Designed by Peter Harradine, the 9-hole resort layout at Jebel Ali first saw golfing activity on its fairways in 1998. Seven years later, the course hosted the inaugural Omega Dubai Desert Classic Challenge Match – a precursor to the European Tour event the same week – where professionals compete in a one-day charity golf tournament that includes the opportunity to win one million US dollars for a hole in one. Such is the popularity of this event, it has remained on the golfing calendar ever since its inception.
A round at Jebel Ali begins and ends with a par five – indeed, the fairways of the 1st (“Marina Bay”) and 9th (“Juamana Bound”) holes run parallel to each other. Many regard “Old Gate House,” the risk-reward short par four 5th, as the signature hole here, though the tough, 431-yard par four that precedes it (with its narrow playing corridor leading past a saltwater lake to the green) is another title contender for best hole on the card.
Course architect Peter Harradine kindly provided us with the following comments:
I am extremely glad that it's a 9-hole course as I think that the golf course industry needs more 9-hole layouts, pitch and putt courses and driving ranges.
The Jebel Ali location was a flat desert which was not really a great site to work with. In order to guarantee the commercial sustainability of the course, we were only allowed to use a certain amount of water for the irrigation so we limited the area of grass and related landscaping to meet that criteria.
Actually, the brief from the owners and management was very simple: Design and construct a 9-hole par 36 resort course within the hotel grounds which must be easy to play but also quite challenging, not too long but long enough.
I think that we've proven that one can design a course that can be interesting, aesthetic and challenging without resorting to excessive amounts of land, money and unwarranted amounts of water.
As other courses in the UAE (Faldo and Creek) Jebel Ali has also been victim of real estate development. It might be a necessary evil from an economic perspective but all three courses have, in my view, lost charm in the process.
That said Jebel Ali is a well maintained enjoyable track where accuracy is more important than distance and that is a welcome change. The track is narrow and greens are small, so you will be challenged regardless of your level.
As it is a 9 hole course the experience is over too fast but you might fancy trying a second round once you know the layout a bit better. Holes 2, 5,6 and 9 play easier once you have seen them before.
Clubhouse is a bit old but food and service on the terrace is very good, so stay for breakfast.
Arguably the hardest track in the UAE, save for perhaps the majlis. It's narrow and well guarded by thick bushes with water in play for over half the holes. The greens are also tiny and well guarded by bunkers, making precision a premium. There are two sets of tees to enable you to play a full 18 and the course, like all in the area, is in great condition.
Best Hole-1: A brute of an opening hole. A decent length par-5 which is well protected by bushes on either side of the fairway all the way up to the green. Veer off-course and you'll be in trouble. You'll need two perfect shots to reach in two but even the 3 shot option isn't safe. There is water 100 yards out from the green, which itself it a shallow target protected by sand. 4 and 8 also deserve an honorable mention but 1 really is a test.
I stayed at Jebel Ali only a handful of years after the course opened for play, so this review is far from current. However, I wanted to share my opinion that this is a quality venue both from a golfing and accommodation perspective. Jebel Ali is located in its own Freezone, about 20 miles to the southwest of central Dubai. 40 miles further on along the E11 highway is Abu Dhabi, so Jebel Ali can serve both locations comfortably. I felt the Jebel course itself, albeit nine holes, was every bit as enjoyable as the Emirates Majlis and Wadi (as was) and Dubai Creek, which I also played on this trip.
One of the reasons for posting this review is to share a tale that amused me. I went to the Jebel Ali golf office ahead of one of my numerous rounds to check in and one of the staff told me in a delightful broken English/Arabian accent that I was paired up with a certain Mr & Mrs B. Rooking. Fair enough I thought – no problem and I wandered off to the first tee only to find that I’d been paired with one of my childhood football heroes, Sir Trevor Brooking and his lovely wife Hikka. It was my most memorable nine holes as the Brookings were not only engaging company but also great fun.
When I return to Jebel Ali I won’t expect to play with Trevor Brooking, but what is likely to happen is that I’ll find an enjoyable 9-hole course at a quality hotel that is in easy reach of all the new courses in this region that I’d like to sample at some future point… including Yas Links, which everyone tells me is worth the trip to the UAE alone.