Muscat Hills Golf & Country Club is located adjacent to Muscat International Airport, close to Omani capital and the Arabian Sea. Head south towards the foothills of the Western Al Hajar Mountains and you will find Oman’s first grass golf course.
Fully open for play in 2009 and designed by Paul Thomas – son of former Ryder Cup player Dave Thomas – Muscat Hills is routed across unusual terrain created naturally by wadis that run parallel to a number of holes. These wadis – dry riverbed valleys – and the dramatic mountain backdrop provided Thomas with a unique design opportunity and the result he delivered is striking.
Design alone does not make a great golf course; turf condition is a key element that golfers often take for granted but here in the arid Middle East grass is a nurtured luxury. Muscat Hills have taken the issue of grass seriously and have incorporated the Middle East’s first Turf Maintenance Academy within the club.
Muscat Hills has set its sights on becoming the “home of golf” in the Sultanate of Oman and early signs suggest that the club is proudly paving the way to success.
Paul Thomas, course architect commented as follows:
“The terrain at Muscat Hills is quite dramatic with the wadis running through the golf course and obviously having a significant effect on the design. It was never going to produce a golf course for beginners, as being able to hit the ball through the air is required for many tee shots. This is not ideal given the number of new players in the region but is a factor of the site available. However, for experienced players I believe the golf course will provide a variety of fair challenges.
The ground conditions being entirely of rock will give a very natural and rugged look to the course and the landscaping will be an integral part of the softening process that will be required. I believe the golf course will mature and develop in the coming years to be well liked for the challenges and the requirement for golfers to have to improve to get the best out of the course. The development of the surrounding real estate will obviously have an affect in reigning in the enormous backdrop of mountains that dominate the course.
My favourite holes will be the par four 11th and the par four 18th.”
Initially I found this course a little hard to fit into a neat box: was it a desert course, a members course trying to be parkland, or was it a resort course catering to all? Maybe best to describe it as a little of each. The good news is that the conditioning seems to be coming back to something matching the standard of the design: the greens rolled truely, bare patches were few and far between and the course felt looked after. Also, at OMR25 for the round, this was the cheapest of the Muscat courses, so perhaps the price reflects that there are still minor improvements being made.
The wadis running through the course emphasise the desert feel, but they seemed to be more window dressing rather than actual integral parts of the course. I think only the par 3 12th had one in close proximity to the line of play and probably only then due to a hard left sucker pin, tempting the hero shot only a few metres from the steep drop off. (A simple shot to the heart of the green was really all that was necessary - risk v reward!) A nice photogenic hole too!
Plenty of housing around the course as it winds along the ridges between the wadis, but mostly not detracting from the round, except perhaps some overly large apartments near the 4th green which seem out of place. The design is clearly the strong point and I found it an interesting mix of holes that never felt repetitive: dogleg holes, some blind shots and some carries. Certainly the elevation changes helped.
Finally, the course felt a little short playing from the second set of tees, although the yardage is nearly 6600 yds from those tees and I'm no long hitter. Maybe it was just the breeze being straight behind on two of the par 5s.
A thoroughly enjoyable round was had in pleasant mid-March sunshine!
If there’s one thing that pains me on a golf course, it’s to see a potentially great course being neglected and getting run down. Unfortunately this is the case with Muscat Hills at present.
What is a course with great potential due to an excellent layout is suffering from a serious lack of maintenance. There are some holes that are really exciting to play, such as the par 3s where you are hitting to greens over the local wadis, and par 4s you can take an aggressive line to leave a shorter approach shot in. But the condition of the course takes all the fun out of it.
From fairways that have patches of grass in them longer than the rough, to greens that are covered in cut marks and brown patches, this course needs an injection somewhere. The bunkers are uncared for. The rough cuttings are left lying there. The buggies are petrol and take a few tries to get them going after you stop. Every aspect of the love and care that should go into a course like this is lacking.
It is such a shame as Muscat Hills has great potential, but until something drastic happens, I couldn’t recommend it to anyone looking to play it.
Click the link to read more about Muscat Hills at MJ-GolfGuides.
Muscat Hills is the pioneer of grass golf in Oman. Before the Paul Thomas design opened in 2009 the only golf available in the country was on sand. It is a hugely impressive looking set up high on a series of hills that run through rocky terrain and wadis- dry river beds- that are almost impossible to walk, so factor the price of a buggy into your costs.
Also factor in that the price of alcohol in Muslim Oman is enough to drive many British golfers to drink, but only if they have done the sensible thing and stocked up sensibly at duty free before leaving the UK. A pint of premium brand lager, such as Stella Artois or Peroni, can cost anything up to £10 once service duty and tax have been included.
Strangely, despite being a resort course, the bar and restaurant at Muscat Hills only opens between 12.00 and 15.00 and remains closed again until 18.00, so when we came off the back nine we could only get soft drinks.
But that’s enough of the background; the course itself is a classic resort course with wide fairways, huge tracts of sand and surrounded by houses although fortunately these do not intrude on the enjoyment of the golf.
The most similar course I have played to compare it to is Finca Cortesin in southern Spain although Muscat Hills is less demanding due to its wider fairways. This is still no course for beginners or novices for all that.
Although the ball travels further in the warm Omani air this is a long course at almost 7,000 yards off the men’s back tees and higher handicappers would be advised to go off the whites, the most forward of the men’s boxes reducing it to 5.602 yards.
The first deep gorge we encounter is at the 145 yard, par three third where we need to find a deep kidney shaped green perched on its hill. End up short and you are down amongst the dead men in the wadi!
The perilous par four sixth may look short at only 292 yards but it is uphill all the way to a shallow green that perches, almost uncomfortably on a high brow. Anything short is in the sand and a weak tee shot will disappear down another chasm. Just finishing the front nine with the same ball can be a hugely satisfying experience.
Water comes into play on the back nine that, like the front, starts off quietly before throwing some horrors at us. The 127-yard par three 14th veers between fiendish and daft. It is uphill onto a long, hard green that slopes towards us. If the flag is on the front and your ball is more than 20 feet behind it prepare to put your putter back in the bag and reach for your lob wedge for your third shot because you will be back down the hill.
The best hole on the course is unquestionably the last. A medium length par four with a huge lake all down the right hand side and rolling grass hillocks on the left that, like so many holes here requires a shot to a raised, hard green.
There are still improvements that could be undertaken at Muscat Hills, not least trimming the apron fronts of many of the greens where the ball can easily get caught up. Yet the greens are so firm that any high-flying shot may bounce and spin over the back, so bump and run shots should not be penalised.
Hopefully the bar will be open for you to sit outside and savour a beer after your round and allow considered reflection of the many good things to enjoy over these 18 holes, as there are certainly many, not least playing all 18 holes with the same ball.