Dubai: Fairways in the desert

Frank Partridge aims for the green on the weather-defying golf courses of Dubai

In 1988, golf gained a proper foothold in Dubai with the inauguration of a real grass course (again, the first in the Middle East), designed to championship standard around the tall desert dunes, and charmingly appointed, with its clubhouse and outbuildings resembling Bedouin tents. The Emirates Golf Club attracted favourable reviews, and when it added a second 18-hole course in 1996 and earned a place on both the European and Asian professional tours, Dubai moved confidently on to the leader-board of essential winter golfing destinations. It's never looked back.

Today, the sandy old Country Club still hands out those squares of grass - mainly to casual players attracted by its unique character and low green fees. The overheads are minuscule compared with its swanky new neighbours, who need vast irrigation systems just to keep the precious green stuff alive. One new course, for example, has six man-made lakes. Three are genuine water hazards to catch the wayward drive; the other three are there just for irrigation. Countless gallons of water are pumped day and night along 16 miles of pipework to 700 computer-controlled sprinklers.

The new generation of golf clubs in Dubai are more like full-scale resorts than the traditional set-up of course, clubhouse and practice range. The Emirates Golf Club boasts two driving ranges, four tennis courts, two squash courts, a swimming pool, gymnasium and Le Classique, widely regarded as the best French restaurant in town. The Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club, notable for its remarkable dhow-shaped clubhouse, has been redeveloped to include the five-star Park Hyatt Hotel, spa and lavish conference facilities. The course itself reopened last Christmas, having had several holes radically re-designed by Denmark's Ryder Cup player Thomas Bjorn.

Other star players to put their names to new developments are Colin Montgomerie, Greg Norman and Ernie Els. The Montgomerie course is intended to resemble a Scottish links, with undulating fairways, wide open spaces and vast putting surfaces - including the largest single green in the world, fashioned in the shape of the UAE. All that's missing are the dramatic vagaries of Scotland's climate. Most things are possible in Dubai, but not that.

Monty's course is nearly three years old, but the complex is still taking shape around it. A boutique hotel and dozens of holiday villas are being built around the perimeter. There is no shortage of spare land in Dubai, and one of the signature holes, the par-five 18th, uses a lot if it. It measures 656 yards from back tee to green. The prevailing wind blows into your face. You have to drive nearly 250 yards to clear a lake, and your second shot has to find a tiny landing area surrounded by water on three sides. Should you eventually reach it, the green is heavily protected by bunkers. If ever a hole should have an X-certificate attached, this is it. Green fees at The Montgomerie are in line with Dubai's eight major courses: £70 in high season between Sunday and Wednesday, and £89 from Thursday to Saturday.

By the end of the decade, Dubai will have twice as many courses as it does now. One new complex - of championship standard - is already appearing out in the desert, and another is being built on the outskirts of the city with the help of soil removed from the construction site of the new airport terminal. Here, so much earth is being moved and shaped at the command of the renowned American golf architect Robert Trent Jones II, that some of the fairways will soar to a most un-desert-like 70ft in height. Costing £93m, the Al Badia complex comes complete with luxury town houses and apartments, a golfing academy, and another of those ubiquitous five-star boutique hotels. It's yet another example of the emirate's determination to outdo the West at everything. And when it comes to playing a round of golf, between the months of October and February at least, it has already achieved that ambition.

Contact information: Details of all golf courses in Dubai can be found at www.dubaigolf.com or by calling 00 971 4380 1919; Emirates Golf Club: 00 971 4380 2222; Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club: 00 971 4295 6000; The Montgomerie: 00 971 4390 5600

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