x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Yas Links the best of the best

With the Emirates now a hub of top-class golf, William Johnson picks his favourite 10 courses for a round.

The seventh hole on Yas Links, situated on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, is among the best.
The seventh hole on Yas Links, situated on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, is among the best.

The UAE has made relentless progress as a golfing haven ever since the Majlis Course made its breakthrough in becoming the first Asian venue for a European Tour event - the Dubai Desert Classic in 1989.

Emirates Golf Club was out on its own in those days in more ways than one as it provided expatriates based all over the Gulf region with their only opportunity to swing a club in anger on a verdant rather than sepia surface.

Twenty-two years later the rivals are stacking up for the trendsetting Majlis. In my opinion, several are comparable to what was labelled on its birth as the "miracle in the desert" and one can claim to be even better.

Here is a personal appraisal of the top 10 courses in the country listed in order of a 17-handicapper's preference.

No 1: Yas Links

Take a bow Kyle Phillips for your masterpiece which on the coldest of winter days could possibly be mistaken for one of the warmer British Open venues.

Within earshot of Yas Marina Formula One Circuit (its one detracting feature on race days) its penal rough to catch wayward drives from a variety of tee boxes provides a demanding test for golfers of all abilities and offers stunning coastal views from many of its holes.

Yas hosted the first of what is sure to be a series of professional events in January when the Al Naboodah Invitational moved there from its previous Dubai Creek home.

No 2: Majlis

Taking its name from the Arabic for "meeting place", this ground-breaking oasis which sprung up close to the Sheikh Zayed trunk road between Dubai and Abu Dhabi was acclaimed by all who saw it as that "miracle in the desert".

Featuring a prominent Majlis building on the high ground between the eighth and ninth holes of the 7,211 par 72 course, it is a genuine treat for first time visitors following in the footsteps of the six major champions - Seve Ballesteros, Ernie Els, Fred Couples, Jose Maria Olazabal, Mark O'Meara and Tiger Woods - and 11 other top international names who have triumphed there.

No 3: The National

Home of the flourishing Abu Dhabi Championship since Chris DiMarco captured the Falcon Trophy for the United States in 2006, this Peter Harradine-designed treat had the distinction of hosting the holders of all four major titles — Phil Mickelson, Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen and the victorious Martin Kaymer for its sixth staging in January.

No 4: Earth

Greg Norman, Australia's "White Shark", originally prepared this appealing track on Jumeirah Golf Estates as a resort course to complement its three sisters - Fire, Water and Wind - in an ambitious Dubai development.

The announcement that it would stage the conclusion of the first running of the Race to Dubai in the autumn of 2009 brought a hasty revision to those plans and Norman instead delivered a venue suitable for a summit meeting of the European Tour's top 60 players for the US$7.5 million (Dh 27.5m) Dubai World Championship.

No 5: Dubai Creek

As pretty a course as you could wish to play, this city centre venue was rewarded by the European Tour with two Desert Classics in 1999 and 2000 to the benefit of England's David Howell and Argentina's Jose Coceres, who joined an illustrious band of champions. It was also the original home of the Al Naboodah Invitational.

No 6: Saadiyat Beach

Gary Player, a legend of the game but also a master of hyperbole, described his creation just off Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Khalifa Highway as among the top five courses of the 300 that he had been associated with during his time as a golf architect.

The seaside creation is probably not in that league but still offers a wonderful experience and the challenge of trying to keep your ball dry when there is water, water everywhere.

No 7: Al Hamra

Off the beaten track for most enthusiasts on the northern shores of Ras al Khaimah, this is one of the nation's hidden jewels and well worth the effort to get there.

No 8: Al Badia

Originally opened as Four Seasons, this beautiful 7,303-yard offering by Robert Trent Jones II in the heart of Dubai caught the eye mainly for the quality of its short holes, particularly the 11th.

No 9: Jebel Ali

Only nine holes, but as picturesque as any venue in the country with peacocks strutting on the fairways, yachts moored in the adjacent resort harbour and a saltwater lake coming into play on more than half of the holes.

No 10: Els Club

This key part of the vast Dubai Sports City complex just edged out its Fire Course and Arabian Ranches neighbours and the Emirates Hills duo of the Faldo and Montgomerie courses for the concluding spot in a top 10 which, I am sure, would have featured the Tiger Woods Dubai had work there not stalled last year.

 

wjohnson@thenational.ae