Bahrain burst onto the Middle East golf scene in 1999 when the Riffa golf course was inaugurated and over the next eight years, it held a number of important regional competitions like the Pan Arab Golf Championships in 2000 and 2004.
Investors had bigger and better plans for the property however, and in 2007 the course closed, undergoing a radical makeover by Colin Montgomerie and European Golf Design that saw it emerge in 2009 as the Royal Golf Club.
Now part of the luxury Riffa Views residential complex, the new Montgomerie layout at the Royal Golf Club lies within three housing estates – Park, Lagoon and Oasis – and it will, in time, be serviced by a country club, complete with swimming pools, racquet courts and gardens.
The Montgomerie course is certainly a green oasis within a natural desert landscape where good use of the terrain has been made to fashion the layout around deep wadis and sandy waste bunkers. The closing four holes feature significant water hazards with man made lakes coming into play on the left side at 15 and 16 and the right side at the penultimate and closing holes.
To round off the whole set up at the Royal Club – and, some might contend, quite in keeping with the total artificiality of playing golf in such a non conducive environment – golfers, if they so desire, can play the back nine under state of the art floodlighting, teeing off as late as 8.30pm in the evening!
In 2011, the Royal Golf Club played host to the inaugural Volvo Golf Champions event, with the field comprising of 126 European Tour winners. England’s Paul Casey holed a six-foot par putt on the final green, claiming the title by one-shot from Miguel Angel Jiménez and Peter Hanson.
The following edited extract by Robin Hiseman is from Volume Six of Golf Architecture: A Worldwide Perspective. Reproduced with kind permission. To obtain a copy of the book, email Paul Daley at email@example.com.
“The project centred on the eight-year-old Riffa Club. The clubhouse was retained, but nothing of the original design remained, with the majority being ploughed under for the new housing development. Only five holes were retained within the area of the old course, with the rest spreading out across a huge expanse of adjoining barren desert.
Apart from a wadi that features heavily in the front nine, the majority of the site was snooker-table flat, with barely a bush to be seen. What it did have was several active oil wells, crude oil dumps, gas flare pipes and a maze of overground oil pipes, radiating out from a central pipe corridor that split the site in two like a rusty rail track.
It was a thrilling task to attempt to turn this semi-industrial wasteland into a beautiful desert course. It was decided to create a links-style course, complete with countless bump-and-run opportunities, in the windswept Bahraini desert. I spent the winter of 2006 planning a course with the emphasis on holes with open, yet undulating green approaches.
Additionally, with pronounced ground ‘movement’ within the short grass areas that would influence the pitch and run of the ball. Luck, both good and bad, would play its part in this test of golf. In effect, the course design was engendered with an abundance of ‘local knowledge’ that could only be understood through repeated play.
Construction of the course was extremely complicated. There were a myriad of oil pipes that had to be removed from the playing areas, but these couldn’t move until the diversion pipes were installed; however, the phasing of that project was not under our control. Elsewhere, we had to accommodate the many other contractors working to construct the new houses, roads and infrastructure.
The natural sand resembles talc, and it proved totally unsuitable for anything but bulking out the shaping. Indeed, we imported every grain of sand with which the course was built. Fairways and tees were formed of a 45-centimetre layer of double-washed marine sand, dredged out of the Gulf (and) the greens were built with 30 centimetres of high-quality Saudi mineral sand.
Only one type of grass was used throughout the course: Sea Isle Supreme Paspalum, as it copes well with the salinity levels present in the sand and the relatively low quality of irrigation water produced by the desalination plant. The course was floodlit for the back nine and the entire ‘Wee Monty’ par-3 course (and) it was my task to appraise the position of all the floodlighting.
The Royal Golf Club is the most complex project that I’ve ever been involved with. And, for two-and-a-half-years, the most fun I’ve ever had while building a course. Braemar-Nass, our contractor, was a willing and co-operative partner. Successfully, we produced a course that fulfilled our concept of producing links-type conditions.”
Desert golf is most certainly a game of contrasts, but the Montgomerie course at the Royal Golf Club in Bahrain is one of the more extreme examples I have seen in the Middle East. The emerald rippled avenues stitched between the man-made dunes standout vividly against the flat arid backdrop of the Bahraini desert. It is certainly a spectacular sight. This build project was clearly a huge one and the scale of the work can not be underestimated. This is probably the most undulating course I have played in the Middle East and the green sites, the most severe in terms of contouring on the greens and their surrounds.
