Abu Dhabi - tradition and modernity in perfect harmony
Seven hours from London, in the heart of one of the most rapidly
developing regions of the world, Abu Dhabi is the largest of the
United Arab Emirates, with Abu Dhabi City as its capital.
Click here for a map of the United Arab Emirates
Although it holds some ten per cent of the worlds known oil
reserves Abu Dhabi is very much looking to the future, trying to
diversify its economy and enhance its environment, and is therefore
keen to attract tourism. They are making sure all the best hotels
and the best world class golf courses are there.
We were recently given the chance to experience the traditional
hospitality of the Middle East and the quality of three very distinctive
golf courses, with more than a few surprises in store.
THE NATIONAL COURSE
The National at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club by Sheraton is a world-class
and tough golf course, which will once again challenge the pros
in the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, part of the European Tour, from
January 18-21, 2007. (Click here
for a report on the 2006 tournament, won by Chris DiMarco.)
This luxurious golfing complex is located in Sas Al Nakhl, just
outside the city and only ten minutes from the airport, which makes
it an ideal golfing venue for people on short business trips or
those in transit. It boasts two Peter Harradine-designed courses:
the 18 hole National Championship Course and the more forgiving
18 hole Garden Course (2x9 holes, off different tees). There are
also unrivalled practice facilities, with the Gulf's longest driving
Completed in 1998, the picturesque Abu Dhabi National (see image
gallery at right) is fully mature and offers all golfers a wonderful
game of golf. It meanders through palms and ornamental trees and
shrubs maintained to the highest standard, thanks to an extensive
irrigation system which also feeds its seven salt-water lakes. In
fact, the course is so green it is hard to imagine you are in one
of the most arid areas of the world, but it takes two million gallons
of water a day to keep it that way!
On the first tee, with a large lake on your right and the cleverly
placed fairway bunkers, it's hard to keep your mind on your game
as you look at the astonishing clubhouse designed in the shape of
a falcon swooping down on a golf ball.
The course has some very long par 4s. The 468 yard 5th is a tough
hole, especially as it often plays against the wind and there is
a lake to drive over. Longer still is the 14th, a 475 yard long
par 4, although it is less dangerous. But you need all your strength
and concentration for the 454-yard 9th: theres water and trees
to be avoided and strategically placed bunkers protecting the green.
Two par 3s are particularly memorable: the 196 yard 7th and the
183 yard 12th. The 7th is one of the most dramatic holes on the
golf course requiring accuracy and distance control as it has water
from tee to green and again over the back of the green. The 12th
is the signature hole, with water to be carried and a landscaped
rock wall back drop with date trees and shrubbery - club selection
is critical here.
After 18 challenging but fair holes, you can relax in the luxury
of the extraordinary 'falcon' clubhouse, which features three floors
of restaurants, a piano bar offering beautiful views of the National
from the 'belly of the falcon' and a fully equipped executive meeting
room. (See image gallery at right)
Non-golfers will enjoy the leisure facilities on offer which include
a swimming pool, tennis and squash courts, and a health club with
sauna, spa and jacuzzi. The atmosphere is excellent, the Club manages
to make you feel very special and the staff couldnt be more
|Interior views of the Abu Dhabi National clubhouse - click on an image for a larger version|
Full details of the course here
THE AL GHAZAL SAND GOLF COURSE
Abu Dhabi is one of very few international airports worldwide with
its own golf club. Owned and managed by Abu Dhabi Airport Duty Free, Al Ghazal Golf
Club opened in November 1997 and is an 18-hole, par-71 layout regarded
as the leading desert golf course in the world and measuring 6,487
yards off the white tees.
Any transit passenger is provided a transit visa and given transport
between the airport and club. Once at the club, all golfing equipment
can be rented, making it easy for transit passengers to play a round
Sand golf is a whole new experience and this is a fun course to
play, as many of the top European pros - including Colin Montgomerie,
Nick Faldo, Padraig Harrington, Paul McGinley, Miguel Angel Jimenez
and Ian Poulter - discovered during the World Sand Golf Championships
(won by Greg Owen in 2004 and Thongchai Jaidee in 2005) hosted here
by Abu Dhabi Duty Free.
From l to r: Colin Montgomerie, Nick Faldo, Ian Poulter, Greg
Owen (winner in 2004) and Miguel Angel Jimenez playing in
the World Sand Golf Championship at Al Ghazal Golf Club
Instead of 'greens', in sand golf there are 'browns', which are
created by compacting a mix of sand and oil, a concept pioneered
in the 1940s. Specific rules and etiquette also apply to sand golf.
