Well well, it has been a while since a decent blog has been forthcoming so here are a few thoughts about a few recent days golfing in Abu Dhabi.
Our time in the UAE was like a holiday.¬† We‚??ve stayed in one place for the week ‚?? with Martha and Bill Wong ‚?? and we played much of our golf with our new mate Chris Turlik.¬†
The infrastructure around Dubai and Abu Dhabi is incredible.¬† The road system is efficient (one road has about 16 lanes rivaling the engineering brilliance of the New Jersey turnpike) and the port is so huge it is one three man made structures that can be seen from the moon (guess the other two comment below). ¬† The development going on around Dubai and Abu Dhabi also blows the mind of anyone from the antipodes; there are more cranes in the tiny Emirates of Dubai and Abu Dhabi as there would be in Australasia.
One night Bill & Martha took us to Atlantis ‚?? a hotel on the top of The Palm. The Palm is a stretch of reclaimed land off the Dubai coast which, from above, is the shape of a palm.¬†¬† The entire palm has been developed into high rise apartments,¬† villas and hotels such that you could probably fit the population of Wellington onto this tiny piece of reclaimed land.¬† The Atlantis Hotel on the tip is immense.¬†¬† Immense is also a word to describe the fill-your-boots-buffet which Bart dominated through 7 strong rounds and subsequently ‚??is talking‚?? about going on a diet.¬†
Bill and Martha were absolutely fantastic hosts so thank you guys for making last week truly special.¬† Staying in Dubai was a welcome respite to our heavy travel schedule and we all enjoyed both the comfort of your place and the heavy dose of banter that followed.¬†
During our week or so in the UAE we had three days of golf in Abu Dhabi which I am going to share in this blog.¬† Abu Dhabi is about a one hour drive from the Dubai Marina and so, for those traveling to the area on a golfing trip, the courses in Abu Dhabi are very much accessible for a daily excursion.¬†¬†¬† The three tracks we played in Abu Dhabi were all very different:¬† the Kyle Phillips designed Yas Links;¬† the Abu Dhabi City Club built in a race track; and the Abu Dhabi National Golf Club with it‚??s falcon clubhouse arching proudly over the closing holes.¬†
A week ago the words Abu Dhabi didn‚??t mean much to me.¬† I knew it was near Dubai, I presumed it was similarly hot and knew that there was a little cricket played there.
Whilst Abu Dhabi is not as developed as the (much smaller) Emirate of Dubai, the potential, plans and recent progress in Abu Dhabi blow your mind.¬†¬† Abu Dhabi is an oil rich Emirate ‚?? an asset which the Sheik controls.¬† On more than one occasion we were told how the proceeds from the daily sales of oil (speculated at 300-400 million) all go into his personal bank account which where he takes his quite considerable share and returns the rest to the producing companies.¬† ¬†¬†So when the Sheik decides to get something done ‚?? it‚??s fair to say he has the cashflow to make it happen.¬†¬† So when Dubai was eventually hit by the GFC last year much of the financing was propped up by Abu Dhabi.¬† Now the 800m high, tallest building in the world, in the centre of Dubai is named after the Sheik ‚?? the Burj Khalifa.
Two things stood out both in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. ¬†The first was the relative standard of living.¬† New cars populate the streets, conversations on and off the course relate to ‚??home help‚?? and no one ever complains about the cost of fuel or power!¬† ¬†There is no income tax here, although if you are partial to a night out you‚??ll be hit in another way through the significant excise tax on alcohol.¬†¬†
The second is the scale of development going on.¬† All around as you look upwards there are cranes dotting the sky busy at work, there are roads being built, a huge sports complex big enough to hold the Olympic¬† games is in motion and entire islands are being developed.¬†
Our first course in Abu Dhabi was the¬†Yas Links¬†on day 314.¬† The Yas Links is on Yas Island which is about 15 minutes north of the city of Abu Dhabi and has just had a huge weekend hosting the F1.¬† The F1 track rips around the border of the golf course and with the newly developed Ferrari World also adjacent this is a place of petrol heads dreams.¬†¬† Over the weekend some entertainers also turned up, some by the name of Kanye, Linkin Park, Prince and some private gig at the clubhouse with Nelly Furtado.
The Emirates are using sport as a tool to attract international visitors and judging from what we saw around the F1 track and the ‚??sports city‚?? development in Dubai they don‚??t do things by halves.
Despite being close to the action the Yas Links as actually a very peaceful setting as the course winds its way along a sharp blue inlet of water.¬† Yas is aptly described on it‚??s website:
‚??The first Links golf course in the Middle East region. The first designed by Kyle Phillips, one of the world‚??s leading golf course¬† designers. The first opportunity to experience the unique traditions of the game.
An eighteen-hole course, a nine-hole academy course, clubhouse, golf academy and floodlit practice facilities, set against dramatic¬† views of the Arabian Gulf‚??the course combines unparalleled visual glory with the thrill of golf‚??s ultimate test.‚?Ě
We played as a three ball with Bart whilst Chris Turlik joined us for a drive around the last few holes.¬† Chris, like the Wongs have been a huge part of our Emirate leg which we are hugely grateful for!