First things first, I was very impressed with the conditioning of the greens and fairways. The paspalum has taken well on these green surfaces and they were in near perfect condition when we played. The slopes mixed with these slick greens could potentially cause some troubles on windier days (which are frequent in the desert afternoons here). I think the club have realised that keeping them at 80% of their potential speed is probably the best policy to keep the course playable for the average golfer.
The previous comments in earlier reviews re the bunker conditions raised my eyebrows somewhat and I was keen to see if this situation had improved. I found the bunkers to be in good condition and extremely playable with the conditions reasonably consistent throughout. The reality is that there are a lot of bunkers to maintain out there however, and there was evidence that the less frequented ones and the peripheral parts of the main ones receive less attention. I was still very pleased with them and only make comment as to reference and update concerns in previous posts.
On to the routing which proved to me one thing; Colin Montgomerie is a ruthless brute. This course is utterly memorable but has the potential to be brutally difficult depending on its setup and the weather conditions. We played on a reasonably calm day with the greens at 80% of their potential speed. Even in those conditions, from the back tees, it really is some test. The fairways are reasonably generous but the greens and their surrounds are a voyage of discovery. I would divide the course into 3 distinct sections. The opening 5, the middle and the closing 4.
The start is a strong one and the 1st gives a great flavour of what is to come; a mountainous fairway swinging to the left before a blind shot to a large contoured green with detritus anywhere but short. 2 is a wonderful test of a par 3 where left is dead and the green will turn many greens in regulation into bogeys or worse. 3 and 4 are long for their par and then the 5th is probably the one hole on the golf course that can not be played without studying the stroke saver intently. Strategy is key here as the fairway is split with a significant hazard in play with any club off the tee. The green is incredible and maddening in equal measure with a huge raised fault line through its centre that runs front to back. There must be 10 feet plus of elevation change between the centre and the edges of the greens are there are some pin positions here that could embarrass even the most accomplished golfer.
The middle section is the part of the course to attack (if there is indeed any part of this course you should attack). The stretch 10-12 in particular offers opportunity for scorecard improvement and 3 of the 4 par 5 reside in this middle stretch. That being said, none of those par 5’s offer much in terms of a true chance of reaching them in two, certainly from the back stones. Effort should be focussed on leaving a comfortable club for the approach shot to these testing 3 shotters’.
Then we reach the finishing stretch, and what a stretch it is. Water suddenly looms large on every shot and there is some real work to be done to navigate these four holes without a serious scorecard implosion. 15 is the best hole on the course for me. An attractive lake hugs the left side of the fairway all the way to the green and dominates the landscape. The tee shot requires a shaped shot around a mature tree and the approach needs to carry far enough to take the tight entrance between bunkers and water out of play.
16 is a deceptively long par 3 with a green that has an element of North Berwick about it in that the cavernous valley that carves through the middle of the green is particularly memorable. Then 17 and 18 offer you a number of opportunities for a watery demise down the right hand side of both holes. I can’t recall a tougher or more memorable finish that I have played recently and I think it really does elevate the quality of the overall offering immensely.
In summary, this golf course is an impressive adversary. Brutally tough, eminently memorable and supremely conditioned. The headlines are the undulating fairways and the challenge around the greens (which could be bordering on too difficult depending on the conditions). Make sure to select tees appropriate to your ability and the elements and err on the side of caution. But do most certainly come and play this course if visiting Bahrain. I’d even go as far as to say it is worth factoring in to a Middle Eastern golf trip itinerary as a dedicated stop. There is enough uniqueness to make it worth the visit.
The Royal Golf Club will always be one of my favorite golf courses in the Middle East. It doesn’t have the status of some of the more well-known courses in the region, but in my opinion, it is right up there with the best of them. The course looks and feels really good.
Fairways are mown nicely, and the vibrant green stands out against the surrounding desert area. The greens are what I can only call exciting. With large contours, and protected by steep run-offs, you need to be able to hit the correct section of the green to leave an easy two putt.
The layout of the course is a nice challenge for all golfers. With a good mix of holes, it really keeps you on your toes. The last four closing holes are great holes to finish your round. With water coming into play and tight landing areas on these holes, to walk away with four closing pars takes a lot of skill and is no easy feat. If you have a good score going coming into the last four holes you will need every ounce of concentration to keep that going for the final stretch!
Click the link to read more about The Royal Golf Club at MJ-GolfGuides.
This is a great golfers course. No two holes are alike, one of the toughest courses I have played. Not for high handicappers as if you stray from the fairway you will struggle. Greens were being cared for, but still in good nick, fairways cut to around 18ml, staff friendly, practise facilities brilliant. Make sure you try the lamb rogan in the links bar...