Spikes are not allowed, to avoid damaging the browns which must
be swept after every group has putted out, providing a perfect surface
for the group behind. Whenever possible, you should enter and exit
the green on the same path as your playing partners; this will save
the sweeper a lot of work and speed up play. As to putting, the
browns are surprisingly firm and very true, although their pace
- the ball begins to roll very fast but pulls up quickly - takes
a little getting used to. However, once you have the hang of it,
it is great fun and guaranteed to bring out a few laughs.
Because there is no grass, when on the designated 'fairway' - indicated
by marker posts - you play off a small, portable Astroturf mat,
so you always have a perfect lie. However, if your ball lands outside
the fairway marker posts - the equivalent of being in the rough
on grass - you must play it as it lies and may find your ball among
small stones or in the burrows of 'dhubs', the local spiny-tailed
desert lizards which can grow up to 85cm long and eat the sparse
We also discovered that, because of the difficulty in making out
the ball on the very pale sand, a coloured ball is easier to spot.
It is also much better not to follow immediately behind the buggy
in front of you, or you will get even dustier.
The front nine holes are built around an archaeological site, which
is out of bounds, while the back nine are on flatter reclaimed land.
The feature holes are the 1st, 16th, 17th and 18th, several of which
have water hazards.
The Al Ghazal clubhouse, designed in traditional English style,
has a large terrace offering great views of the course and Abu Dhabi
city. The welcome here is very friendly and you get a pleasant feeling
of unpretentious simplicity.
The Club posseses a health club with a gym, jacuzzi, sauna and
steam room. There is also a swimming pool, three tennis courts and
two multi-courts where basketball, five-a-side football and volleyball
can be played. For those eager to improve, it features a golf academy
with some of the most advanced golf teaching technology in the world:
a Royle Golf Visual Communication system and also Durnian frames
to perfect your swing plane.
An amusing quirk is that the practice ground is on grass whereas
the course is entirely sand, but rugby tournaments are also organised
here, so that may explain it. On your way to the academy, do not
miss the thirty gazelles (gazelle = 'al ghazal' in Arabic) fenced
in by the 2nd.
Al Ghazal Golf Club boasts top of the range facilities at affordable
prices, and on the way is a new 200-room hotel and a 9-hole grass
layout. The course is great fun to play but also undoubtedly presents
an exciting challenge. Playing here is a memorable, almost surreal
golfing experience, one not to be missed.
details of the course here
ABU DHABI GOLF AND EQUESTRIAN CLUB
Located in the Mushrif area, in the heart of Abu Dhabi, this seemingly
more manageable two by nine-hole, 6,350 yard, par 70 floodlit course
is located in the middle of the racetrack. It looks innocuous at
first sight, there are no large trees so you can take it all in
at a glance, but scoring well is not that easy.
There are numerous shrubs, deep bunkers and a huge scenic lake
which runs through the course and offers golfers an interesting
challenge on five of the nine holes; if your ball bounces off the
stones surrounding the lakes you will not recover it. Long hitters
must be accurate - and long; the monstrous 630 yard long par 5 8th
just goes on and on
From the tee, the lake on the far right
is out of most players reach, but then you still need to carry
the water with your second.
Other interesting holes are the dogleg right 5th hole where the
adventurous can take on the corner over the huge sand rough, and
the short par 3 7th with a dam on the right and out of bounds left
guarding the green.
The Abu Dhabi Golf and Equestrian Club only has nine holes but
with alternate tees, so it offers golfers a new set of challenges
for the back nine.
The smart clubhouse has a semi formal atmosphere and houses the
Spikes Bar and restaurant overlooking the course. It has tasteful
dark brown leather chairs, which are delightfully restful on the
eyes after all the sunshine. It offers a range of refreshments and
cuisine from a kitchen of international caliber and a well-provided
pro shop, while the Golf Academy includes a large, floodlit driving
range available to all and a short game area, with lessons available
from the Club's professionals.
The Club also boasts three floodlit tennis courses and a swimming
pool. Being so close to the city (see map here),
it is very handy, and the floodlit course is playable in the cooler
hours. While not as daunting as the other two, it represents an
interesting challenge, even to the big hitters, rather surprising,
given its location.
details of the course here
Golfing enthusiasts will find that Abu Dhabi, despite its desert
location, has world-class golf courses with outstanding facilities:
three very different courses to choose from in Abu Dhabi City and
two more outside the Capital.
Although sunshine is guaranteed all year round and it hardly ever
rains, the best season for golf is October to April when temperatures
are in the mid- to high 20s, as it gets too hot and humid
the rest of the year. And please, remember to drink lots
of water cold water is available on every hole on the above
courses - and, at all costs, wear a hat. Sunstroke is not pleasant!
For details of all golf courses in Abu Dhabi: click here
THINGS TO DO WHILE THERE
In the desert
There is an embarassment of choice, depending on how adventurous
you feel, from dune buggy riding (also called wadi-bashing, from
the dry creek beds or wadis along which you drive), quad biking,
hot air ballooning, rock climbing and caving, to falconry displays
and also superb organised desert safaris.
