x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

The Falcon's swoop

The National continues it's journey across the UAE's best golf courses and moves to holes nine and ten.

The view in front of the ninth hole at the falcon-shaped Abu Dhabi Golf Club is breath-taking and can distract anyone.
The view in front of the ninth hole at the falcon-shaped Abu Dhabi Golf Club is breath-taking and can distract anyone.

HOLE 9: Abu Dhabi National (Par 4, 456 yards) "Best Golf Club in the Middle East" is the greeting you get as you enter the grounds of Abu Dhabi Golf Club and it is no idle boast from those who regard themselves in "an oasis of tranquility carved out of the desert". Walking to the clubhouse you cannot fail to notice the two Rolls Royce buggies that are reserved for those golfers rich or lucky enough to sample the Royal Experience - a helicopter ride from the Emirates Palace Hotel and a journey around the Championship course in the lap of luxury.

When you reach the ninth tee on the 27-hole expanse designed by the renowned course architect Peter Harradine, you really are in a dreamland and any golfer not impressed by what lies in front of him should consider giving up the sport. In the distance is the quirky clubhouse, built in the shape of a gigantic falcon which, with "wings" extended, is turned to stone as it snatches a larger than life golf ball.

The bird is the club's official crest and falcon-shaped tee blocks are an imaginative addition to the course's appeal. Matching water hazards on both sides of the fairway - two of the seven lakes on the 7,334 Championship course - add to the aesthetic attraction of this hole which is mirrored on the back nine by the longer and more hazardous 18th. It proved a happy hunting ground early this year for Germany's Martin Kaymer, who blitzed the course in the third running of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, an European PGA tour event, to follow the American Chris DiMarco and England's Paul Casey on to the winner's rostrum.

Kaymer's outstanding performance prompted Lee Westwood, the British Ryder Cup player, to remark at the time: "Some of the lines Martin has taken here are unbelievable." HOLE 10: Al Hamra, Ras al Khaimah (Par 4, 455 yards) My visit to this delightful seaside track coincided with that of 19 club professionals from the region on the second and final day of the UAE PGA championship in mid-May.

A couple of those competitors suggested that the back nine, opened only a month earlier, was not quite ready for play on such an important day on the calendar. It is included here more for its potential than its appearance at the time which resembled a building site with much "ground under repair". The imagination ran wild at what it will look like when it is tidied up after all the construction work as it makes maximum use of the natural beauty - a mixture of sand and water - at its disposal.

It is the start of a loop of three superbly designed holes around a lagoon which is crossed by the prettiest of humped-back brid-ges, similar to the ones the gondolas go under along the canals of Venice. This one becomes the Bridge of Sighs if, like me, you fail to stay out of the water which starts on the left of the hole before meandering to the right and then flowing behind the green. Chris White, the general manager of the club and proud to unveil the new course which will shortly have a new clubhouse, said of that particular section of a testing round: "The 10th is the start of Al Hamra's Amen corner. To play it in regulation, the second shot has to carry from the fairway to the green surround - and if that's not enough it nearly always plays into the prevailing sea breeze.

"On a calm day it's driver followed by a mid to short iron, but on a blustery afternoon it could be driver followed by a long iron or even a fairway wood." @Email:wjohnson@thenational.ae