A unique golfing treat awaits you on the edge of Muscat when Oman opens up to visitors again. I for one will be loading up the car and breaking for the border to play at Ghala Golf Club.
It is the oldest golf club in Oman and also — just like the UAE — celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Originally a nine-hole sand course, Ghala has developed into a beautiful grassed and manicured 18-hole track that will test the skill and nerve of golfers of every standard, even the professionals. In fact, Ghala has played host to both the Mena Tour for the past few years and, for much longer, the Oman National Championships. Oman’s No. 1 ranked amateur player Azaan al Rumhy is also a member and having played with Azaan a few times when I too was a member between 2018 and 2020, I can testify to the stern challenge Ghala presents. My advice here for lower handicap players is that you really don’t need the ‘big-dog’ very often, but you do need to place position at a premium.
The course may not have the length or width of courses such as Al Mouj (The Wave), host of the European Tour’s Oman Open, or Muscat Hills Golf Club, but the thoughtfully crafted holes, narrow fairways and undulating greens will demand your full attention. Thanks go to Scottish golfing legend Bill Longmuir for designing the course.
Let’s take a quick run around this par 72 course.
After your impressive warm up on the driving range, there is an excellent short game area and practice putting green close to the first tee to fine tune your game before that most important shot of all. Tip: Sacrifice a little bit of length from the first tee and stay on the grass. (Ditto for the next 17 tee shots).
The first five holes essentially take you on a gradual ascent up the right hand side of the valley to the highest point of the course and from the sixth tee, one can take in a spectacular view back down the entire course, across Muscat and out to the Gulf of Oman — perfect Instagram fodder (if there is no one waiting to play behind you!). Worthy of mention is the fifth hole, a par 3, uphill to a multi-tiered green that could actually give you nightmares. I have witnessed many a promising early score come to grief here, even for the Mena tour pros. A wayward putt here could see your ball 30 yards back down the fairway. From the sixth tee you play down the left-hand side of the valley, members will know that here you have a good chance of a hooked tee shot bouncing off the mountain back onto the fairway, not a solid strategy, but worth knowing. Normally the next few holes are played into the wind coming up the valley and the front nine concludes behind the clubhouse.
It is worth noting that Ghala is blessed with some wonderful flora and fauna. Course Superintendent, Russell Wilson and his team have created not only a first-class golf course, but a veritable garden of Eden. Native Omani owls are a regular spectator on the course, along with ‘wadi dogs’ and the occasional fox, the latter being a persistent troublemaker for the green-keeping team. The sanded areas around the course feature many beautiful cactuses and desert roses and as everyone is careful to avoid damaging these plants, you often benefit from a nice free drop!
The back nine occupies the lower end of the valley and gives the impression of being more expansive, however, the fairways remain narrow and challenging with punishing consequences for wayward shots. Stay focused.
The 18th is my favourite hole by far. A par 4 that features a lake in front of the green and the elevated clubhouse terrace on your left. Playing your approach to the green over the water with an enthusiastic crowd looking on is not for the faint hearted — this has reduced many players to quivering wrecks, myself included.
On the subject of members, it is their incredible warmth and that of the entire Ghala team that make this club unique. For my wife and I, living in Muscat, it was a first-choice destination for not only golf, but socialising with a truly multinational membership. It was absolutely normal to play with Omani Royal Family members, Government Ministers, foreign ambassadors and a host of local players and fellow expatriates.
Everyone is so welcome at Ghala and the camaraderie is fantastic. From that perspective alone, I would safely say it is the best golf club experience I have ever had as a member. From a guest’s perspective, Ghala offers a wonderful golfing experience, great value and beverage prices are probably the lowest you will find in Oman.
Considering that my wife won the Ghala Golf Club Ladies Championship in 2020, I am looking forward to going back to see her name on the board!
Only a five-hour drive from Dubai (including the Hatta border crossing), Ghala Golf Club has to be No. 1 on your ‘Oman tour’ itinerary.