Opened in March 2010, the Gary Player-designed course at Saadiyat Beach Golf Club is billed as the Persian Gulf’s first ocean course. Located at Saadiyat Island (ten kilometres to the north east of Abu Dhabi city centre) and routed along the azure coastline of the Arabian Gulf, Saadiyat Beach is set to become one of the Middle East’s most talked about courses.
The course routing weaves in and out of numerous five-star hotels that line the beachfront and six holes feature panoramic Gulf views. A saltwater lagoon, links-like sand dunes, lakes and strategic bunkering combine to make an eclectic golfing experience. The course is spread out across a site that extends to more than 300 acres, so there’s a genuine feeling of space at Saadiyat Beach despite the close proximity of its five-star neighbours.
Saadiyat Beach measures a whopping 7,806 yards from the tips, but with five tee positions, the course is enjoyable for all playing abilities. The pros certainly put the course to the test each year when the Gary Player-hosted Saadiyat Beach Classic comes to town. The charity event draws a strong field of top pros and the funds raised are channelled into numerous worthy causes.
Fatima bint Mubarak Al Ketbi is a champion of women’s rights in the UAE and she’s considered to be the mother of sheikhs and the Mother of the UAE, it’s therefore fitting that a Ladies European Tour event should be named after her. This promising new LET event was inaugurated in 2016 and has since been staged at Saadiyat Beach Golf Club.
Dubai may well have more golfing history, but Saadiyat Beach Golf Club, Abu Dhabi Golf Club's National course and Yas Links combine to make the emerging Abu Dhabi an Arabian golfing destination par excellence.
This was a strong offering when it first opened, and a few of us from Dubai went down to play the soft opening (and, very pleasantly and surprisingly given it was not expected, found Gary Player in the clubhouse who seemed really pleasant and genuine when asking us what we thought of the course). I've played it a couple of dozen times since, and it was always in excellent condition with some beautiful holes around the Gulf with white sand and azure seas.
This year we went again, and it might have been 3- or 4-years since playing it and, sad to say, it was disappointing. The greens need a lot of work as they've succumbed to grass and weeds mixing, and the fairways are showing a lot of wear and tear. But the biggest disappointment was how much building of villas and properties have impacted the setting. I've lived in the region for 14-years so am not naive and know the needs of developers who make a golf resort the centre of their developments, but it seems such a shame to have lost some of that wildness and sea/beach view of the unspoilt Gulf. Still, that's progress I guess.
The staff were, and remain, really friendly and helpful and the course is no slouch, so it's still a great course, but perhaps my expectations of such a fine course at the beginning seems to have morphed into a feeling it's lacked some love over recent times.
Extremely well bunkered (as you would expect for a course in the desert!), and with holes playing alongside the sea, Saadiyat is a nice spot for golf. There is a massive variety on tees, and so playing from the appropriate tees is crucial for enjoying your round, with the backs maxing out at a massive 7,806 yards. Disappointingly, walking is banned here due to some long green to tee walks, and so buggies is the only option. Sand replaces rough on some of the holes which makes for some interesting strategy, and knowing that you won’t lose your ball even if you miss the fairway is quite pleasing. The layout can get quite repetitive, but a highlight was one of the beachside par 3s on the front 9.
I think for total enjoyment, Saadiyat was favourite course recently on a brief visit to Abu Dhabi - I also played at Yas Links and the National. The location brings in some great sea views but the obvious feature of the course is sand and so much of it. Bunkers, waste areas and natural sand scrapes protect on every single hole. This brings such a premium on positioning and thinking about all shots. After being in the sand on each of the first four holes, the move had to become that of plotting around the course, which is the tip for everyone who plays.
Saadiyat offers resort golf at a very high level, so be prepared for all that this brings - property everywhere, halfway houses that are like mini clubhouses, buggy technology etc. etc. etc. Those things can detract from golf sometimes but not here because the course is strategically strong with a natural feel - add in a strong test for all standards and this why the course is very well thought of.
The second hole can play the longest on the course and plays between 432-623 yards, depending on tee choice - the hole is called Split Personality for a reason. A bunker starts on the right-side after about 100 yards and then continues for around 300 yards but moving towards the fairway centre - it's a great feature but steer clear, if you can. The 5th tee gives the first coastal view ahead of playing the SI-2 par-4 - this is a very strategic hole; bunkers left and right at driving distance and then approaching a bunkerless green with a lagoon hazard protecting on the left and at the rear - you cannot get away with anything other than two decent shots to get to the putting surface.
