In more than a decade of playing regular golf in the UAE, I can honestly say that every time I play, no matter which course it might be, I am hugely thankful for the opportunity.
While growing up in England, my golfing apprenticeship involved regular delights such as rain (often coming in sideways and for the whole round), icy winds, mud and my personal favourites, snow and ice.
Many hardcore golfers play through the seasons regardless of the conditions and, as with most things in life, you adapt. It is, however, rather tricky to swing a club when you have five layers of clothing on, plus the waterproofs. You don’t hear anyone shouting “Fore!” because of the beanie or ear muffs and when you actually smash one 300 yards (downhill with a tail wind, obviously) it disappears forever into the boggy fairway, or if the course hasn’t yet thawed out because you started too early, you hear your 150-yard approach ping off the ice on the green never to be seen again. Then, to top it all, your huge golfing umbrella that you put down to play the shot, gets taken to another part of the course by a gust of wind. The justification for this ordeal is that “it keeps your swing going until the weather improves sometime down the line”. I’m less convinced now.
Additional treats, particularly if you play on a public rather than private course, include putting your golf shoes on in the car park more times than not, waiting for 15 minutes on every hole (Heaton Park Golf Club in Manchester being a good example — great track however), random members of the public appearing on the fairways while walking their dogs. The green fees can be pretty cheap though.
All that said, there are many wonderful golf clubs in every country and great courses to be played. So what makes the UAE golf experience so special?
The first course I played on arrival in Dubai was The Faldo at Emirates Golf Club. The month was January, the weather was perfect, about 25 degrees and sunny. As I drove into the club I was struck by the sheer quality of the place. The manicured fairways of the ninth and 10th holes, the beautifully designed clubhouse, the bag drop — oh wow, I didn’t even have to get out of the car. The friendly member of staff took the clubs out of the car boot, politely asking my tee time and the next time I saw them was on the very cool golf cart, with free tees, towels, even an ice bucket for the free bottles of water (included in the green fees of course), but hey, millionaire’s treatment.
Then the clubhouse experience. Restaurants, gyms, tennis courts, a very cool pro shop to buy the three sleeves of balls that I’m about to lose, and the locker rooms ... well, outstanding.
All these years later and a few more courses played, and little has changed in terms of the approach by the UAE’s club owners and operators, ensuring a world-class experience for all involved. It is, quite frankly, a golfer’s paradise. If we are being totally honest, it isn’t the cheapest thing you can do, but I would argue it is worth every dirham of a membership (as long as you play enough) or the price of a visitor green fee. Top tip: It is best to get to know a member and play as their guest!
It is testament to the knowledge and skills of the green-keeping management and their teams that the UAE courses deliver championship standard playing environments. We should remember the relative youth of most golf courses and that they are constructed in the desert. You can sometimes forget that amid the trees and rolling fairways, Dubai Hills being a good example.
Perhaps the toughest challenge for those playing golf in the UAE is the hot summer weather. Let’s be frank though, it ain’t as bad as the aforementioned conditions and the fact that we are now pampered to excessive limits makes it all very bearable. Good rates are to be had in summer too.
I remember as an Al Badia Golf Club member for seven years (No comment!) the staff would meet you on the 17th tee with fresh melon and cold towels — come on, beat that! We don’t even walk the course anymore, beautifully appointed buggies with Satnav guide us around and there is rarely a shortage of opportunities for F&B, either from the cafe shops on course or the ‘Tuck Truck’.
All in all, I know where I would rather play golf and I think it is our collective duty as polite, respectful sports enthusiasts, to thank the bag drop staff, appreciate the Tuck Truck driver and all the teams working on the course and in the clubhouse. They deliver our world-class UAE golfing experience at the sharp end and it is always very impressive.
Lest we forget!