13 February 2017
After covering this year’s Desert Classic, Sky Sport’s Sarah Stirk enjoys a mini-break in Dubai, revisiting some old friends and making a new one
Temperatures in the mid-20s and a quick direct flight time – what’s not to love about Dubai in February? I stayed on after this year’s Dubai Desert Classic to get my sunshine golfing fix. First up was the Majlis course at the Emirates Golf Club, which I played the day after the tournament. It’s always a treat to cover an event and then follow in the pros’ footsteps, although I’m not sure following in Sergio’s size nines is quite the right description for my game!
The Majlis opened in 1988 and, at the time, was the only 18-hole grass course in the Middle East. It has more than stood the test of time, and is still without question one of the premier layouts in the region. It’s renowned for its large, slick greens, which proved a real test. As well as being quick, I found them tough to read, but that’s probably more of an indication of my performance with the flat stick than anything else. Still, more respect to Garcia, having witnessed first hand their trickery. The top pros have the brute strength to make mincemeat of the rough, but for us mere mortals, it’s severely punishing.
There are many photogenic holes on the course. I particularly love the view from the 8th tee, with the Manhattan-style skyline of the Middle East as the backdrop, while the 18th is a brilliant closing hole. A dogleft left gives you the option of reaching in two if you’re long enough with your tee shot, or you can lay up, leaving about 100 yards for your third. Come up short with any sort of backspin, and you’ll suffer Tiger’s fate – a watery end!
There has been plenty of hype surrounding the new Trump International course at Akoya by DAMAC. Don’t let the ‘T’ word taint your view, as whatever your political persuasions, from a purely golfing viewpoint, it’s a course you need to add to your bucket list. It’s an absolute gem, and like nothing else in Dubai. It has the feel of Yas Links down the road in Abu Dhabi, another layout I’m a big fan of. Surrounded by desert, it has a strong links feel, with firm Bermuda fairways and plenty of undulations.
It was designed by Gil Hanse, the man behind the Olympic layout in Rio, who spent time in the desert prior to construction to draw inspiration on how to shape the land. It has a very natural feel, is subtle, but not contrived, and is unique in its topography for this part of the world. Hanse also co-designed Castle Stuart in Scotland and Streamsong Black, the Red and Blue at the Floridian resort have been the subject of one of my previous columns.
A few of the pros spent time practising there during the Desert swing, and the likes of Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter, Thomas Pieters and Tyrell Hatton were all forthcoming in their praise. McDowell used the word ‘authentic’, a very apt description. I had the same feeling walking off the aforementioned Castle Stuart course as at Trump International. It’s a fun test, extremely playable, challenges your creativity, and, most importantly for any golf course design, makes you want to go back for more. I’m so over playing courses that beat you up when you’re not firing on all cylinders!
The fairways are generous, there’s minimal rough, and landing in the sandy waste areas doesn’t necessarily lead to a dropped shot. The real test is on and around the greens, as it’s a course that demands a sharp short game. The putting surfaces are pure and quick without being frightening.
Hanse doesn’t designate signature holes on his layouts – he wisely leaves the golfer to make their own mind up. I was a big fan of the par threes, notably the 5th and the 17th, and I loved the 7th – a strong par four with a barranca down the left – and the drivable par-4 12th. I also really enjoyed the challenge of the 18th. Again, generous off the tee, it demands a long and accurate second shot and with the 30,000 square-foot clubhouse as the backdrop, it’s a sight to behold.
Talking of which, Trump International is proud of its catering standards. The Italian executive chef, Fernando Galbiati, makes all his own bread and pasta and, take it from me, the coconut cheesecake and cappuccino sauce will put a smile on your face, whatever your score!
Last on my list on this all-too-brief golfing sojourn was Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club. As with the Emirates, it’s been a firm fixture on the city’s golfing landscape for many years, and is still a wonderful experience. It even hosted the Dubai Desert Classic for two years back in 1999 and 2000. When golfers play here they talk about the condition of the course and the setting, and I would definitely agree. It also has a lovely, intimate feel and with the splendour of the iconic sail-shaped clubhouse, it’s the perfect place for a sundowner following your golfing exertions. The course is tricky, use your driver sparingly, and don’t be upset if your ball gets wet! Get through 17 and 18 unscathed and you’ll more than deserve a cold beer.
I stayed at the Jumeirah Creekside Hotel, opposite the golf course, which is one of 12 Jumeirah properties in Dubai. It offers great access in and out of the city and features CU-BA, a sumptuous roof top bar, and the iconic Aviation Club, one of the original fitness clubs in Dubai, with a superb timetable of high-energy classes. There are plenty of luxury hotels in this Middle Eastern metropolis, but the Jumeirah’s customer service is always tough to beat. Roll on the DP World Tour Championship in November – Dubai, I’ll be seeing you again soon!
Jumeirah Creekside Hotel, www.jumeirah.com