As winter in the UK set out its stall, and the long nights stole playing time from the UK’s golf courses, GR’s Secret Golfer decided to head east, to Dubai, in search of sun, sea, sand, and camels
While many excellent golf courses have sprung out of Dubai’s Rub ‘Al Khali desert over the past two decades, the Emirates Golf Club remains the figurehead of Middle Eastern golf. Not only was it the first all grass championship golf course in the Middle East when it opened in 1988, but the Emirates remains home to the Omega Dubai Desert Classic and Omega Dubai Ladies Masters, it offers two award-winning courses right beside Dubai’s city centre, and its Faldo course is the only 18-hole layout in the region to offer night golf.
Our attention fell onto the Faldo Course, as on arrival, Secret Golfer was deemed ineligible to play on the Majlis Course, as it was being used for the afore-mentioned Omega Dubai Ladies Masters. This was good and bad from a visitors’ point of view. It meant the driving range and putting greens were closed to the public, so golfers playing the Faldo course could not warm up (in a golfing sense anyway) but on the other hand, some of the world’s finest women golfers could be watched tonking balls on the range, and rolling putts right next to the bar.
Like many buildings in Dubai, the Emirates clubhouse was built to be instantly recognisable, and they certainly succeeded. Designed to resemble a cluster of bright, white Bedouin tents, the building is simply stunning, and has become the icon of golf in Dubai.
Considering the club was holding a tour event when we were where, the welcome in the clubhouse remained friendly and efficient. The interior design of the clubhouse matches its striking exterior, but you can’t help but wonder how much it must cost to keep the place air conditioned! The clubhouse is made up of expansive rooms with high ceilings, yet coming in from the heat, it still felt like you were walking into a fridge. This is not a criticism – the relief from the desert sun was very welcome.
A plate of chilli and five-spice calamari was the pre-match meal, and despite serving food that would not be out of place in an elegant restaurant, it was reasonably priced; under £10, in keeping with much of the menu, which came as a pleasant surprise at a club with such an international profile. A pint of Heineken, however, stung at AED 37 (£6); pricey, but in keeping with alcohol prices in the United Arab Emirates.
Bearing in mind the expanse of this whole resort, and its clubhouse, the pro shop was smaller than expected – not quite in proportion – but it is laid out impeccably and the staff were on hand and eager to offer assistance. Good to see.
A reasonable hardware offering included Ping and Titleist, with FootJoy, Greg Norman Collection and Nike Golf prominent in apparel, alongside a broad selection of crested merchandise. Dubai Desert Classic and Dubai Ladies’ Masters crested merchandise was also at the forefront in the shop – and which we were told can only be purchased at the Emirates GC, exclusively, which is a decent sales line – and so there was no doubt where the pro shop profits were made predominantly; the crested gear.
Rental clubs were required at a cost of AED 195 (£33), which is a considerable fee for borrowing a bag of clubs for five hours, but as the bag contained a Ping G25 driver, irons and rescues, and a Ping Anser Putter, I hesitate to complain. A buggy was also included in the green fee, which brought back a sense of added value, and was a welcome luxury – even necessary as I was playing in the middle of the day – and the buggy provides an element of relief from the bright, uninterrupted sunshine.
As already stated, the practise facilities were ‘OB’ to us mere mortals due to the tour event, but they did look rather nice… perfect even. World renowned coach, Pete Cowen, the man who guided Henrik Stenson to the form of his life in 2013, has an academy at the club, and it was on these very facilities where Cowen and former Dubai resident Stenson spent countless hours honing the Swede’s game. Nothing is lacking; the driving range is enormous, and there is an array of putting and chipping greens with bunkers that appear to mirror the quality out on the two courses. The club even offers an attractive par-three course. No wonder tour golfers like to practice here in the winter.
The Emirates’ Faldo course features the hallmarks of a Sir Nick Faldo design – which mainly means that bunkering is a major feature, and on many holes you can stand on the tee and follow a string of bunkering virtually from tee to green. One day perhaps Faldo will be the first designer to actually put a bunker in the middle of a green…
Another distinct feature to this course is its ‘wadi’ (the Arabic for ‘valley’), which meanders through the length of the course, adding to the attractiveness, variety and challenge. At first glance, the wadi could be mistaken for ground under repair, but the course planner confirmed this was mere wishful thinking. In fact the course was originally called the ‘Wadi’ when it first opened in 1996, but then was renamed the ‘Faldo’ after Sir Nick had remodelled the layout in 2005.
At 7,328 yards, The Faldo is long from the tips, but with four sets of tees available, the layout is more a test of strategic thinking than it is of length, with a premium on accuracy. Again, it’s Faldo all over. The course is billed as being suitable for golfers of all abilities, and the difference between the tee positions ensures this is the case.
The course was in good condition, with a surprising amount of water features – always happy to swallow errant shots. With refreshments available every few holes, getting thirsty was not an issue, and one of the most striking features of this course was the views of Dubai’s famous skyscrapers, serving as a spectacular backdrop to every hole.