They have the tallest building on the planet and a skyline that dwarfs most other metropolises. There are shopping centres complete with indoor ski-slopes and giant shark filled aquariums. Here it seems that bigger is definitely better. It shouldn't come as much of a surprise then, that their golf courses are pretty spectacular too.
On informing a very good friend of mine, who happens to live in Dubai, that I was coming out to write a feature, he replied "Great, just make sure it's not in August, unless you like the feeling of being steamed alive". Well, I don't scare easily but I took my friend's advice and scheduled my trip for October.
It's a 6 hours and 50 minutes flight from London to Dubai. Long enough to have the potential to be either relatively pleasant or complete torture, depending on who you fly with. I had the good fortune to fly Emirates which I have to say is a complete joy. Being in the cheap seats as usual, I expected the journey to be somewhat arduous and most definitely a bore. It was none of these. There was ample leg space, my seat came with its very own entertainment system, complete with movies, TV series and a vast selection of music, and the cabin crew were attentive and friendly.
I arrive at Dubai International Airport at 8pm local time, a vast and cavernous terminal that seemed very quiet (I later found out that most flights arrive late at night to avoid the heat). My friend, Greg, meets me at the gate and we head for his car. Now, I have lived in many countries over the years, but I have to say, the Middle East has not been among them. Naturally I was prepared for heat, but the humidity came as a complete surprise. And yes, I am glad that I didn't come in August.
The Park Hyatt - After an uncomfortable night on my friends couch, I head off for my first port of call, the truly wonderful Park Hyatt Hotel which is situated next to the Dubai Creek Yacht Club & Golf Course. I arrive at the main entrance and am welcomed by members of staff dressed in traditional Arab clothing. My bags are taken care of and I'm soon relaxing in my very comfortable room overlooking the yacht club. The first thing to do is take a tour around the hotel grounds. I wander down to the pool area, a truly wonderful place to relax and work on that tan, not to mention the fact that the Spa is close by if you fancy some pampering. The hotel is modern, opulent and of course being in Dubai, it has plenty of wow-factor.
I have a table booked at Le Traiteur, one of several restaurants in the hotel and early in the evening I make my way there. At the restaurant, which serves classic and contemporary French cuisine, I am met by the restaurant manager who instantly makes me feel welcome.
For starters I choose the Soupe á l'oignon gratinée au Compté (baked onion soup), which is quite delicious and always one of my favourites. I have been given a bottle of a very nice French red wine but no chance of finishing it all by myself unless I want to start my round of golf tomorrow with a hangover.
For main course I choose the Filet de bouf Rossini (Chateaubriand Rossini style with a truffle sauce), simply perfect. I finish the meat with a heavenly Crème brûlée.
Little bit of History - After my meal, I go for a walk in the grounds. It's a beautiful evening, and I head for a hotel bar for a glass of something cold. Sitting looking out over the marina, I can understand why so many of us Brits have come here to work. The pay for Westerners is exceptionally good and the lifestyle really is something else. But why is Dubai such a metropolis? This is a question that has been going around in my head for quite some time. What is it that Dubai has? As dear Kirsty from that well known TV show always says, Location, location, location! It's not so much a case of what is or was here, but really where this particular place is!
Dubai is one of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates and is located on the Arabian Peninsula. In 1892 Dubai came under the protection of the United Kingdom in an effort to keep the Ottoman Turks out, but also to protect British interests in this very strategic location. Its position on the route to India and further made it an important point of trade between East and West. This is still the case today. Fly to India, China or a myriad of other places, and the chances are that you will pass through Dubai.
Dubai Creek Golf Course - The next morning I head for the golf course; it's hot, but not too hot. This Par 71 course was opened in 1993 and has hosted many tournaments including the Dubai Desert Classic on two occasions.
The first hole is a nice par-4 which doglegs left. As long as you clear the water hazard in front of the tee and avoid the bunkers on the right, all will be well. The creek to my right is glimmering in the sun and birdsong fills the air.
The 6th hole comes as quite a surprise. Teeing off from a floating island in the creek is always going to be an adventure for me with my talent for losing golf balls to water. Add to this the fact that you also have to watch out for a large water hazard down the left side of the fairway and all my nightmares have come true. To my amazement and utter joy, I land squarely on the fairway.
