With Abu Dhabi gaining so many column inches of late for their sporting endeavours, be it ownership of Manchester City, hosting a Grand Prix or the superb Yas Island Links course, it is easy to forget about the fantastic holiday and golfing options on offer down the road in Dubai.
Famous for its year round sunshine and booming ex-pat community, Dubai is also home to some of the most spectacular courses to have opened in recent times, offering a challenge for golfers of all abilities, with some of the best facilities anywhere in the world.
With several great courses to choose from it can be difficult to know where to start, but we’ll begin at the most famous of them all, the Majlis Course at the Emirates Golf Club, home to the annual Dubai Desert Classic. A regular fixture on the European Tour since 1989 when it became the first event on the tour to be hosted in the Middle East, it has attracted the world’s best golfers, with previous winners included Seve Ballesteros, Ernie Els, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy who won his first professional event there in 2009.
The course itself is often ranked in the top 100 in the world and offers a stern test for the pros and amateurs alike. With some huge greens, getting it close is essential if you want to avoid too many three putts. And as if that wasn’t enough, there is plenty of water as well as the inevitable sand traps that flank the fairways.
In terms of signature holes, there are three that instantly spring to mind. The par 3 7th plays over a large pond that will punish anything mishit or short, and this is quickly followed by the 8thhole that doglegs its way back to the famous Bedouin style clubhouse, with a green surrounded by bunkers. Finally, as with any great course the final hole is a beauty, and is a classic risk reward. Playing 564 yards from the back tees, this par 5 has an intimidating carry over water, meaning only the biggest hitters will be able to put themselves in eagle territory.
Also at the Emirates Club, is the Faldo course. Playing 7,348 from the tips, this superb course has water in play on 15 of the 18 holes, so you’ll need to either leave the slice at home or pack a few extra golf balls in your bag! And best of all if you want to spend your day on the beach, the course is fully floodlit, so you can enjoy a round of night golf, allowing you to tee it up as last at 9.55pm!
From one Ryder Cup captain designed course to another, and the Montgomerie course is a perennial favourite amongst visitors to Dubai, and having played there twice myself I can understand why. Much like the Faldo course at the Emirates, accuracy is key, as with 14 lakes covering a whopping 49 acres, and no less than 81 bunkers, there are plenty of chances to drop a shot or two. The stand out holes are both on the back 9 in the shape of the 13th, a par 3 with a 360 degree teeing area, that means the hole can play multiple ways to a huge island green and the monstrous 18th. As closing holes go, this par 5 is certainly one of the most daunting you’ll ever face. With water either side of a thin strip of fairway, you’ll need to hit it long and straight from the tee, and with yet more water protecting the green for anything that comes up short you’ll do well to walk away with a par.
It’s not just the Brits getting in on the course design out in Dubai, Ernie Els opened his first ever course at the new Dubai Sports City complex and as you would expect, it’s pretty special. Cut into the desert, the Els Club course is one of the most incredible looking I have ever set foot on. With sand around every fairway, Ernie refers to it as a ‘desert links’, although the sand isn’t the only hazard. As you may have guessed already, they’re fond of a lake out in Dubai and there is plenty of water to swallow up any errant shots on this 7,538 yard beast. Add in one of the finest clubhouses you’ll ever enjoy a drink in, and a round at the Els Club is one you won’t forget.
Along with these courses are a whole host of other great venues to tee it up in Dubai, including the recently opened Earth and Fire courses in the Jumeirah Golf Estates complex. The Earth course now plays host to the final event of the European Tour’s race to Dubai, giving you another chance to follow in the footsteps of the pros. Other hugely popular venues include the legendary Dubai Creek Golf Club, that offers stunning views of the ever expanding skyline and plays alongside the creek which comes into play on four holes, with several lakes adding even more challenges. The legendary clubhouse is one of the most photographed buildings in Dubai, based on the sails of a traditional Arab Dhow boat, and is a great place to relax after your round.
Away from the courses, Dubai has everything you need for a great holiday from shopping to sunbathing and you can even go skiing at the incredible Ski Dubai at the Mall of the Emirates! For something a little more traditionally Arabian, a desert safari is not to be missed, with the chance to try dune bashing, sandboarding and camel riding all part of an unforgettable day out. If you want to extend your sporting rivalry with your golf buddies beyond the fairways, then the Dubai Kartdrome has a superb go-kart track. Although speaking from experience, I would recommend you don’t try this in the midday sun!
Choosing where to stay in Dubai is a tough choice, but with so many amazing hotels on offer, it is a good problem to have. For the ultimate in opulence, then it has to be the Burj Al Arab, a Dubai icon and the world’s only ‘7 star’ hotel. If the white Rolls Royce that takes you there from the airport isn’t flash enough, then how about taking a helicopter in to really show off! The latest spectacular resort that one feels you would only get in Dubai, is Atlantis The Palm at the top of Palm Jumeirah. This incredible resort is 5km out to sea at the top of the world’s largest manmade island, and boasts stunning views back over the Palm and an on-site water park, perfect for cooling down after 18 holes.
As you would expect from Dubai, there are some superb bars and restaurants to be enjoyed, with a number of celebrity chefs opening up outlets in recent years. Gordon Ramsay has a restaurant at the Hilton Dubai Creek, whilst Marco Pierre White and Frankie Dettori’s ‘Frankies’ restaurant can be found at the Oasis Beach Tower, and favourite restaurant to the stars, Nobu can be found in the Atlantis. For a real one off dining experience though, head to one of the famous champagne brunches. Taking place every Friday, you can enjoy superb food and a bottomless glass of champagne (and anything else that takes your fancy) in luxurious surroundings. Try the Al Qasr at Madinat for Jumeirah for one of the very best in Dubai.
If it’s a drink with a great view that you’re after, then the Skyview bar at the top of the Burj Al Arab is a great place to start, and also gives you a chance to step foot inside this incredible hotel if your budget doesn’t quite stretch to staying there. Close by at sister hotel the Jumeirah Beach Resort is the 360 bar. Catch a golf buggy on the jetty out to it and take in the views back towards the Burj Al Arab. For something a little more Arabian, the Rooftop bar at the One & Only Royal Mirage offers a stunning setting for a cocktail or two. If you just want to let your hair down and really join the party, then head for Barasti. Located at the Le Meridien Mina Seyahi hotel, this beach bar is spread across two levels, with live DJ and a beach bar, it is this writers favourite place in Dubai for a cold pint!
When it comes to taking home a souvenir of your trip, there are options at both ends of the spectrum from the traditional souks near the creek, to the modern malls that are popping up around the city. The two best to head to are the Mall of the Emirates, distinctive for the huge indoor ski slope bolted onto the side of it and the Dubai Mall – the biggest mall in the world. Home to over 1,000 shops and services, an enormous aquarium, ice skating rink and 22 screen cinema complex, it is a destination in itself. And to carry on the biggest in the world theme, it is conveniently located next to the Burj Khalifa, that at 2,723 ft dwarfs any other skyscraper you may have seen, and has an observation deck at a vertigo inducing 1,483 ft giving amazing views across the city and the Dubai Fountains below which are, you guessed it, the biggest in the world!