While you’re in UAE, why not try a round of golf on one of the world’s best sand courses, and sample golf as it was originally played in the desert. Al Ghazal is unquestionably a very good and testing layout, although perhaps not as easy-on-the-eye as if it were grass. Here the entire game is played on sand, and that means fairways, greens (called browns) and obviously the bunkers. The course stretches out across an upper and lower plateau, which creates some interesting elevation changes on several holes. Within its testing 6724 yards (off the white tees) are many excellent dog-legging par-4’s, uphill and downhill par-3’s (the 11th is a gem), substantial bunkering and occasional water hazards, the most dangerous of which comes into play at the long par-5 17th, another excellent hole. The large and sloping browns, which include several arranged on two-tiers, roll as straight, fast and true as anything you’ll find on a grass course. Sand golf may not be to everyone’s liking, but it is remarkable how close to grass golf it comes – what’s missing are all those lush green fairways. The “greening” effect here, comes from a pleasant array of palms and small trees that surround the course and line some of the holes, and of course the small artificial grass mat you carry around, for shots from the marked-out fairways.
Despite its proximity to the airport, the golf course is surprisingly unaffected by noise from air traffic. Al Ghazal has been home to the Abu Dhabi Sand Golf Championship, which in previous years has boasted some distinguished professional champions : Greg Owen of England in 2004 and Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand in 2005. To the right of the 7th hole is a 4000 year old archaeological site.
The oldest golf course in the Emirates is Dubai Country Club’s Al Awir sand golf course. pre-dating the arrival of grass courses by several years. It is also the first course in the Middle East to host overseas golf professionals, when the Caledonian Lions toured here in 1983. Regular venue for the Dubai Men’s Open. Al Awir may not be as aesthetically easy-on-the-eye as a grass course, but at a very respectable 6477 yards, and with many well laid out holes, good greenside bunkering, occasional water hazards and browns that have the pace and holding characteristics of normal greens.
Many expats who have lived in Africa and the Middle East will be aware of the etiquette of sand golf, which includes the following : only wear soft-soled shoes (e.g. trainers) – spiked shoes, even soft spikes will damage the greens (called browns). You can play from an artificial grass mat, but only if you are on the fairways (marked by stakes). Always brush the browns after you’ve finished putting – large brushes are provided for this purpose at each brown.