We were given a taste of the desert only 45 minutes from the city
limits, beginning with an afternoon ride up and down the sand dunes
in a 4x4. Once off the tarmac roads, the tyres were deflated, the
seat belts tightened and we held onto our hats. What a thrilling
ride over undulating sand dunes and their shifting sands! The experienced
driver clearly relished hearing our shrieks as he accelerated down
or up a dune, as the sand engulfed the sliding 4x4 on the side of
a dune at a 90-degree angle or as we watched in awe what the other
car was doing, knowing it would be our turn next. Wonderful fun,
but definitely not for the faint-hearted!
Then it was on to the desert camp, with a stop en route, at a camel
and goat 'farm'. The smiling shepherds sleep on a rudimentary roofless
platform which is elevated to protect them from the wild life (although
we weren't told what wild life!).
Once you get to the camp, you can have a go at skiing or sand-boarding
down a dune, that's if you've got the energy to climb up it first!
You may choose to avoid this, but camel-riding is a must; a short,
gentle ride that makes for a good photo opportunity, especially
if it coincides with a beautiful sunset.
You can have your hands or ankles decorated with a temporary henna
design, which will attract plenty of interest when you get home,
and another traditional activity to be enjoyed is the chance to
puff away on a shisha pipe. Shisha is smoked all over the Middle
East and is invariably part of the desert safari experience. Smoked
through a pipe attached to a glass orb filled with water, the tobacco
comes in a variety of flavours, from apple to mint.
It will be very dark by then and you can admire the beautiful clear
sky while eating a delicious selection of traditional dishes: barbecued
meats, ouzi (rice with minced lamb and vegetables) and mezzeh (a
selection of appetisers) and listening to traditional music blasting
from loudspeakers. To the regret of some, there was nothing interesting
to wash it down with, but we were told that will soon change. Then
it is belly-dancing time and you are invited to join in and try
your hand, or rather your belly, at the hip-swiveling art. It all
makes for a memorable evening, and a wonderfully relaxing one.
Abu Dhabi City
From a humble Bedouin and fishing village beginnings, the island
city of Abu Dhabi has developed, thanks to its huge oil profits,
into one of the world's richest and most forward-thinking metropolis
in just over fifty years.
Click here for a map of Abu Dhabi city
Yet everything is not futuristic skyscrapers, huge shopping malls
and international luxury hotels. Abu Dhabi has successfully fought
against the odds of a hostile climate thanks to a desalination plant
which supplies 75 per cent of its water. There are no hose-pipe
bans here and watering goes on all day long! The city features twenty
beautiful, well-maintained public parks, tree-lined streets, lush
private gardens and highways that are bordered for miles by oases
of green won over the desert and tended by armies of gardeners.
The following examples of Abu Dhabi's heritage and culture are
all well worth visiting: Al Husn Fort, The Cultural Foundation,
Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque, The Women's Handicraft
Centre and The Heritage Village. And you really should take a walk
- or even a cruise - along at least part of the famous 8km long
If you're short of time, organised tours are the ideal way to see
the attractions of Abu Dhabi and its surrounding areas. Tours can
be arranged by your hotel or the local tour operators.
Shopping in souks and malls
You must visit the traditional souks (right), where great buys
include the ornate Arabian silver and brass coffee pots, carpets,
incense and the local perfume essence called 'oudh'. You will be
expected to bargain, but expect to pay at least half of the first
asking price and take time for tea too!
Abu Dhabi is also a tax-free haven and in the modern, air-conditioned
malls you will find a huge choice of bargains and souvenirs. They
are also a fashionable spot for coffee and cakes when the temperature
For your last minute shopping, the award-winning Abu Dhabi Airport
Duty Free has a vast assortment, with the most popular items being
gold, electronics, local antiques and souvenirs. You may also strike
lucky at the popular ADDF Big Ticket Prize Draw, with its monthly
prize of Dhs 1 million - around £140,000! - plus luxury cars
and other cash prizes. You can even buy a ticket online - click
to find out more.
Sports and leisure
Golf, of course, but Abu Dhabi also offers deep sea game fishing,
reef and scuba diving and snorkeling, water skiing, windsurfing,
sailing, camel racing, hang-gliding, parachuting, polo and much
A word about coffee
Hospitality is one of the most treasured values of Arab culture.
'Gahwa' (coffee) and dates are a classic sign of Arabic hospitality
and respect, and are served with great ceremony. The UAE's own gahwa
is very mild and flavoured with cardamom and saffron, served black
and sweetened, never with sugar, but with mouthfuls of dates. The
host always serves his guests personally and will only half-fill
the cups, but it is normal to have about three tiny cups. Never
refuse the first, to accept an odd number is considered more polite,
and try not to swallow the dregs at the bottom!
