If visiting Dubai isn’t on your “Bucket List” of things to accomplish in life, maybe it should be. If Istanbul, Turkey represents the ancient “East Meets West,” Dubai embodies the modern version. In a city where a 10 year-old skyscraper is considered “ancient,” you can bet that you’re in for a number of other surprises as well. Indeed you are!
Dubai is not actually an oil-rich state; neighboring United Arab Emirate state Abu Dhabi is. Dubai is becoming the “trading center” of the Middle East attracting an unusual “melting pot” of folks from all around the world. Recently I had the opportunity to experience the area and came back so impressed. Not only was the golf absolutely first-rate, but also the number of surrounding attractions allows most anyone to check off multiple items on their “bucket lists.”
The city of Dubai is a modern machination situated among several spectacular skylines on the shore of the Persian Gulf. Not only is the area attracting corporations from around the world, it is becoming “the Culinary Capital of the World” where because of the liquor laws, the best eateries are situated in the numerous five-star hotels rather than standalone locations. Likewise Dubai is a city of the spectacular. You will find not only the tallest hotel, structure, and building, but also the two largest shopping malls on the planet. The smaller of the two malls features indoor snow skiing on its slopes. Nearby you can ride a camel, go four-wheeling in the desert dunes, and swim with the dolphins.
Golf is no stranger to Dubai either. The European Tour stops here twice with the Dubai Desert Classic and the Dubai World Championship, the season-ending finale to The Race to Dubai. Likewise, the Ladies’ European Tour also has a marquee event here – the Dubai Ladies’ Masters. I sampled perhaps three of the best layouts in Dubai, all of which are open to outside play.
The Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club was originally designed by Karl Litten and hosted the 1999 and 2000 Dubai Desert Classic. In 2004 due to a change in the property, Thomas Bjorn in association with European Golf Design redesigned the golf course. Marked by its distinctive sailboat-inspired clubhouse, the course sits on the shores of the very broad Dubai Creek, which is more like a very, very wide river. Fifteen of the holes are very reminiscent of your stereotypical Florida golf course. The holes are solid, but the three two-shot holes on the waterway, the 6th, 17th and 18th are the ones that will inspire you and make or break your round. On the 6th, you play from a tee built upon a platform in the river and play back to a fairway with water both left and right. On the finishing two par-four holes, the short 17th and the lengthy 18th will test your resolve as water follows you the entire way on your left.
Now if you want tough and scenic, the Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates designed by Greg Norman will more than fit your requirements. This neatly manicured golf course hosts the Dubai World Championship and features a plethora of bright white flashed bunkering on every hole. There is lots of water on the course as well. Where there was once flat desert, Norman has crafted rolling terrain complete with many trees, somewhat akin to what Steve Wynn and Tom Fazio did at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas. The Earth Course can play over 7,700 yards, but the really difficult aspect is that many of the holes play uphill to elevated greens, which are guarded by huge sprawling bunkers. Quite frankly, the bunkering and greensites make the layout a bit too severe for the casual player or even the average player, but more accomplished players might really enjoy it.
I have saved my favorite Dubai course for last, the Majlis Course at the Emirates Golf Club. Built in 1988 by Karl Litten, this is more of classic parkland style layout set amidst one of the skyscraping clusters that adorn the Dubai skyline. The layout is not all that difficult provided you play the proper tees. There is a nice ebb and flow and a variety of wispy desert terrain coupled with nicely manicured green areas. Here the terrain is more varied and interesting than its sister course, Dubai Creek.
The Majlis Course can also bear its teeth for competition and has long hosted the Dubai Desert Classic as well as the Dubai Ladies’ Masters. One magazine rates the layout among the Top 100 in the World and the consensus is that it is among if not the best in the Middle East. Without a doubt, it is a very walkable course I could enjoy playing everyday.
Now here are a couple of other things you should know about Dubai. This is a modern, virtually crimeless society fostered by a strict, but moderate and spiritually tolerant Muslim society. The area is built for upscale tourists, meetings, conferences, and exhibitions so bargain hunter’s pocketbooks will feel strained. It is exceedingly rare that you will spot a single piece of litter unless you are the careless one. The flip side of the modernization is that while the Emirates are very proud of their heritage, you will be hard pressed to find much original culture compared to other surrounding societies. Even the camel racing is staged with robots and no live jockeys; previously the jockeys were children. Likewise, there are now few desert nomads as many have been assimilated into the growth and modernization. Finally, the peak season runs from November through March, after which it gets incredibly hot and humid.
There are many luxurious places to stay and I will be quick to recommend Atlantis, The Palm. This is a massive complex that will satisfy the most discriminating family, couple or business meeting. With over 1,500 rooms, this five-star lodging hosts some incredible on-site restaurants, a fabulous water park that hosted the American TV Show, The Amazing Race; bright white soft sand beach on one side and the Persian Gulf on the other. One of the world’s great aquariums is on view as you walk the hotel halls and a dolphin center adjoins the water park – all accessible for a one-stop place for guests. It is one grand hotel!
Now you are thinking, Dubai sounds great, but the trip there must wipe you out. Wrong! Emirates Airline flies non-stop from New York, Houston, and Los Angeles with two flights daily while there is 16-hour daily flight that I took from San Francisco. Leaving from the West Coast, you will fly aboard the very comfortable Boeing 777 featuring the highest standards of passenger comfort with lie-flat beds in Business Class and generously sized economy seats. Then you can lose yourself in Emirates’ award-winning entertainment system that features more than 200 movies, 100 TV channels, and 100 more video, sports, and business offerings. You will enjoy gourmet-prepared meals that really delighted my appetite and taste buds. Emirates extends its support of golf to passengers by allowing them to check in a set of golf clubs free of charge – in addition to their normal checked baggage allowance – in any class of service on all Emirates flights. Once in Dubai, Emirates’ Business Class customers enjoy a free chauffeur service to and from their hotels. So there, you can appreciate why I felt rested and refreshed when I arrived in Dubai.
Finally, the other aspect that really impressed me about Dubai was both the melting pot of visitors and people serving them. Few places have I seen this work so well with the service typically reserved, but very friendly. The locals are very, very pragmatic sorts and are keen toward being in the forefront. The modern skyscrapers reflect that boasting several hundred intriguing designs that really captivated me, many with roots to the region’s heritage.
For anyone wanting an exotic, warm, excitingly different culture that in many ways reflects our future, Dubai is an exciting choice. The golf is superb and I will just bet you that you will go away with a few more checks off your bucket list too!