east of Abu Dhabi What’s it like? Located on Saadiyat Island, the ambitious business and leisure development that will include a Guggenheim and a Louvre museum among its cultural attractions, Saadiyat Beach Golf Club (pictured above) opened in March. Designed by Gary Player, it proudly claims seven hectares of sand. By the time you’ve played the second hole, you may feel you’ve seen most of it, but you’ll be wrong – seven hectares is a hell of a lot of sand, and there’s plenty more to come. On several holes, it occupies half the fairway space – on others, it blocks off easy access to the greens. On a few, mostly on the back nine, great swathes combine with lagoons to create landing areas requiring pinpoint accuracy. As a breeding ground for the Hawksbill turtle, Saadiyat Beach is ecologically sensitive. To protect the wildlife, a new-generation buggy with an artificial intelligence GPS system stops you getting too close to the rough – take it too near and it won’t move until you’ve reversed it out of the danger zone. Fair enough, though rampant machines tearing up the environment to create fairway real-estate invite accusations of hypocrisy. The fifth hole sweeps majestically down to the sea and the sixth runs along the beach. Contact Saadiyat Island; tel +971 2557 8000; sbgolfclub.ae Price £102 Sun-Wed, £140 Thurs-Sat; includes buggy and balls Club hire £26 (Callaway X22), £39 with a sleeve of balls Club hours 6.30am. Last tee time 4.30pm Minimum handicap None Facilities 18 holes (7,784yds, par 72), driving range, extensive floodlit instruction area and putting green. Golf academy, individual lessons and packages. After the golf The handsome 18,000 sqm clubhouse was designed by Frank Gehry. The Hawksbill restaurant and bar serves informal international dishes from 6am-10pm daily.


Where is it? 20km east of Abu Dhabi What’s it like? Designed by Peter Harradine and open since 2000, the course hosts the European Tour Abu Dhabi Championship each January. The magnificent cement falcon, its wings spread across the top of the clubhouse and its talons hooked into a giant golf ball, makes a powerful statement of intent to hang on to the prized tournament in the face of possible challenges from Saadiyat and Yas Links (see facing page). The great bird looks out over 27 holes of lush manicured fairways, seven saltwater lakes and target greens, the same ingredients that underpin the 1980s and ’90s courses in neighbouring Dubai. Clumps of palm trees and flowering shrubs add colour and character to a tried-and-tested format. Contact Sas Al Nakhl; tel +971 2558 8990; adgolfclub.com Price Holes one-18 £135 Thurs-Sat, £101 Sun-Wed; holes ten-27 £110 Thurs-Sat, £84 Sun-Wed Club hire £38 (Taylor Made) with a free sleeve of balls Hours 6.30am until dusk Minimum handicap 28 men, 36 women Facilities Holes one-18 (7,334yds, par 72), holes 19-27 (3,299yds, par 36), plus a championship course, driving range, practice area, putting green, golf institute. 18 holes on-course instruction £155. After the golf Spike bar has been refurbished with leather armchairs and yesteryear photos. Breakfast from 6am; British favourites served throughout the day. Casa Verde, a new restaurant with a steakhouse and sushi bar, is open until 11pm.


Where is it? 30km east of Abu Dhabi, 0.5km from the airport What’s it like? Two decades ago sand courses were all you’d find in the Gulf, but in the brave new Emirati world they are now an endangered species. Thankfully, Al Ghazal has displayed the versatility required to survive. In its 13 years, it has accumulated a golf academy equipped with the latest swing improvement hardware, a swimming pool, health club, floodlit tennis courts and a football academy, in addition to the best desert golf in the UAE. Not that the sand game is to everyone’s taste. The sun seems to beat down more harshly than it does on grass, and hitting off stones and grit or a square of artificial turf can produce cruelly random results. The “browns”, made of compacted oil and sand, are wonderfully smooth and true, but as every footprint is as prominent as Man Friday’s, there’s no hiding place from extensive sweeping on every hole. No spikes please – they make too much of a mess. The front nine incorporate an archaeological site, while the homeward stretch features extensive water hazards. Yes, really. Contact Airport Road; tel +971 2575 8040; alghazalgolf.ae Price 18 holes £28 Thurs-Sat, £20 Sun-Wed; buggy £8.50 Club hours 8am until dusk Sun-Wed, from 6am Thurs-Sat Club hire From £10 (various makes) Minimum handicap None Facilities 18-hole sand course (6,711yds, par 71), putting green. After the golf The English-style clubhouse, with its deep leather Chesterfields, is mercifully cool. There is a 200-seat terrace overlooking the course and a restaurant open 8am-11pm.


Where? 25km east of Abu Dhabi What’s it like? The first links course in the Middle East, Yas Links (pictured left) opened on Yas Island in March, adding a new dimension to Emirati golf. Californian designer Kyle Phillips, venerated in the UK for Kingsbarns, has come up with another stunner. On what was flat desert scrub only three years ago, he has created the contoured fairways of the historic Scottish links. All grass courses in the UAE devour water, often inhibiting roll, but the Yas fairways are rewardingly hard and fast – or unrewardingly, when balls head purposefully into designer rough, made especially long and hairy by mixing nine varieties of grass seed. Bunkers that are strategic rather than invasive mix silica from Germany with the omnipresent local product, and huge sloping greens are a true test of nerve. Best of all, there is no encroaching real estate, just sea and scrub, with the cutting-edge architecture of the Formula One circuit and Ferrari World, the new petrolhead’s theme park, in the background. The Yas hotel, built over the F1 track, offers futuristic luxury with seven restaurants, two Georges V concept bars and two rooftop swimming pools, the perfect base for business and leisure golf. Contact Yas Island; tel +971 2810 7777; yaslinks.com Price £102 Sun-Thurs, £136 Fri-Sat (Oct 1-May 31); £68 Sun-Thurs, £86 Fri-Sat (June 1-Sept 30). Includes buggy and range balls. Academy course £17 for unlimited play on course and range, last tee time 10pm. Club hours 6.30am-6.30pm Club hire £34 (Nike) Minimum handicap 28 men, 36 women Facilities Championship course, 18 holes (7,450yds, par 72), nine-hole par-three floodlit academy course (86yd-187yd holes), floodlit driving range, practice area and putting green. Golf academy, individual lessons and packages for adults and juniors. After the golf The airy hacienda-style Hickory’s sports bar has a casual all-day restaurant offering a full English breakfast or golfer’s hamper from 6.30am, plus snacks, traditional and international dishes from 11am. Last orders at 10.30pm.

Getting there

  • A four-night stay for two at Emirates Palace (emiratespalace.com) with BA flights from Heathrow starts from £955 per person in Jan-Feb and £909 in March. Visit ba.com/abudhabi or call +44 (0)844 493 0758 to book.
  • A one-night stay for two at the Yas hotel (theyashotel.com) including 18 holes at Yas Links and transport to the course costs £205 per person – call +971 2 656 0000 or email reservations@the yashotel.com to book.
  • For more information go to visitabudhabi.ae
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