In 2004, magazine covers across the world splashed the iconic image of a young Tiger Woods on the top of the Burj Al Arab. A powerful image, it signalled Dubai’s fierce ambition to be at the forefront of international luxury lifestyle. Some eight years later, stellar names in the golfing industry such as Tiger Woods and Rory Mcllroy have regularly visited the UAE to play golf.
The idea that Gulf and golf have become synonymous might still be a bit far-fetched, but certainly not far off. Some of the biggest names in course design – Greg Norman, Nick Faldo, Pete Dye, Kyle Phillip, Gary Player and Colin Montgomerie, among others – have created ambitious designs in the Middle East. These mesmerizing courses have lured the world’s top golfers to compete for prizes in some of the biggest tournaments outside the four majors. Renowned for its luxurious hotels such as the Emirates Palace and the Burj Al Arab, the UAE is quickly becoming a top destination for golfing tourists all year round.
Regardless of the hype, during the recession things slowed down. One such project was the 18-hole Tiger Woods course that was supposed to open in 2009 and was subsequently put on hold. But things have now picked up. Most golf players will marvel at the UAE’s excellent offering of golf ranges that boast a wide range of greens allowing golfers to hit almost every shot. Such bonuses have led to the growing popularity of golf in the UAE, which has also been spurred by the rising number of top tournaments held in nearby Asia.
Many of the UAE’s most prominent hotels now have golf courses. The Address Montgomerie Dubai is one such example and is known as one of the Middle East’s most luxurious and desirable golfing destinations. It features a high quality golf course within Emirates Hills, one of the city’s most exclusive residential communities and offers two completely different seasons of golf. During winter, the golf course is over-seeded, while the summer season has the course back to a full stand of Bermuda grass. The turf growth is high during the summer, resulting in a very challenging rough.
“The most important reason for the growth of golf in the region is due to its availability,” says Patrick Wynn, Director of Golf at The Address Montgomerie. “Over the last 10 years the number of golf courses has tripled which has allowed for more availability.” Yet while the accessibility of golf has increased, the golf community within the UAE is still small which has resulted in higher competition between clubs. “With increased competition you also see many clubs offering discounted offers to entice new and recreational golfers into playing more often,” adds Wynn. “There has also been a large effort put forth by the governments of Abu Dhabi and Dubai to make the UAE a global golfing destination.”
Moreover, the UAE has all the right ingredients for professional golfers; quite a few golfers even live in the UAE. Many attest that Dubai is the most welcoming place for the pros and the best place to practice because it has all the facilities needed. “There are new courses coming up all the time which means there’s obviously an increase in business here for golf,” says Francois Wolfaardt, Director of Golf Operations at Arabian Ranches Golf Club. “I’ve been here almost 10 years and the popularity has increased around the three European Tour events and the Ladies Masters.” Wolfaardt adds that the Arabian Ranches has recently seen an increase in tourism after a dip during 2008 and 2009. This has resulted in many more memberships.
But perhaps the pivotal and defining characteristic of golf in the UAE is its internationalism. “The UAE golfing community is just like the rest of the UAE: it is diverse and transient,” says Wynn. “However, golf brings people together in one game. There are over 30 countries represented from among our members, and we typically have over 80 players for each of our monthly member events.” Luxurious golf courses, impeccably conceived and designed, in addition to a range of international tournaments and events has helped grow the UAE golf community, but its defining trait is its diversity strengthened through the country’s strategic positioning at a crossroads between Europe and Asia.