Abu Dhabi has truly become a welcoming paradise for tourists and
residents alike. They have a perfect climate with year-round sunshine,
a safe environment, superb facilities for leisure and recreation,
spectacular desert scenery, golden beaches, a relaxing way of life
and traditional values on which the society was founded, and which
they do their utmost to preserve.
So why not escape the gloomy European winter and enjoy the genuine
friendliness of these cosmopolitan people?
WHERE TO STAY
Among the numerous international hotels open at the time of writing,
we can recommend:
The 'Versailles of the Middle East' - The Emirates Palace
A showcase of Arabian heritage and culture opened in 2005, the
Emirates Palace is the ultimate in luxury and style. It combines
resort and meeting facilities in an opulent setting which, while
possibly not to everyone's taste, has to be seen to be believed!
The hotel has 302 rooms (park- or sea-view) and 92 'regular' suites,
not to mention the extraordinary Palace suites, often used by privileged
guests of the Sheikh. Add to that 1,3 km of private beach, an on-site
marina with private berths and other facilities too numerous to
mention, and the word 'palatial' is, for once, not an exaggeration.
The restaurants are, naturally, in keeping with the rest of the
hotel, and we would single out in particular the Sayad Fish Restaurant,
not just for the succulent, fresh seafood, but for its almost eerily
undersea decor (see photos in image gallery above). The Vendôme
Brasserie, with its architectural blend of Arabian and medieval
French, is also a feast for the eye, never mind the stomach (see
image gallery below).
If you choose to indulge yourself at the Emirates Palace, a friendly
word of warning: once you leave your room for a meal or to go out,
try not to leave anything behind and be sure to respect the dress
code (no shorts, even for breakfast) - believe us, you don't want
to have to go back to your room unnecessarily. Most airports have
shorter corridors than this amazing hotel, and it's always a very
long way back!
Tel: +971 2 690 9000
Fax: +971 2 690 9999
Reliable, luxurious and comfortable - The Hilton International
Located on the famous Corniche, the Hilton is close to the financial
district and within walking distance of the latest modern shopping
All rooms have a breathtaking view of the Arabian Gulf, and the
hotel offers 325 rooms and suites overlooking either the breakwater
or the beautiful landscaped gardens. The hotel has newly refurbished
conference facilities and ten different bars and restaurants; we
can heartily recommend the Vascos for its superior food, welcome
The Hilton also has a Beach Club and Spa, a private beach and three
temperature-controlled pools and offers a complimentary return shuttle
service from downtown throughout the day.
Hilton International Abu Dhabi
PO Box 877, Abu Dhabi, U.A.E
Tel: +971 2 681 1900
Fax: +971 2 681 1696
Human-sized and luxurious - The Al Raha Beach Hotel
The friendly Al Raha Beach Hotel has 99 deluxe rooms, exclusive
suites and 24 serviced villas with their own pool for rent, as well
as a spa/steam room, meeting facilities, the grand ballroom and
a private beach. Five restaurants serve beautiful food from around
the world and we can vouch for the excellent 'Sevilla' lunchtime
buffet. Banqueting facilities are also available, and the Black
Pearl bar. There is a fully equipped gymnasium, indoor squash courts,
indoor and outdoor pool facilities as well as water sports, including
windsurfing, canoeing and kayaking, and a discotheque.
The Al Raha Beach Hotel is situated in lush, verdant parkland overlooking
the Al Raha corniche on the southern Arabian Gulf, just a 25 minute
drive from the capital and 10 minutes from the airport. Shuttles
are available to the town centre. A shopping mall is due to open
next door in December 2006 and it is also the closest hotel to the
National Golf Club and Al Ghazal.
Al Raha Beach Hotel, Abu Dhabi
PO Box 38616, Abu Dhabi, UAE
HOW TO GET THERE
Etihad, the excellent national airline of the United Arab Emirates,
currently offers daily direct services to Abu Dhabi from three UK
airports: London Heathrow, London Gatwick and Manchester (a total
of 25 services a week). Flights from other European cities are also
available (Brussels, Paris, Frankfurt, Munich and Geneva). Since
its launch in November 2003, Etihad has inaugurated services to
30 destinations. Bookings can be made through travel agents or by
calling Etihad Airways in London on 0870 241 7121.
Offering complete flexibility with up to date prices and availability,
letsgo2 allows you to create your own holiday to Abu Dhabi, online.
for further details.
For further information on Abu Dhabi call the Abu Dhabi Tourism
Authority in London on 020 7201 6400, email to firstname.lastname@example.org
or visit www.exploreabudhabi.ae
Photo credits: © The
Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority - Emirates - Yukiko Aramaki - GolfToday