2006: Emirates best of eclectic layouts
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Dubai certainly has come a long way since the Emirates Golf Club opened in 1988. There are six 18-hole courses in Dubai, with various projects under way to take that figure into the teens in the near future.
But Emirates remains the best of the bunch. In fact, this layout is one of the best PGA European Tour pros play each year. The conditioning is fantastic, and the layout is straightforward but challenging.
There isn’t really a bad hole. The only criticism that could be leveled is that the 18th is a bit too quirky for the big boys, since a good tee shot often can be punished because the ball runs through the fairway. We needn’t worry though – most of us don’t hit it far enough for that to happen.
I wish I could be as generous in my praise for other courses. But I can’t.
Colin Montgomerie’s contribution to Middle Eastern golf, The Montgomerie, won’t go down
in the history books as a classic design. It’s well presented, in good condition, easy enough to play, but not a course you have to visit before you go
to that great fairway in the sky.
The signature hole says it all. The par-3 seventh has a choice of teeing areas 360 degrees around an island green. However, having to drive around in a circle from the sixth green to the farthest tee, then walk across the bridge to the green isn’t a recipe for fast play. As the Monty Python crew might have said, enough of this silliness!
Even more confounding is Ian Baker-Finch’s Arabian Ranches layout. I can’t remember ever standing on so many tees scratching my head, wondering where to hit my tee shot. This is obviously a course you need to play a few times before you get the hang of it. Many times I hit tee shots that I thought were OK, only to find my ball in the desert, or in some scrub bush.
I left Arabian Ranches feeling as if I’d just spent 31⁄2 hours walking around in one of those medieval mazes. I’m told that the fairways and greens have been enlarged and extended because there was so much criticism. My answer would be to elevate most of the tees to give visitors a better idea where to hit the ball. It didn’t help that the sounds of hammer on steel and jackhammer into concrete were still buzzing through my head from the construction going on around the course.
The Creek has undergone a redesign since the days when it hosted the Desert Classic and is better for it. The best holes are still the 17th
and the 18th. The Creek on the left is a magnet for hookers on both holes, while the pond that fronts the green of the par-5 18th makes this a demanding, three-shot finishing hole.
The Nad Al Sheba course is unique since it is totally floodlit. The first nine holes run along the perimeter of the race track that gives the course its name, while the back nine is played inside the track. I’ve been playing this course for years, but only at night, and the novelty has never worn off. Recent renovations have toughened some of the holes and made the course slightly more challenging, but it’s not a layout that will inflate your handicap. A refurbishment of the clubhouse also has added to the experience of night golf, and a meal in the clubhouse or a beer past the midnight hour is certainly recommended.
I also enjoyed Al Badia, but then I played very well that day. The same can’t be said for my playing partners, who had a miserable time. If this layout feels like an American course, then there’s good reason for it. Robert Trent Jones II is the architect, and I’m afraid his penchant for water on just about every hole was too much for my
16- and 18-handicap companions.
The 18th epitomizes the Al Badia layout. This par 5 is played around a large lake. I’m afraid to say none of us actually finished the hole given that we each put three balls in the water off the tee. My advice on this course is to play off the forward tees, don’t get too greedy at 18 and take lots of golf balls.
There’s also a fun nine-hole layout at Jebel Ali. It’s challenging, with narrow fairways and tricky greens.
Finally, those interested in how golf used to be played in the desert can opt for Dubai Country Club, the UAE’s original 18-holer. It’s a sand course with browns instead of greens, a mixture of sand and diesel that will make you concentrate on accelerating the putter through the ball.
It might not sound like much, but it’s an oddly appealing glimpse of the past in a city that is rushing quite feverishly into the future.