Back to Yas ‚?? and the point I was going to make is that it¬†really impressed all of us.¬† Despite its immaturity (it‚??s less than 6 months old) the course plays surprisingly well and not too dissimilarly from designer Kyle Phillips‚?? other links courses we‚??ve played.¬† The secret to this is the strain of grass that withstands the middle east heat - Pospalum.¬† Unlike Bermuda it does not have grain and can be cut down to make the course play hard and fast. ¬†Mind you, only a brave man tries a bump and run shot as the grass does have a habit of gripping your ball. The prevailing wind often gets up and with a wide open windswept expanse you‚??d be hard pressed to call this Target Golf.¬† But Phillips has used the land available here well - as each nine of the course runs out and back to the clubhouse there are breathtaking views of both the natural beauty of the gulf and the man made structures around like Ferrari World (see below).¬†
8 holes play along the water with a number of greens on precipices and so it was a step up from our opening day of golf in Dubai at Al Badia.¬† You needed to be on song with driver as it was tight - the long native grasses off the fairway are menacing and of course, the water is always looming.¬†
There have already been some problems with erosion around the greens but I‚??m sure if the development company Eldar (state owned and with head offices pictured below) can build Ferrari World next door they‚??ll have no problems with a few retaining walls to protect the greens.
The greens are, in Kyle Phillips style, entertaining to say the least and provide a constant headache.¬† The undulations were more playable though in these conditions where the ball can, if your skill allows, grip on the greens and be stopped on a dime. ¬†¬†
The Yas Links would be one of the most expensive golf courses to build that we‚??ve played as they needed to dredge the estuary to create the landscape and then of course shape the course. ¬†¬†It‚??s also not cheap to get a game here so we were very grateful for their hospitality.¬† Whilst Yas is a world away from the old Scottish links courses, it is a solid design, a picturesque course in great nick and definitely falls firmly towards the top of the ‚??recommend‚?? list.
Abu Dhabi City Golf Course
Contrasting with Yas was the¬†Abu Dhabi City¬†golf course, a 9 hole course built within the race track.¬† Musselburgh style.¬†
We were playing AD City as part of a tournament being run by Chris called the¬†International Pairs.¬† Chris is running a number of such events in the UAE and so if you‚??re reading this from that part of the world I suggest entering!
Chris was up and at the course by about 630am, so fortunately we were offered a ride down the road with Bill‚??s driver.¬† Meant some time for some admin as we headed the 100km or so South from Dubai. ¬†Although his phone rang no fewer than 50 times during the journey ‚?? with one of those particularly annoying ring tones.¬† After incoming call number 20 we found ourselves holding our lips so as to not laugh each time that familiar tune began‚?¶. The good fortune of not driving this week was really noticeable - we‚??ve gone from driving hundreds of km per week, every week of the year to 0.
At the club we met the captain, skipper Craig, ¬†An English lad out here teaching who proved to be great fun.¬† It took all of about 2 minutes for the banter (read abuse of Nu Zillin accent) to begin and the stories to flow.¬† I was popping out from the table every 10 minutes or so to keep tabs on the cricketers who‚??ve been inspirational with their efforts in India.
Making up the four was Jamie, an Australian chap working in Abu Dhabi as an engineer.¬† Small world has it that his wife used to work with some of my colleagues back in NZ‚?¶¬† Took all of about 3 holes for the Aussie jokes to come out too.¬† Jamie didn‚??t help himself mind you with a couple of the most ridiculous 3 putts from 4 feet causing laughs all around.
The AB City club is, like Musselburgh, a 9 hole course through the racetrack but unlike it‚??s Scottish counterpart here the race track represented Out of Bounds.¬† So it‚??s tight.¬† And short.¬† And the greens are rock hard and tiny and drove everyone mad at some time or another.
JP and I weren‚??t playing in the tournament but we did manage a combined 9 birdies, each on different holes so our best ball stableford score hit 46‚?¶¬† Probably had something to do with the GPS in the carts (quality) and the smooth putting greens (also Pospallan).
After the round all the locals showed us a good time and we even drank some strange luminescent green concoction of sorts.¬† After a few words thanking the organisers for having us (eg Chris T!) we found ourselves chatting about our trip with expats from all across the world who play their golf here. ¬†We even met a Kiwi chap called Murray.¬† Good times.
Abu Dhabi National GC
It was with great excitement that we headed out to the¬†Abu Dhabi GC¬†on day 320 of puregolf2010. ¬†Again we were playing with Chris T and our excitement levels were high as in a few hours time we were to play night golf in Dubai at the Emirates club. ¬†But first things first this track was laid out before us - the host of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championships on the European tour formerly won by Paul Casey, Martin Kaymer and Chris DiMarco.¬†
So this was a championship lay out and played as such with a series of water and sand freckled across the mammoth 7000+ yard layout. ¬†The courses here need to be huge as the ball flies so far in the heat and there is a lack of wind. ¬†We chose to walk which was a brave decision considering our hectic schedule for the upcoming day but proved to be a good way to see the course. ¬†You get a better feel of the track when you walk as opposed to getting in and out of carts all day - particularly when it's cart path only - you completely lose your senses.¬†
It was the 4th match where Chris and I paired up against JP and Bart. ¬†At 2-0 down the constant chipper from the lads was becoming as predictable as our daily golfing fix. ¬†It was unrelenting. ¬†But after we restored some pride at the Els Club with a half we were determined to put up a fight today. And so we did courtesy of some solid play, a Chris T magic pitch in for a birdie 2, and some fatiguing kiwi boys. ¬†JP resorted to lying down on the fairways (no press-ups this time), almost willing the white flag to sprout from within him.
One other thing occurred today which happened a few times in Abu Dhabi. And that was that mid-round the echos of prayer washed across the golf course the drone from the mosque filling the air and reminding you exactly where you were! ¬†
As we came up both the 9th and 18th holes the falcon shaped clubhouse looked down upon us. ¬†Intimidating and yet impressive. The clubhouse was once built facing the other way with the falcon facing the carpark. The sheik didn't like this. So the thing was entirely rebuilt facing 180 degrees in the opposite direction. ¬†As you do in Abu Dhabi where things aren't 'commercial or non-commercial', they just get done.
Thats all for now folks, pictures to be added in the morning but again a huge thank you to Chris T and the golfing community in Dubai and Abu Dhabi for making the week possible!
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