Five Of The Finest Golf Courses In The Middle East
Maybe you’re a beginner. Maybe you’re a scratch golfer with custom-fit clubs. Either way, here’s the good news good news: the Middle East has become a wholly uncompromised playground of courses – a wildly diverse line-up that can tease, test and torture.
So, take your pick, book ahead – and make your move.
Meet The Founding Father
The Majlis at Emirates Golf Club, Dubai, UAE
Until a few years ago, a lush golf course in Dubai may have been just as crazy a notion as, say, indoor ski slopes and man-made islands.
Dubai’s debut on the world stage can be traced back to The Majlis course, inaugurated in 1988. (Legend has it that HH Sheikh Mohammed asked American course designer Karl Litten to choose the site for the region’s “best possible golf course”.)
Litten plumped for a site just outside city limits; it had a dune, which stood out amidst the flat terrain. That elevation became the eighth green of the Emirates Golf Course, the first green golf course in the Middle East.
Playing this par 72 course - that stretches 7301 yards - is best likened to chess; your next move needs to be cunningly plotted for a winning score.
With several dog-leg holes, it’s a true risk-and-reward course. After a bruising middle stretch, the back nine (featuring several par 5s) is rife with scoring opportunities. But it’s the closing stretch – including an opening to drive to the green on the 17th – that makes it one of the most exciting finishes in the world.
The pain of a tattered score card can be soothed with chef Izu Ani’s brand of contemporary Mediterranean comfort food at Carine, the restaurant adjacent to the striking club house.
The Majlis, and sister course The Faldo (designed by six-time Majors champion Nick Faldo) are presented in mint condition year-round. Hundreds of native species of flora – and seven lakes – dot the meandering fairways. Occasionally, a desert fox might cross your path while playing under the floodlights at night. Our advice? Roll with it.
USP: It’s the permanent host venue of the Dubai Desert Classic, a tournament whose honour roll of players includes Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Ernie Els, Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros.
Star Rating: 3.5/5
Contend with the Elements
Al Mouj Golf at The Waves, Muscat, Oman
Windswept and dramatic, Al Mouj (‘The Wave’), is situated on an offensively pretty seafront site, fringed by the cerulean waters of the Gulf of Oman.
Shut out the din of planes flying overhead (Muscat International Airport is next to the course), and focus on the series of strong holes and fairways funnelling into man-made and natural wadis. The links-style course, set against the backdrop of the craggy Hajar mountains, is peppered with designer Greg Norman’s signature bunkers. Large, quick-playing greens and undulating fairways means a variety of lies while hitting second shots.
Patches of waste areas and thick scrub make up for the absence of roughs – the premium is on finding the fairways.
Your biggest adversary here: the fresh wind off the Gulf.
Notorious holes include the 5th, which plays almost 160 yards to an island green, and the infuriating par 4 18th, which plays along the coastline.
Al Mouj mesmerised a field of pro golfers earlier this year when it hosted the Oman Golf Classic on the European Tour. English golfer Eddie Pepperell, often irreverent but fast gaining reputation as one of the game’s deep thinkers, tweeted that the course was the best he had played in the Middle East.
USP: Norman has rated Al Mouj an even better course than his Earth at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
Star Rating: 4.5/5
Work Up a Sweat
Earth course at Jumeirah Golf Estates, Dubai, UAE
The second Greg Norman design on this list acquired its must-play status because it hosts the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, one of the biggest events on the European Tour schedule.
If its design is less than spectacular, blame it on the fact that it was originally supposed to be a resort-style course. Once Dubai bagged hosting rights of the tournament in 2009, the Aussie legend had to toughen it up for the 60 players who qualify for the season-finale.
A few tees were moved back, a few bunkers added – some in the middle of the fairway. As the course has matured and gained definition (some 2,000 trees were planted during construction) it’s become quite the ball buster.
At 7,675 yards, Earth is the longest championship course in the Middle East. Norman wanted to have a gentle start, a tough middle section and then a treacherous closing run.
The mile-long stretch of the last four holes, nicknamed ‘The Green Mile’, was purpose-built to be so hard that players felt they were being taken to the gallows.
USP: A brutal final few holes that include a treacherous island green – on a par 3, no less.
Star Rating: 4/5
Navigate the Water
Dubai Creek Yacht & Golf Club, UAE
Dubai Creek enjoys a unique place in golf history – it’s one of only two golf courses to be featured on a currency note. (The UAE’s Dh20 bill features the stunning dhow-shaped clubhouse; that honour is shared with the Old Course at St Andrews that was on a limited edition five pound note.)
The golf course is right on the money too. The par 71 layout, redesigned by current European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn, is supposed to be a laidback resort-style course, but it can test the keenest golfers.
The 16th is a long and challenging par 3, which requires an accurate shot to tricky green complex. The 17th and 18th are both par 4s that play alongside the creek with fantastic views of the iconic clubhouse, designed by architect Brian Johnson. Take our word for it: anything slightly left off the tee will meet a watery grave.
USP: Yes, it’s the closing stretch that gets a lot of attention, but your lasting memory might be the 6th, where you tee off from a platform over the water.
Star Rating: 4/5
Have an Instagram-worthy Finish
Yas Links, Abu Dhabi, UAE
Yas Island, with its Formula 1 racetrack, and ginormous theme parks, is our kind of fantasy. And dialling up its getaway appeal is Yas Links – a chimera in the desert, built by dredging and sculpting millions of cubic metres of sand into 110 acres of coastal dunescapes.
Go past the gates with the Old Tom Morris statue and behold the Kyle Phillips-designed golf course: a piece of Scotland transplanted on Abu Dhabi soil.
This is as linksy as it gets: firm fairways, almost natural ‘blow-out’ and pot bunkers, fescue, mounds, roll off areas, swales. Phillips, who has to his credit such gems as Kingsbarn and Dundonald, doesn’t disappoint with Yas Links. Every shot played on the 18 holes, eight of which are on the coastline, demands creativity.
The closing stretch – overlooking the shiny red-roofed panorama of Ferrari World – calls for a cerebral approach to shotmaking. The 16th, 17th and 18th are as much about clever placement of shots, as they are about missing a plethora of hazards.
USP: Book an afternoon tee time to drink in glorious sunset views across the mangroves and the Gulf – almost as spectacular as the course itself.
Star Rating: 4/5
WHERE PAR IS A VERY GOOD FRIEND…
Five signature holes that will test your mettle.
The 8th hole, The Majlis course, Emirates Golf Club
Set against the shimmering backdrop of Dubai Marina’s skyscrapers, the 459-yard, par 4 8th is a tough one to play – it needs a strong tee shot and punishes the slightest error.
The 11th hole, Al Mouj Golf
The ‘Great White Shark’, as Norman is called, designed this lengthy hole playing to an elevated green, with the turquoise ocean beyond testing your nerves.
The 16th hole, Yas Links
A bit of cerebral shotmaking can win you this 420-yard hole. Battling fresh gusts off the Arabian Gulf, you’ll need two good shots to the heavily bunkered, long and slender green.
The 18th hole, Earth, Jumeirah Golf Estates
A thin, vein-like falaj cleaves this nerve-wracking, temper-fraying, three-shot hole in half. Even the best tee shots don’t get assured results – unless you’re Rory McIlroy or Henrik Stenson.
The 18th hole, Dubai Creek Golf & Country Club
It ain’t over till it’s over on this treacherous 421-yard hole. The pleasure of teeing off to the view of the iconic clubhouse quickly fizzles while staving off the dangers of the creek on the left of the fairway, and the long bunker on the right. A par here calls for a celebration.