Developed by DAMAC Properties, one of the leading luxury real estate companies in the UAE, and operated by The Trump Organization, the golf facility at Trump International Golf Club Dubai is a Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner co-design which debuted in early 2017, becoming the first new 18-hole layout to open in Dubai for seven years.
The course is set within a massive residential project that’s situated close to Dubai Sports City, with links-style fairways routed around a 500-acre property which was until very recently nothing more than a flat and barren desert landscape. There’s also a 9-hole par three academy course, floodlit driving range and short game facility.
Feature holes include the short par four 8th, which is played to an awkward raised green, and the left doglegged 13th, where the “island” green is completely surrounded by sand. Rather disappointingly, the closing holes on both nines play around opposite sides of a large lake in front of the clubhouse – now where might you have seen that before?
Admittedly, even politics completely aside, the Trump name in golf, after visits to several of his courses, maybe with the exception of the Martin Ebert renovated Turnberry, does not inspire much excitement for me when visiting a new course these days. I was surprised to find out that Trump Dubai in fact wasn’t a Trump owned course at all, rather a course that has paid a great sum to utilize his brand. As well travelled as I think I am, that was a first for me and I still can’t figure out the choice given this is in the Middle East. Clearly there are many factors for which I am unaware but I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when that decision was being made.
Make no mistake, they did a heck of a lot right here at Trump Dubai and perhaps the main one was not allowing the likes of a Hawtree or RTJ to build this course, but opting for the currently hot and growing hotter Gil Hanse and team.
This course was the nicest surprise next to my visit to the Atmosphere Bar on top of the Burj Khalifa on my trip. By the way, my best non golf related tip for Dubai is to skip the touristy stuff and visit the top of the Burj Khalifa for drinks and snack at Atmosphere Bar as the sun is setting.
Tip #2 is to visit Trump International Dubai and see what a team like Hanse’s and a great architect can do with a blank canvas. The one caveat is that you have to be able to look through the perpetual build-up of the surrounding high-end real-estate development that surrounds the course. It’s modern and it’s ugly, the course however is anything but ugly.
One of the best parts of this project is the unique use of warm weather grasses that allow you to play the ball on the ground like a links course. On top of that it plays extremely firm and fast. Great start! It’s been set up as a modern inland links-like course, with wonderful bunkering, tons of width and abounding short grass. 18 totally different holes allow tremendous variation in shots. Given the site would have been perfectly flat when they started, there has been enough ground moved around to create quite substantial height differentials with a few significantly uphill and downhill holes – something that’s missing from most other courses in the Middle East.
The shaping of the many waste areas and bunkers is wonderful. On top of that, the greens are brilliant, boasting a wide range of various sizes, which all look and feel very natural and not that different to what you’d find at the most natural of links courses. There are fun little bowls and backstops and an abundance of options when it comes to recovery shots or ways to play most approach shots.
Perhaps the most talked about hole on the course and one of my favorites is the short drivable par 4 12th hole. This totally bunkerless and hazardless hole consists only of short grass, playing up hill to about 250 yards, drivable for many people including the author quite readily with a 3 wood. There is little more fun than watching your well-struck tee shot skirting off the ground up the front of this crazy green and then repelling off in one direction or another. We were literally laughing out loud. The correct play would be either a high draw or low running hook that’s perfectly weighted to run up the slope on the right side. This green is the smallest on the course and maybe one of the smallest I’ve seen especially taking into the consideration the fall offs and slopes. It may eventually become known as the shortest snowman in golf. While that might be an exaggeration, standing on the tee I was thinking eagle chance, walking off I was sweating to make a par and honestly had to hit a ridiculously tough 10 ft putt to avoid a 5.
Outside of this gem of a hole there is a very solid mix of long, middle and short 1,2 and 3 shotters. The par 3’s, might in fact, steal the show. The par 3 5th playing to about 190 yards plays very much like a Redan, allowing a tee ball off to the right to wind all the way around and down onto the green that is raised up from the waste areas in the front and to the left. The 18th must be the Hanse version of a tribute to Pete Dye’s 18th at Sawgrass and is shaped in a similar way around one of the only water hazards on the course. It’s a daunting tee shot into the wind.
Trump Dubai dare I say is architecturally the strongest new build modern course baring his name. Ironically, it’s the only course not owned by him. Then again, perhaps that is not entirely ironic. The developers of this project did one thing right in the author’s opinion and that was to bring in Hanse and team and let them do what they do best, create great golf courses.
You can bet I will be returning to this course should Dubai end up a travel destination for me in the coming years.
The Trump Organization operates Trump Ferry Point as concessionaire to the City of New York who owns the course (it's in Ferry Point Park). I haven't played it, and it's a Nicklaus design as opposed to Hanse so it might not be quite on the same level as Dubai, but it's a similar example of the Trump name being applied to a course they don't actually own.