Your essential guide to a golf break in the UAE: Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Ras Al Kalmah...
It's easy to think the HD images of perfectly manicured, sun-kissed courses that fill screens during the European Tour's season- opening Middle East Swing are not an accurate reflection of the UAE's year-round golf offerings. How wrong you'd be. What you see beamed into your home as you shiver your way through another of northern Europe's winters is exactly what you get, regardless of the time of year or whether McIlroy, Molinari and Fleetwood et el are in town.
The desert and its ever-expanding skyline have been a familiar sight on tour for the best part of three decades and in that time these three featured 'golfing' emirates of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khaimah have gone from unknown destinations to five-star locations that are a must for any true golfer seeking winter sun and an unforgetable taste of opulence.
Where to play in Dubai...
Home to 11 courses, there would be little need to move beyond the UAE's largest city. It's incredible to think it's just 31 years since the Middle East's first grass course opened here. Karl Maljis' design at The Emirates Golf Club has rapidly become one of the best on the planet... fitting then that it plays host to the world's best players at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic each January.
Just a 20-minute drive from Dubai International Airport, this is the course around which to build your itinerary. It's a shotmaker's course (Seve, Tiger, Rory, Ernie and Sergio are among the winners here) requiring you to hit it both ways and carefully choose when to take the many risky but rewarding shortcuts. The views prove a constant test to your focus, but if there's ever a time to let it briefly lapse, it's on the 8th tee. Arguably the most familiar golfing vista in the UAE, the scene sweeps from the original desert to the incredible skyline of Dubai Marina. The Emirates GC is also the perfect place to end any day thanks to the acclaimed and floodlit Faldo course.
No trip to Dubai is complete without a round of "night golf". From the city's oldest course to its newest. Trump International Golf Club Dubai was this emirate's first new 18-hole championship course in seven years when it opened to huge acclaim it 2017. We were among the first to play Gil Hanse's design and it has the potential to push the Maljis as Dubai's best. A lack of rough and undulating fairways gives an almost classic links feel to this most modern of settings, encouraging you to use the ground to your advantage. What is clear here is that Hanse wanted his layout to be playable and enjoyable for all.
From here head to the heart of the city where you'll find Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club, a two-time host of the Dubai Desert Classic. Opened in 1993, Europe's victorious Ryder Cup Captain Thomas Bjorn has since tweaked architect Brian Johnson's original design to make an already excellent course even better. One of the shorter layouts in Dubai, the course makes up for its lack of length with clever plotting, tree-lined fairways and an abundance of water hazards. The final two holes, playing along the bank of the creek, would challenge some of the world's nest closing pairs, while the views are among the most varied in Dubai.
Jumeirah Estates is another of the well- known, must-include venues for your ever- growing itinerary. The high-end Earth and Fire courses by Greg Norman sit perfectly within the desert landscape and complement each other in both difficulty and design. Earth is big and bold, with contrasting colours, while the trickier Fire is more refined, subtle and renowned for its terracotta-coloured bunkering.
If there's still space in your schedule then Ernie Els' Dubai Sports City offers a links look with fairways lined by wispy rough and sand, while Jebel Ali resort's nine holes are a quick and great fun way to end your time in Dubai.
Where to play in Abu Dhabi...
If the Maljis is Dubai's No.1, then Yas Links is the jewel in the Middle East's crown and arguably one of the Top 50 courses in the world. World-renowned designer Kyle Phillips' first work in the Middle East, Yas took three years to construct and became the first links-style course in the region when it opened in 2010. The all-sand base, rumpled fairways give the site links authenticity, which is backed up by Paspalum grass that runs throughout the rm, fast course. Eight holes run right along the Arabian Gulf shoreline and there's even the familiar feel of coastal breezes from the always-visible water. While it's a test of ability for all players, five tee boxes mean Phillips' design can play from 5,400 yards to 7,400 yards making it playable for all... as long as you choose the right one.
Yas and the Gary Player-designed Saadiyat Beach both bene t from superb locations that arc around the top of the city. Linked by a quiet motorway, getting to either from the city or airport is an absolute breeze and exactly the news you want after a seven- hour flight.
As with Yas, Saadiyat opened in 2010 and stretches along an environmentally- protected beach on Saadiyat Island. Little surprise then that sand dominates its early stages with extensive bunkering that could easily have been lifted from Kent's Chart Hills. The course, which hosted the Ladies European Tour's season opener in January, weaves between luxurious beachfront hotels but still manages to feel spacious. Six holes offer breathtaking panoramic Gulf views, while a lagoon, dunes and lakes combine with the bunkering and five tee options to make this a unique experience for all. In this emirate the star courses come thick and fast.
A 30-minute drive from Saadiyat (15 from the city centre), you'll find the Peter Herradine-designed Abu Dhabi GC. Opened in 1998, it has played host to the European Tour's official season opener since 2006 and the 27-hole championship course continues to impress. Its nine-hole loop is a great warm-up for the National course, weaving through undulating terrain punctuated by stands of palms, ornamental trees and shrubs. The championship course is a firm, fair challenge, but only the bravest will play from the 7,600-yard tips. Bold bunkering and huge greens are testing enough, but with water playing a big part on nine holes be sure to pack plenty of balls. Its iconic clubhouse, a familiar theme at all UAE clubs, will inevitably feature heavily in your photos.
Where to play in Ras Al Kalmah...
By far the least-known emirate (think of them as cities) of the three featured here, Ras Al Khaimah found its way onto GW's radar a couple of years ago when an ex-pat Briton strongly advised we visit Tower Links and Al Hamra.
Ras has the climate and class of Dubai but without the mild chaos and the vast number of skyscrapers. Tower Links is just an hour's drive north-east of Dubai International Airport, but be sure to allow time for a warm-up if you make your first port of call. A positive mindset and sensible tee selection are required if you are to find narrow fairways lined by sandy waste areas and low- lying trees. Playing o the whites (6,201 yards) will afford you the luxury of hitting shorter clubs and, on a clear day, allow you to enjoy the views of the stunning Hajar mountains that sit on the border with Oman. Play it o the blues (6,693 yards) and the clouds may quickly descend.
Tower Links, named after its iconic clubhouse, is a fine mix of stout and sporty par 4s. Its closing stretch sees a pretty par 3 over bushes followed by a risk-reward dog- leg par 4 and then a par 5 that swings right to left with a moat guarding the green. The sight of fellow golfers watching closely with a drink from the patio that overlooks the final hole ensures an even tougher finish and guarantees that you'll be joining them.
A 10-minute drive away you'll nd the contrasting and luxurious Al Hamra. Peter Herrandine's design is part of a large, appealing resort with desirable houses lining lush, velvety fairways that wind between water, bunkers and mature trees. Nine holes opened in 2007, with the second wave following a year later to form the more exacting middle of the course. Despite its relative width, few will choose to take it on from the 7325-yard tips... there's no need for that stress in this most tranquil part of the UAE
Logistics: You can fly to Dubai from Manchester, Heathrow, Newcastle, Birmingham and Glasgow and Abu Dhabi from Heathrow, Manchester and Edinburgh. Flight time is around seven hours but transfer times are minimal. Fares start from around £250.
Time difference: GMT +4