“An oasis of tranquillity carved out of the desert” is how Abu Dhabi Golf Club is billed and for once the marketing spin is correct. As a United Arab Emirates destination, Dubai is where most travelling golfers will head, but Abu Dhabi is where the mystique of ancient Arabia blends with a modern, cosmopolitan society. Most of the country comprises of arid desert called Rub Al Khali (or Empty Quarter) where the gigantic sand dunes are forever shifting in the winds. Abu Dhabi Golf Club is located a short drive, by car, from the modern high-rise skyline of Abu Dhabi city. With its striking clubhouse designed in the shape of a falcon with its wings outstretched, Abu Dhabi Golf Club really is the quintessential oasis.
Peter Harradine designed the 27 holes at Abu Dhabi Golf Club in 1998. The National is the championship course that hosts the annual $2m Abu Dhabi Golf Championship. The event was inaugurated in 2006 and American Chris Dimarco took the title, which was lifted by England’s Paul Casey in 2007 and Germany's Martin Kaymer in 2008, his maiden European Tour victory. Casey won the title for the second time in 2009 and Martin Kaymer again claimed the Abu Dhabi Championship title in 2010 beating England’s Ian Poulter by just one stroke in a thrilling finish.
Kaymer triumphed again in 2011 claiming his third Abu Dhabi title in four years and in the process displaced Tiger Woods as number two in the world rankings. England’s Robert Rock held off the challenges of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Thomas Björn to win the 2012 title, claiming the biggest win of his career.
Welshman Jamie Donaldson claimed the 2013 title by one shot from Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy received a two-shot penalty in the third round of the 2014 event, allowing Spain’s Pablo Larrazabal to finish one shot ahead of the Northern Irishman and Phil Mickelson. Martin Kaymer threw away a six-shot final round lead in the 2015 event, finishing third behind runner-up Rory McIlroy. The winner, Frenchman Gary Stal, claimed his maiden European Tour title and also a European Tour exemption until the end of 2017.
Rickie Fowler lifted the title in 2016, winning by one shot from Thomas Pieters and the following year Tommy Fleetwood won by the same margin from Dustin Johnson. Englishman Fleetwood successfully defended his Abu Dhabi title in 2018 after carding just 30 strokes on the back nine of the final round in windy conditions.
The National course is generally regarded by the pros as a tough but fair challenge, but for the average golfer the 7,600-yard tips will no doubt prove too great a challenge. Saltwater lakes, ornamental trees and palms make the setting oasis-like with lush playing surfaces, bold, strategic bunkering coupled with large greens paint the Abu Dhabi picture. Nine holes feature water hazards, so take ample golf balls!
This course met my expectations from start to finish. It’s flat, very well conditioned and lots of man-made hazards to add some challenge. Compared to Yas Links, this course is a lot less demanding and offers much more space off the tee. Once again, this part of the world is all about the impressive architecture off the course rather than on the course. It’s hard not to fill your camera with photos of the incredible clubhouse designed in the shape of a falcon bird in flight spying on its prey. I’m not sure how appetizing the golf course is to this bird though. I can’t imagine the amount of money exchanged to bring a tour event here.
A very good course - we played about a month after the European tour had been placed, the course itself was in good condition and the course proved to be a good challenge. The only negative we have is that the greens were badly damaged due to the tour event and then the weather that the UAE had experienced the week before we arrived. This meant that the greens although still quick were badly damaged (diseased) and also had many 'spike' marks, it was disappointing especially since the cost of playing is rather high.
The 18th is the obvious stand-out hole with its great views of the clubhouse and its huge green. Yet I agree with a previous poster who has pointed out for comment the third, a relatively short par four. A reasonable drive with leave you with a shortish iron to the green, but it is guarded by menacing bunkers and the putting surface runs sharply from back to front giving you a taste of what is to come. The tenth shows another side of this tricky course to best effect – bunkers purposefully designed to catch your ball off the tee. Careful club selection is required here from the tee and for your approach shot to the elevated green, guarded each side by treacherous bunkers. The dogleg right 11th is a very pretty hole, the green is well framed by the background trees. A pulled approach shot though will find a large greenside bunker. This is followed by a lovely par three 12th, which features a lengthy carry over water to a large, sloping green. Lovely course – it has new rivals in Abu Dhabi, but it will continue to please anybody who likes a challenge on a well maintained track.
The par 3s offer a variety of challenges. The 4th is well bunkered and a slippery green draws wayward shots into the sand. The 7th requires a confident stroke over water, rocks and bunkers into the prevailing wind and the 12th hole – over water and set against a backdrop of rocks - is perhaps the signature hole of the course. The par 4s and par 5s are equally varied with length, prevailing wind, dog-legs, water, terrain, greens and bunkering all used in varying combinations to create a unique challenge for each hole. Memorable holes include the 3rd, a relatively short par 4 which has a devilishly difficult green which punishes any wayward approach or excessively bold putt. The 10th – a par 5 - is cleverly designed and draws the golfer’s eye to the right and his ball into the bunkers. The course makes good use of the prevailing wind which usually strengthens in the afternoon and you will need to remain at the top of your game for holes 17 and 18. A par on either of these holes is well earned. For most of the year, the rough is kept to a playable length which makes for a more enjoyable experience.
Special mention should be made of the practice facilities. The driving range, chipping/bunker area and putting green are all top quality. The only criticism relates to the marketing of the course as “27 championship holes of golf”. Holes 1-18 (formerly known as the National course) hosts the PGA European Tour event. Holes 19-27 were formerly part of the Garden Course (the other 9 holes have been dug up for a housing development) and although holes 19-27 are maintained to the same standard as 1-18 and present a good challenge in their own right, they are not of the same calibre as holes 1-18. The problem is that on booking no guarantee is given as to which 18 holes you will play on the day. So a visitor could be playing any of 1-18, 10-27 or 1-9 & 19-27 and could find themselves playing only 9 holes of the championship course. Most visitors will come expecting to “play where the pros play” so the failure to guarantee a full 18 holes of genuine championship golf risks disappointment before even setting foot on the course. Before you book, if you want to play holes 1-18 I recommend that you by-pass the booking desk and make arrangements directly with the club manager.
In summary, make sure you play holes 1-18 and you won’t be disappointed. With an on-course hotel under construction and two new world class courses opening nearby shortly - Saadiyat Beach and Yas Links - and others on their way, Abu Dhabi will soon establish itself as a golfing destination to rival any.