Emirates Road (311),
PO Box 367,
United Arab Emirates
- +971 4 366 3000
Arabian Ranches Golf Club opened in February 2004 and this was Ian Baker-Finch's first collaboration with Nicklaus Design. Previously the area was grazing land for camels and gazelle, and Baker-Finch – who knows a bit about links courses having won at Royal Birkdale in the 1991 Open – has turned Arabian Ranches into a reasonable facsimile of a links course… or as near as one could get in the deserts of the Gulf.
The topography was not ideal for a golf course, but the architect resisted the temptation to move huge volumes of soil (only 80,000 cubic metres was moved). The result is a nicely crafted course that flows well through the 247 acres of desert; 66 acres of which are grassed and 55 acres of which are planted with desert vegetation. Shots that miss the immaculate grass of the fairways and greens often enter the ‘sandy wasteland’ with its indigenous shrubs and bushes.
The course underwent a five-month renovation at the end of 2019, when all the greens were replaced by Desert Landscape, a part of the Dubai-based Desert Group company. Agronomist Sean Kingsley for Emaar Hospitality Group supervised the replacement of greens and collars with a new USGA-standard rootzone before replanting with Platinum TE paspalum grass.
The course has five sets of tees – Championship, Tournament, Medal, Society & Ladies/Juniors – so it’s suitable for all levels of golfer. There's a floodlit driving range, Par 3 academy course and three onsite professionals.
The club and the huge Arabian Ranches community development of thousands of homes is owned by The Emaar Group who also have the renowned nearby Montgomerie on their portfolio. The Arabian Ranches Golf Club has become the focal point of the community and as such is as near to a traditional members club as you're likely to find in Dubai.
A little known fact is that within the Spanish Colonial-style clubhouse, there are 11 en-suite guest rooms for stay and play visitors who don't want to stay at the big tourist hotels on the beach.
A bit of an underrated track, which probably has something to do with it being one of the most reasonably priced courses in the region. You could argue that it has the most authentic desert golf experience of any of the courses in Dubai. This is mainly due to the limited rough on the fairways. Anything that strays runs into a desert, much of which has been left undisturbed by the development of the golf course. A cool feature is how the sand is raked to show the distinction between bunkers and sandy desert areas. Provided you keep it in the short stuff, it's a fair test with the odd risk-reward hole thrown in.
Best Hole: 15-A short par 4 which invites players to try and drive the green over an area of desert full of thick bushes waiting to nab anything short. The lay-up option features a single tree, roughly 100 yards from the green, which must be driven beyond. Failure to do so will impede the second shot to the green. The green is then elevated and slopes heavily, meaning any shots have to be well placed.
The course underwent some major work over the summer of 2019 when all the greens were relaid to the original set up (they had gradually reduced in size over the years). The new greens seem dramatically larger, although apparently only back to their original opening size, and are still settling in but are very good. They're getting a little faster as time progresses and the course is well maintained, although at times difficult to play, with accuracy always important here in the desert. If you find yourself out in the sand with a wayward shot it's easier to take the punishment and get it back onto the fairway as soon as possible....although always tempting to try for the wonder shot and channel that inner Ballesteros. Rarely works :-(
The clubhouse and people are great, friendly and helpful and since 2017 there's also a new easy-dining restaurant onsite as well as the clubhouse.
I'd say it's an underestimated course which seems to have people who live here in two camps; those who like the challenge and those who prefer to play the wider, more open courses. That said, it's not tight on fairways but rolling off onto the sand can be punishing. In the summer that sand adds 10-degrees too, so be careful to save energy and try and stay on the fairways. But that's the point of golf anyway, so I guess try that on every course....
Flow is the key word here, one hole links you seamlessly to the next, and although there are no huge changes of elevation and greatly elevated tee boxes, you still get a feeling of continuity, but don't mistake that for sameness. I played in a buggy in 40 degrees in August, but I would like to walk it in more temperate weather, as the green to next tees distances are very manageable and the local tall grasses give a very linksy feel with fairways that run a fair distance, especially in dry weather. In keeping with the links principle there are no water hazards on the course - instead there's extensive use of cleverly designed sandy indentations planted with abundant local flora which intrude into the grass fairways to both shape the course and to help defend the greens - I found myself in the sandy rough areas on more than one occasion. There are quite a few mature trees which is unusual - due to the twin problems of camels and lack of water - and they gave a bit more structure to the aesthetics of the course, which is laid out in 2 loops of nine coming back to the clubhouse.
I played it whilst they are midway through a project to remove some of the taller bushes from the edge of the fairway and widen the fairway in places to ensure the course wasn't overly punishing to wayward shots. So now whilst low handicappers can do well, it's more playable for mid. handicappers. I particularly enjoyed the 3rd a long par 5 with a green nestling in a huge sand dune flanked by trees, and I was content to bogey the 5th, a long par 4 (SI-1) after a bit of bother with the rather undulating green.
The course gets more traffic and thus a bit more wear and tear than some of the bigger name courses with much smaller membership, but you have to balance that against the fact that's it's open all year round and they don't close to overseed. It's predominantly a members club with over 400 members mostly from within the Arabian Ranches development. On a Thursday evening when I was there, the place was full with members and their families dining out and it felt like a community ambience and a place you'd like to be a member of. Arabian Ranches may not top of everyone's list of courses to visit in Dubai, where people often come to play the 'big names', but it I definitely think it's worth a visit and I feel I could go back there and I'd know I'll get a warm welcome.