The very next tee is a nice place to be - you now play a mid-length par-3 from a tee that is just a step from the beach - decent green site too, deep bunker protecting the left of the green is a real hazard and short and right is the best place to miss this green. A buggy ride along the boardwalk passing the Abu Dhabi holiday makers gets you to the next tee.
Getting the most of a Saadiyat round involves choosing the best tee for your game - to get this in perspective from the back Black tees, the 8th and 9th holes measure just about 1100 yards and the 8th is a par-4!
To the right of the first four holes on the back nine, there are many villas close by which for some may intrude on golf course experience but as mentioned, this is resort golf and the success of this type of course is dependent on sales and rentals - plus they are seriously good looking villas too - how the other half live!
The 13th hole plays back towards the coast and is another strategic par-4 with sand everywhere - and like so many holes you have to think about tee shot length to stay out of these massive bunkers.
The final four holes are strong, very strong - the 15th is a big par-5 with water in play from the tee, on the layup and also to the right of the green - there is the familiar sand protection on the entire left-side and a fairly small green too. I would say that the hole is much harder than the SI of 11 indicates. The 16th is my favourite on the course; from the Blue tee it is 420 yards, so driver is the choice for most. This hole is another that plays to the coast, I like the fact that it rises and then drops a little for the second half but has a huge sand trap protecting the front of the green - another hole that only two proper shots will get you putting for the rare Saadiyat birdie. The shortest par-3 (Blue 130 yards) comes at the 17th but with a slightly raised green, tee shots needs precision to hold the green. The finale is a par-4 played around the lagoon that also protects the back of the 9th green - play up the left-side from the tee and then continue to favour the left on the approach to the green and a par finish is on the cards. Really enjoyed the experience on and off the course and if you are lucky the herds of gazelles that make the course their home should make an appearance during the round.
Saadiyat Beach is a course offering some wonderful views of the beach, shoreline and Persian Gulf. The course itself is an exacting test, especially if the wind blows anything above 15 miles per hour. A plethora of bunkers face you on all a large percentage of the par 4 and par 5 holes, meaning you really do have to navigate your way around with a lot of care and good ball-striking if you wish to score well.
The practice facilities here are excellent. I loved the short-game area and putting green. Both contained plenty of slopes replicating what you would experience out on the course. The practice bunkers were excellent, offering you plenty of practice options to play to close, tight flags or to more distant flags on the green; the quality of the sand is excellent too.
As I mentioned previously, to score well you must navigate your way around the fairway bunkers. Be under no illusion, there are plenty of them and some extend the whole length of some of the holes. It can feel quite intimidating but there is plenty of room off the tee on the majority of holes. It is more a case of knowing what your carry yardages are for your driver and fairway woods to ensure you don't carelessly hit into them.
There are some superb holes on this course. Particular favourites of mine were the par 5 second which contains a treacherous, narrow green in the rear portion of it. The par 4 5th with water extending all the way down the left-hand side is particularly intimidating and the green contains a massive hump towards the rear portion of this green making putting particularly tricky. The par 3 6th has views to die for as you stand on the tee looking at the beach and the turquoise ocean close by to your left.
On the back nine particular favourites of mine were the two par fours at holes 13 and 16. Both are strong driving holes where you have to be long and accurate to find the fairway, especially at the 16th. The approaches on both holes are not too tricky but the green on the 13th is protected on the left by a sizeable hump and if they tuck the flag in behind that it can be difficult to get close. The 18th is a great finishing holes with one of the trickiest greens I think I've played. If they stick the flag in the back-right portion close to the water and the large slope on the green, it must be hard to get close.
The other touch I loved at Saadiyat Beach are the gazelles wandering around the course. It adds to the rugged feel of the areas just off the fairways. They don't get in the way and are relatively tame; it's a really nice touch and well thought out.
Saadiyat Beach is a great test of golf, thoroughly enjoyable with some wonderfully testing holes.......just don't forget your sand iron!
Played Saadiyat Beach a number of times while in the UAE. While it is a nice looking course I'm not the biggest fan of it. The fairways can get quite spongy which makes a precise strike paramount. The greens are very good, however, and I like the routing which goes towards the sea, then alongside it before turning back on itself. There are some stunning holes and vistas for sure, and also some stunning sand traps...
I would rank Saadiyat behind Abu Dhabi GC and Yas Links. I'd play it again but only after having been round the others, and I'd probably play the other two again.
You should check it out, for sure, but it's not a must for me.