With fabulous golf courses carved out of the desert and along spectacular coastlines, Alison Root headed to Abu Dhabi for some much needed winter sunshine.
Wet underfoot, continually wiping mud off your ball and clubs, wrapped up and looking like a Michelin Man (that’s if a golf course is actually playable), therefore it’s hardly surprising that the United Arab Emirates is enticing an ever increasing number of Brits to its sunshine islands for a winter golf holiday - and I was one of them!
After a four-night stay experiencing the outrageous excessiveness of Dubai, my next stop was Abu Dhabi, the capital and largest of the UAE’s seven Emirates.
Spread across 200 natural islands on the Persian Gulf, Abu Dhabi has often lived in the shadow of Dubai, but it’s now beginning to seriously rival its noisier neighbour with its championship golf facilities, miles of beachfront, luxurious hotels and shopping malls. For now that might be where the similarity ends, only time will tell, because Abu Dhabi doesn’t ooze the opulence, and certainly not the glamour like Dubai, nor are there as many towering skyscrapers, although in this oil-rich city it’s expected that more will be thrown up in due course.
Saadiyat Island, Arabic for “Happiness Island,” just a 10-minute taxi journey from central Abu Dhabi, is where you’ll find the luxurious St Regis resort, framed by the region’s first ocean golf course.
The St Regis Hotel overlooks a six-mile stretch of natural beach and is designed over eight floors ziggurat-style, so surprisingly low-rise by UAE standards! The lobby is vast, slightly too stark for my liking, but gentle piano music and staff scuttling around in gold-clad outfits do help to soften the atmosphere.
As for the hotel’s facilities, these are first class. The spacious bedrooms feature a mix of Mediterranean architecture and contemporary design and they are equipped with every amenity you could wish for.
There are five swimming pools, a spa, and a choice of seven restaurants and classy bars. The all-day dining Olea has an al fresco option, so a leisurely breakfast while enjoying the views across the resort and beyond to the sea was the perfect start to the day. The Asian restaurant Sontaya ticks all the right boxes, although it does come at a hefty price. The exotic food was delicious and combined with an amazing setting with tables on floating pavilions; it provides memorable moments.
Where To Play
The Gary Player-designed Saadiyat Beach Golf Club opened in 2010 and it’s the complete package, offering a variety of holes, immaculate fairways, superb views of the Arabian Gulf, and there’s even the opportunity to spot a few dolphins or gazelles. Clearly I wasn’t looking hard enough, or just spending too much time looking for my ball in the numerous hazards!
Three saltwater lakes and 60 bunkers can cause frustration to say the least, and so without intention, it’s a great course if you want to improve your bunker play and accuracy. Be warned, if you hit an errant tee shot and an inaccurate approach on the short par-5 15th, there’s double trouble as a far as water is concerned. If the wind happens to get up, goodness knows what havoc it might cause to a score.
Post-round, the Hawksbill Restaurant, named after the protected turtle species that use Saadiyat Island as a hatching spot, has a wonderful sweeping two-tier terrace overlooking the floodlit practice area, and with comfy wicker sofas it’s the ideal place to relax. Half an hour’s drive from Saadiyat, and a short distance from the city, is Abu Dhabi Golf Club. Host of the European Tour’s HSBC Championship, this golf club is probably as well known for its iconic clubhouse, designed in the shape of a falcon with its wings outstretched, as it is for the highly rated 27-hole layout.
The National is the championship course and given its proximity to the city, the setting is oasis-like. Using one of the luxurious golf buggies fitted with a GPS system, I weaved my way around while admiring an assortment of attractive palms, ornamental trees and shrubs, and the impressive backdrop of the city skyline. Like at Saadiyat, bunkers and water intrudes heavily, but at Abu Dhabi it also helps if you can hit the ball a decent length.
Abu Dhabi Golf Club also has a 9-hole garden course that’s fully floodlit, but it’s not all about golf here. With a swimming pool, gymnasium, squash courts and a choice of restaurants, this place definitely has an American Country Club feel about it. There’s no expense spared, from the interior décor of the clubhouse to the selection of Elemis beauty products in the changing rooms - a nice touch that women always appreciate!
Aside from golf, while Abu Dhabi doesn’t yet have as much to offer socially as Dubai, the city’s star attraction, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque with its 82 gleaming gold-topped domes, is a sight to behold. It’s the 8th largest mosque in the world and cost around £350 million to build. Appropriately dressed with my head, wrists and ankles covered, and therefore without the need to borrow an abaya, once inside, I stood in awe at the mass of white marble, the Swarovski crystal chandeliers, mosaic tiled fountains and the vast prayer room with the world’s largest Persian rug. It really was a serene experience during which time I prayed for better golf scores!
A must for anyone visiting the UAE is a desert safari, but only if you don’t mind dune bashing in a 4x4, and the souks are worth a visit for their bustling atmosphere. With a Louvre museum and a Guggenheim well under way, there will shortly be a different type of attraction on offer.
It goes without saying that during the British winter months Abu Dhabi is a good option for a golf break with guaranteed sunshine. So, with my batteries recharged, I am ready to take on the wind and rain yet again!
Where to Play and Stay
From £990 pp for 7 nights’ accommodation at the St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort and 5 rounds of golf on Saadiyat Beach Golf Club and Abu Dhabi Golf Club. Complete packages are bookable via Your Golf Travel or similar golf operators with daily flights from London, Manchester and Edinburgh Visit: www.stregissaadiyatisland.com
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