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Abu Dhabi Saadiyat Beach Golf Club

02.06 Golfreiser:
2020 Abu Dhabi – The Desert Diamond

Text: Louis Røren Photos: Resorts and Louis Røren

In December 2011 I visited Abu Dhabi for the second time, where after I filed a report headlined The Desert Diamond. I am re-using the headline, though not without some hesitation as will be explained in the following.

The simple way it presented itself then, in contrast to its ostentatious neighbour Dubai, the ease of navigating its main city and surroundings, and its ambitious plans of developing one more of the emirate’s sand banks, all seemed rather agreeable and pleasing. As a visiting golf travel writer this included naturally a review of its golf courses, of which two were fairly new, all being of the highest standard.

Abu Dhabi byr på en noe spesiell sky line.

Before proceeding I would however like to take the readers back a few years, till the time when modern day Abu Dhabi came into being. And we do not have to go far back, only some 60 years. At that time was Abu Dhabi a poor and undeveloped desert state in the Arabian Gulf. The coastline consisted of scattered sand banks and the rest was all desert. Its inhabitants were tribal nomads subsisting on pearl diving, fishing, deer hunting and to some degree trading with its neighbouring states. Hunting was always done with the assistance of falcons, and a falcon is today the national symbol. The daily staple consisted of dates, dried meat and fish, and the only means of transportation was by camels. Then, in 1958, its first oil deposits were discovered, and more and more in the following few years. Thus, from being one of the world’s poorest states, it soon was to become one of its wealthiest.

Abu Dhabi Golf Club - klubbhus

Today Abu Dhabi is the largest and leading emirate of the seven emirates constituting UAE – United Arab Emirates – of which Dubai is but one. And up until the turn of the 21st century it was Dubai stealing all the thunder through its spectacular development projects, which continues till this day, albeit not without hitches along the way. But where Dubai developed without any visible planning or boundaries, Abu Dhabi developed through a more planned and academic approach. By hiring the best known urban developers and architects Abu Dhabi hatched a plan named Abu Dhabi 2030. And from what I could see during my last visit the emirate seems to be well on its way to realizing its ambitions, albeit with certain modifications along the way. This does not mean that Abu Dhabi will not have its share of exotic, spectacular and some of the ‘largest and only’ projects. Sure it will. And some like The Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque and Emirates Palace Hotel (where everything that looks like gold is gold, inclusive of the gold sprinkle on the ice cream) are only two examples.

The comparison with Dubai is unavoidable. But where Abu Dhabi was blessed with immense sand banks, some now turned into fully developed and inhabited islands, Dubai has had to create its own islands in the mindblowing form of The Palm and The World amongst others due to its coastline simply being a multi mile long and straight stretch of beach, broken only by Dubai Creek, a kind of natural harbour canal stretching 1,5 km inland from the old town of Dubai.

Saadiyat Golf Club

Saadiyat Island
The city of Abu Dhabi actually lies on one of the former sand banks, and two of the sand banks nearest to the city are now central parts of Abu Dhabi future developments. Especially the closest, Saadiyat Island, is of particular interest. Saadiyat Island is assigned to become the cultural - and sports centre of the emirate with spectacular museum buildings named Louvre and Guggenheimer, according to special agreements with the respective museums in Paris and New York. Additionally will be built a National Museum, a Maritime Museum, concert halls, hotels, sports facilities (like a few more golf courses) and housing for about 150.000 residents. In December 2011 during my second visit most of this was visible only as an elaborate model, apart from one golf course and two hotels already in existence. And to get to the island from the city island you had to traverse (by today’s standards) a rather primitive wooden bridge. Today you will enter Saadiyat Island through an elaborate tunnel and bridge system that definitely requires a sophisticated SatNav system to negotiate. Even then there will be plenty of room for mistakes. During my last visit The Louvre of Abu Dhabi was opened (and visited), a few other structures of unknown identity were also completed, as were several more hotels (all the major world-known top brands seem to be present). Heaps of residences were built, particularly along the golf courses and their vicinity. But more than the buildings it was the road systems that were the most impressive and overwhelming, clear signs of what is to come as developments continue.

Saadiyat Golf Club - hull 15

Yas Island
The neighbouring island, Yas Island, is assigned to become the emirate’s playground.

Yas Links - hull 12

By 2010 there was already built the world largest indoor amusement park sponsored by Ferrari, Ferrari World, a Formula1 car race track, a good number of hotels, an enormous marina --- and the Yas Golf Links course, arguably the best golf course in the Middle East. And there is no denying that Yas Island has become an enormous success with the population in the area.

