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Top 20 Golf Courses of the Middle East 2021

12 March, 2021

Top 20 Golf Courses of the Middle East 2021

Though we’ve been ranking courses in this region of the world since 2009 (when we produced our first Top 10 for the United Arab Emirates), this is only the third biennial edition of our Top 20 for the Middle East. The new chart is dominated by layouts from the UAE but, across the board, there are representatives from another six nations included in the listings.

A number of former Major winners turned golf course designers –the likes of Ernie Els, Nick Faldo, Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, José María Olazábal and Gary Player – have their designs featured in this edition and other internationally acclaimed architects like Kyle Phillips and Gil Hanse are also in the mix. The most prolific design firm is European Golf Design with four courses listed.

Several top tracks come under the spotlight when the men’s and women’s professional European tours visit the Middle East this year.

Already, four European Tour competitions have been held here in 2021, starting with the Abu Dhabi Championship on the Championship layout at Abu Dhabi Golf Club in January. The Majlis course at Emirates Golf Club in Dubai and the 18-hole layout at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in Saudi have both hosted events since then, with the new Education City course in Doha staging the Qatar Masters this week.

And the top pros will return for the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, Dubai at the Jumeirah Golf Estates Earth course in November.

On the Ladies European Tour, the Faldo course at Emirates Golf Club is the venue for the Dubai moonlight Classic in late October, followed in successive weeks by $1 million dollar tournaments at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in the King Abdullah Economic City to the north of Jeddah.

The first of these championships is the Aramco Saudi Ladies International and the other one is the fourth in the Aramco Team Series of events for professional women, with the preceding tournaments taking place earlier in the year at venues yet to be confirmed in New York, London and Singapore.

Turning to our newly updated Middle East listings, the course at Yas Links in Abu Dhabi is one of four non-movers, retaining its #1 status at the top of the chart. Designed by Kyle Phillips and opened for play in 2010, this course elicited the following comments from reviewers last year: “weaves wonderfully up and down the coast, roughly bringing water into play every other hole… as with Kingsbarns, the mounding work here makes it look, play and feel like a genuine links… a wonderful and exciting course, it feels almost natural, even though the land surrounding the course is mostly flat”.

Yas Links

A new entry at #7 two years ago, the course at Trump International Golf Club Dubai in the UAE progresses four places to #3. Developed by the luxury real estate company DAMAC Properties and operated by the Trump Organization, this Gil-Hanse deigned layout was the first new 18-hole course to open in Dubai for seven years when it debuted in 2019.

Trump International Dubai

Our International Correspondent David Davis liked what he saw when he played here: “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, with wonderful bunkering, tons of width and abounding short grass… 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 other notable upward move is made by the course at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in the King Abdullah Economic City in Saudi Arabia, which entered the previous edition of our Top 20 at #14 and now climbs five places to #9. Laid out by Dave Sampson of European Golf Design, the course took almost ten years to complete, thanks to the global recession, but it has been up and running under the management of Troon Golf since the end of 2017.

Royal Greens

It was described by a reviewer recently as “in great condition from tee to green, even the desert looked maintained… with the wind coming in off the Red Sea it can change a relatively short hole into a long hole in the blink of an eye… as value for money goes, Royal Greens is well worth the green fee.”

There are two new entries and a chart re-entry this time around, with the course at Dubai Hills Golf Club in UAE leading the way at #4. Set within the Mohammed Bin Rashid City quarter of Dubai, it’s part of yet another development from the Emaar property company, designed by lead architect Gary Johnston from European Golf Design. The site was formerly a camel stable on a largely flat property but you’d never guess that now, with quite a few of the holes played in isolation within little valleys below the level of the surrounding residential elements.

Dubai Hills

The second newcomer at #11 is the Championship course at Education City in Doha, host venue for this week’s Qata Masters on the European Tour. The golf complex in Education City is a José María Olazábal design, extending to an 18-hole championship course, 9-hole floodlit par-three layout and a full-length 6-hole floodlit track, along with a driving range and state-of-the-art learning and practice area located in the club’s Centre of Excellence.

Education City

Last year’s Doha Masters tournament at Education City ended in a playoff, with an extra five holes required to separate eventual winner Jorge Campillo from David Drysdale, after both players had finished with identical four-round aggregate scores of 271.

The third new course making an appearance at #20 is Arabian Ranches in Dubai, which is actually a re-entry, having dropped out from #19 during our last chart revision. One of the more established tracks in the UAE, it was unveiled in 2004 as the result of a rather curious collaboration between Ian Baker-Finch and Nicklaus Design. The layout underwent a five-month renovation in 2019, when all the greens were replanted with paspalum grass.

Arabian Ranches

Looking ahead to the next time we re-rank the Middle East, the new Yas Acres golf facility in Abu Dhabi might well come into the reckoning. Dana Fry told us the first nine holes, driving range and clubhouse of the complex are all scheduled to open towards the end of 2021, with building on the second nine probably not due to start until 2023.

Jeremy Slessor from European Golf Design informed us the company is currently working on a new 18-hole layout and golf academy at Emaar South, which is part of the Dubai South development that encompasses the Al-Maktoum international airport, and this course from Gary Johnston is due to open next year.

Construction of the Tiger Woods-designed course at Trump World Golf Club in Dubai is almost finished but work on the clubhouse has been paused, causing some to speculate that the facility won’t open until next year, at the earliest.

Jon Hunt from International Design Group let us know he’s just finished building a new course at Ruwais Golf Club in Abu Dhabi which is now growing in. It’s part of a scheme in Ruwais, the world’s largest integrated refining and petrochemicals complex, which is focused on improving lifestyle, recreation and community amenities.

Qiddiya rendering

Other golfing enterprises that are currently in the Middle East pipeline and almost ready for construction include a Jack Nicklaus Signature course in Qiddiya and a Greg Norman design in Diriyah, both of which are located close to Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. More big announcements are expected in the near future as contracts are awarded to a variety of design firms.

The Saudis are looking to develop more than a dozen new golf facilities by 2030 within four “giga projects” so expect to hear more about this exciting multi-regional venture in the near future. The UAE might hold sway in the Middle East rankings at the moment but that supremacy might be about to come under serious challenge from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

To view the complete detailed list of our latest Middle East Top 20 rankings click the link.

Jim McCann
Top 100 Golf Courses


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