A sail in the desert - Dubai is obviously a desert city, but there seems to be an awful amount of water here, most of it in my way, I hasten to add. I resign myself to the fact that I am sure to lose a few balls at some point in the proceedings, but the course is wonderful and I'm getting a tan that will be the envy of all my pasty friends back in the UK. As you would expect in such a location, the courses are immaculately kept, and here at Dubai Creek you have that wonderful club house in view from many holes. Designed to look like the sails of a traditional Arab Dhow, it really is an impressive feature.
Whether by sheer luck, or down to my exceptional ability (the former is the most likely), it's not until the final hole that I lose a ball to the dreaded H2O. With water right and left of the fairway, and guarding the green one has to bow to the inevitable. A superb course next to one of the top Dubai Hotels, I could stop here and feel content. But no, on to my next destination.
The Address Montgomerie Links- That afternoon I bid a fond farewell to the Park Hyatt and take a taxi to The Address Montgomerie. The journey is along a single highway that seems to run from one side of the city to the other and passing close by many of the iconic buildings that have made Dubai so famous. I notice that the metro system seems to also follow this highway and I make a mental note to do some exploring tomorrow.
The Address Montgomerie is located not far from the Dubai Marina and is also conveniently close to the Emirates Golf Course, making a trip to both Montgomerie Links and The Emirates easy. Ah, another luxury hotel, the life of the travelling journalist is a hard one. I have the feeling that my return home will involve a severe wakeup call! I check into my room and then head out to survey the course.
This 18-hole Championship golf course is managed by Troon Golf and was designed by eight-time European Order of Merit winner and Ryder Cup star Colin Montgomerie, who incidentally is staying in the room next to mine! Should I ask him if he fancies a round? Best not I think.
Not for walking - That evening I have an excellent meal at Bunkers, the clubhouse restaurant, and I retire early in preparation for a busy day of sightseeing.
The next day I decide to walk down to the metro by the Marina. As I can see the towers down there, how far could it possibly be? A nice walk in the sunshine will do me good.
About an hour later, after negotiating some major road works that have sent me off in completely the wrong direction, I am standing on an overpass, hot, tired, fed up and in fear of being arrested for jaywalking. Why didn't I just take a taxi? I can see the marina and metro just a few hundred metres away, it's just that there seems to be no way to get there without being horribly mutilated by a passing 4x4. I'm also in danger of overheating if I don't find a way over soon. Luckily for me I do and my first port of call is a kiosk to buy some water before I pass out. I board the metro and head for my first stop.
Dubai Mall - Now, I go to the Mall with the wife and kids on a regular basis. I can usually be found hiding in a cafe with a nice Latte and chocolate muffin. However in Dubai, going to the mall is a whole new experience. I don't think they have the facilities for feeding sharks and manta rays at my regular place of consumerism.
You can just imagine the planning meeting for Dubai Mall. Somebody suddenly puts their hand up and says "I know, let's have a huge aquarium complete with manta rays and sharks". "Brilliant!" they all shout. "That will be one in the eye for those cocky so and so's over at the Mall of the Emirates, with their fancy indoor ski slope. All those in favour say "aye".
Gigantic mall - This place will fill all red-blooded men with utter dread, there are 1,200 shops here. Can you even begin to imagine how long it would take for your wife or partner to go to each and every one? I personally think there must be an area that's full of old men with long beards whose women just went off for a spot of shopping and have yet to return.
When you finally escape from the clutches of consumerism, almost next door, as if competing for the wow factor, you will find the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world at 829 metres. I get dizzy just looking up at it. Opened in 2010, this colossus amongst high rises dwarfs everything around it.
No crime - That evening I meet up with Greg and we head for an expat bar in the Marina. Much of the population here are expats from western countries, but many more are from the Philippines and India. In fact locals make up for less than 15%. I have to say that not once have I felt threatened or even in the slightest danger (apart from my adventure on the freeway) here in Dubai. Greg tells me that there is hardly any crime. Anyone found to have flouted the law is arrested and treated to a night in a cell with some rather clumsy police. They are then deported. Rather severe, but you have to recognise the positive results for everyone else who keeps to the straight and narrow.
Montgomerie Links - Early next morning, I am on the first tee and ready to go. It's a beautiful day and I really am looking forward to playing this course. The first hole is a straight forward Par-4 with an undulating fairway. The only object to complicate matters is a well placed tree in the middle of my line of shot. I resort to my best tactic and aim straight at it. As to be expected, I miss the tree and end up well placed on the fairway.
