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Dubai's Burgeoning Golf Scene

ORIENTATION

Emirates (emirates.com), Dubai's rapidly expanding and award-winning airline, flies direct twice daily between New York City and Dubai (nearly thirteen hours going, fourteen-plus hours returning). While it's possible to hire a car once you arrive, the cheaper and more convenient way to get around is by taxi. The city is so small it can be traversed in little over an hour, and the drivers all speak English. The best time to visit is October through April, when the weather is coolest. Otherwise, you'll be sprinting from one air-conditioned environment to another. The currency, the dirham, is pegged to the U.S. dollar and fluctuates little month to month.

Although Dubai is the most multicultural and tolerant of the United Arab Emirates, the nation is still a Muslim state. The faithful congregate five times a day to pray, and you will hear the call to prayer being sung from mosques all over town. Tourists need to be extra sensitive if they are visiting during Ramadan, the holy month when Muslims fast during daylight hours to fulfill the fourth pillar of Islam; it is, therefore, inappropriate to eat, drink or smoke in public during the day.

WHERE TO PLAY

Emirates Golf Club, