Dubai has its fair share of world-class golf resorts - now another championship standard design has opened for play
By Iain Macfarlane
It's been dubbed the Beverly Hills of Dubai but it could just as easily be nicknamed Nova Scotia. Deep in the Arabian desert, there’s a piece of Caledonia that is starting to make the golfing world sit up and take notice. In fact, had the crest of the new Trump International Golf Club in Dubai featured a thistle and tartan backdrop it wouldn’t have been out of place.
The 42 million square foot development featuring the first new golf course in Dubai for seven years might not strike you as particularly Scottish as you approach the space-age clubhouse but, once inside the doors, you start to feel a comforting familiarity about the set-up - both on and off the course.
On one breezy but gloriously sunny day in January, I pitched up to see for myself what all the fuss was about a month before the development was open to the public.
There - practicing alone - was Stephen Gallacher, gearing up for his 500th European Tour appearance down the road at Abu Dhabi by drilling irons and lobbing wedges into the azure sky.
The sunny scene may have been a far cry from the Ryder Cup Scot’s snow-bound home base at Kingsfield on the outskirts of Linlithgow but he looked at home on the range.
Fellow tour winners Marc Warren and Scott Jamieson soon rocked up to join Gallacher at the clubhouse, a flying saucer of a building that complies with the ‘wow factor’ criteria that all architects must include in this glitzy corner of the world. Warren and Jamieson were warmly greeted by head pro Sven Nielsen who is another member of the Scots mafia. Nielsen may hail from South Africa but almost a decade at Turnberry’s academy means the accent has a twang of West Coast as well as veldt.
Director of golf Craig Waddell was on hand as Gallacher, Warren and Jamieson had the run of the facilities at a venue that has been ready for play for yonks but which has been kept under wraps until February this year to make sure it’s bedded in and ready for an influx of golfers.
‘Wads’ learned his trade over a decade at Braid Hills in Edinburgh and has now brought his particular expertise to the desert after running nearby Dubai Creek. Palmer Mitchell - five years the trusted assistant to Ian Collins at Stirling Golf Club - has also joined the team at Trump Dubai. And never far from the action is the boss - yet another Scot in the shape of general manager Andrew Whitelaw.
Whitelaw may have left Longniddry 18 years ago to turn Emirates Golf Club into a spectacular host venue for the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, but the man now charged with developing the 16th course in the Trump worldwide portfolio hasn’t lost the accent. And what a job he is doing at a club that has everything required to be a tournament venue in years to come.
Key to the success of the course is the skill of US designer Gil Hanse, who has transformed a barren desert landscape into a golfing oasis.
Scottish golf fans, of course, are no stranger to Hanse’s work. The Crail Golfing Society turned to Hanse when they were building the Craighead course next to the renowned Balcomie Links and anyone who has played Castle Stuart in Inverness will vouch for its spectacular design.
It’s no surprise to learn that Hanse is a golfing aficionado - a designer who does not follow the trend of believing big is beautiful or that the key club in the bag is the driver.
Drawing his inspiration from his love of the links at St Andrews he believes golf should be fun, not a slog. A manageable 6,406 yards from the members’ tees and stretching to 7,229 for the pros, the test around the par-71 Trump Dubai lies not in finding fairways. Some are the size of supermarket car parks (another nod to St Andrews).
The trick at Trump Dubai is to manoeuvre your way around the slopes and humps and hollows that guard the greens. You’re just as likely to bump and run a 7-iron from 30 yards short of a green as fire a lob wedge at the pin.
A gentle opening par-4 gives way to some tricky holes. The three holes from the par-3 fifth have a stadium feel to them as they are surrounded by luxury apartments, while the ninth involves negotiating around the edge of a lake that also flanks the 18th.
The back nine is truly a spectacular stretch of golf. The tighter tenth and 11th can be birdied. The par-4 12th is only 287 yards from the tips but here the skill lies on creating the right angle to play a flicked approach down the length of a narrow green. The par-5 13th requires placement off the tee and strategy for the lay-up. And then comes the signature 17th hole - again, a short iron shot that presents big danger. At only 156 yards from the Tiger tees, the hole looks benign but clever bunkering, combined with the natural grasses and mounds that surround the green, makes this as linksy a hole as you will find away from Scottish shores.
Survive the 17th and you can then head for home, all the time praying your long iron approach to the final green does not drift left into the drink.
Only then can you truly relax next to the infinity pool on the first floor of the clubhouse with another kind of drink and toast the creation of a course that deserves to be hailed as a modern classic.