I reach the 4th which is a Par-4 and known as "The Snake Hole" due to the bunkering behind the green and the ridge separating the two fairways in play. I happily wile away a bit of time in those bunkers, but nothing can spoil the feel good factor that I am getting from this course.
It was with good humour then, that I reach the sixth hole, which is just as well, as there was not much hope of me landing on the green safely here. This par-3 is one of the most daunting holes that I have come across. There are water hazards running short, long and right of this very narrow green. Naturally I took a risky shot and was rewarded with my ball becoming an underwater feature. Needless to say, this course is absolutely wonderful, and the only way to experience it is to play it. I have to mention the eighteenth, what a way to end a round. Water, water everywhere, and no chance of stopping my ball ending up in it. Ah well, I am very pleased to have played this course, and feel that I have not done too bad considering. Yet another stunning course, one more to go.
Nineteen - That night I dine at Nineteen, an International restaurant overlooking the 18th green, where I'm treated to the culinary delights of David Attwater, the Chef de Cuisine. I will need my strength for my round at the Emirates tomorrow. So after an enjoyable meal, I head back to my room for an early night.
I arrive in the afternoon after having a relaxing morning by the pool. The reputation of both courses here at the Emirates precedes them, and what a view! It really is quite extraordinary to play a round of golf with the Dubai skyline as a backdrop. And of course you have the famous Emirates clubhouse designed to resemble traditional Bedouin tents. It was here that the first grass championship course in the Middle East was opened in 1988. There are two courses to choose from, the Majlis and the Faldo Course.
- It was a busy day on both courses as there were competitions taking place, so I had to tee off where I could. In the end, I teed off from the sixth hole on the Faldo Course. Remy Milana, the Assistant Golf Course Manager who has brought me out advises me to aim for the lone tree on the fairway. There is a large water hazard to my right which makes me decidedly nervous. Oh great gods of golf, grant me a good shot in front of Mr. Milana. To my utter joy, my ball heads straight for the tree and lands, although awkwardly placed, underneath it, never the less exactly where I had aimed. Mr. Milana congratulates me and to my relief, leaves me to fend for myself.
The Faldo Course - The remainder of the hole, a Par-4 with a stroke index of 6, goes well and I settle down. The 8th, a dogleg right, turns out to be interesting with water to the right the whole way. I play safe and am rewarded with a decent result.
I reach the 12th which is a nice Par-3. A sneaky little number as my choices are to play over water on this dogleg left, or risk ending up in one of the bunkers to the left and right of the green. Well, it's good to put that sand wedge to use.
As with all the courses that I have played here in Dubai, you can appreciate their complexity without feeling intimidated. It's an enjoyable and fulfilling round whether you are a hacker or professional. The courses are very well maintained and the contrast between Dubai Skyline and nature is really something else.
By the time I arrive at the 18th, the sun is going down, which just seems to add to the enchantment. It would have been great to have played both courses, but I cannot complain with my lot.
The Journey Home - The next day I am on my Emirates flight back to London. Sure, Dubai is a great place to shop and see the sights, but my lasting impression will be the fantastic golf courses and truly luxurious hotels. Could I pick a favourite? Probably not. And as I relax in my comfortable seat with my personal entertainment system and a glass of wine, I have one piece of advice for the red blooded golfer, by all means bring your partner here to shop, just make sure it's on a day when you are on the golf course!
Good to know
Emirates fly UK to Dubai from Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow. For flight details visit www.emirates.com or call 0844 800 2777
Taxis are cheap and there are plenty of them. A trip from the airport to central Dubai costs roughly 60 Dirham's (£10).
Dubai has a metro system that will get you to most tourist locations at a very affordable price. A one day all zones adult ticket is less than £2.50. Information can be found at http://dubaimetro.eu
Dubai uses the United Arab Emirates Dirham. The exchange rate is 5.78 AED to the Pound.
When to go
It's probably best to avoid July and August as heat and humidity can be intense. The high season is between November and April but Spring and Autumn are also ok.
Dubai Golf Central Reservations
Tel: +971 (0)4 3801234
Call Toll Free: 800 TEETIME (800 8338463)
Park Hyatt Dubai
Tel: +971 4 602 1234
Fax: +971 4 602 1235
The Address Montgomerie Dubai
Tel +971 4 390 5600
Fax: +971 4 360 8981