A world class golf destination
An integrated part of Abu Dhabi’s 2030 development plan was the development of some 20 golf courses. By 2020 six courses are already on offer within the emirate. Two of the courses are considered more for local consumption; a decent 9 hole course near the centre of Abu Dhabi city, and a non-grass golf course near its international airport. A decent 18-holer is located in the inland city of Al Ain. Hence for short term visitors to Abu Dhabi I consider only three courses to be of interest, three courses that are of the highest international standard in all aspects. They are all very different, representing a variety that ought to satisfy any golfer. Dubai was in 2008 bestowed the honour of being named ‘Golf destination of the year’ for MiddleEast and Africa by IAGTO (International Association of Golf Tour Operators). In 2012 it was Abu Dhabi’s turn to be named. And whilst there may be a few more golf courses in Dubai the local Golf Digest as early as 2011 voted the 3 top courses in Abu Dhabi amongst the 4 top courses in the region.

Abu Dhabi Golf Course
As previously mentioned a falcon is Abu Dhabi’s national symbol. Nowhere is this more visible than on top of the club house of Abu Dhabi Golf Club. Abu Dhabi GC is the grand old lady of golf in the emirate. The course opened in 1998, designed by the recognized British course designer Peter Harradine with some 180 courses worldwide to his name, and the Abu Dhabi GC may arguably be his best. In any case it has become an institution being the season opening venue for the European Tour since 2006. Anyone watching TV transmissions from this event cannot but be struck by the imposing, gold clad falcon overlooking the 18th green. The course itself plays over a rather flat and uninspiring landscape which makes for an easy walk if so desired (depends on the heat of the day). It always presents itself beautifully with flowerbeds and palm trees at strategic points. The layout seems to this writer to be a perfect tournament course with rather narrow fairways, rounded, shallow bunkers and seemingly flat greens with some subtle but wickedly sharp breaks. Water also comes into play on 7 of the course’s holes. Next to the clubhouse you will find the 5* Westin Abu Dhabi Hotel with all amenities conceivable. In the back of the hotel, next to the golf course, you will be overlooking one of the best golf practise areas you will find anywhere, floodlit at night, as is a super 9 hole golfcourse on the opposite side from the main course. It is not without merits that many claim this to be the best golf resort in the Middle East.
Or as its marketing spin so precisely has it *An oasis of tranquillity carved out of the desert*.

Saadiyat Beach Golf Club

Saadiyat Beach Golf Club
It would take another 12 years before the next two golf courses opened in Abu Dhabi. A time that must have seemed like an eternity in a country that saw electricity and paved roads only some 50 years earlier. One of these courses is Saadiyat Beach Golf Club, designed by the famed South African Gary Player, and placed on the cultural island of Saadiyat. I have rarely seen so much sand in play on any other course, even in Arizona, an intriguing blend of seaside and desert course. Six of the holes are running alongside the beaches of the Arabian Gulf, the rest are inland behind the front rows of luxury hotels having been/being built. The beguiling turquoise sea is visible from basically all the holes. My guesstimate of the sandy and the turf playing areas would be like 40% sand and 60% turf. Whilst many of the sandy areas are so called ‘waste bunkers’, equally much or many of them are indeed bunkers. To those harbouring aversions for bunkers this course must look nightmarish, but I assure you, the beauty of it and its surroundings will alleviate any such fears. And the near vicinity to the sea will tempt you to dive in more than once during the round.
Gary Player’s signature is that he often gives golf holes descriptive names, so also on this course. Hole no 1 is named Prelude, Hole 2 Split personality (split fairway), hole 5 Dolphin view, hole 15 double trouble (crossing water hazards twice) to mention a few, which I find to be rather amusing. Already during my first visit to this course it became one of my favourite courses anywhere, as reaffirmed during my last visit.

Det 13. hullet på Yas Links

Yas Links Golf Club
Yas Links golf Course also opened in 2010, and instantly became a world wide hit within the golfing fraternity. Designed by Kyle Phillips (Kingsbarns in Scotland, The Grove in England to name a couple), a prodigy of Robert Trent Jones Jr. Here he has created a links style course out of a flat sand bank, hitherto unseen in the Middle East. Though it is built on sandy soil there are no real sand dunes impacting the landscape. But apart from that this is a serious linksy golf course that I believe even the most avid links aficionado will be content playing. Nine holes are being playing alongside the sea/laguna with the balance 9 on the inside with a natural flow of the routing. Rarely have I played a golf course in better condition than here. And the bright green grass contrasting with the turquoise coloured water outside left an indelible impression of beauty and serenity, despite the noise emanating at times from the Formula1 race track placed only a good drive and a pitch away from the course.

All three aforementioned golf courses are now (Yas Links being a recent addition) being managed by Troon Golf which is the preeminent golf course operator/manager in the world, and this should be the best guarantee for optimal playing conditions at all times.

I started this article stating that I am somewhat hesitant in describing the 2020 Abu Dhabi as a Desert Diamond. The reason for being hesitant has nothing to do with the emirate’s golf offering, which in all respects is superb, it has more to do with what I now perceive as the area having lost some its ‘small town’ charm. This time I simply felt overwhelmed by the ongoing constructions and enormous road systems being built, seemingly all dimensioned to comply with the emirate’s development plan AbuDhabi 2030.

Go visiting before it becomes a mirror image of Dubai.

Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque

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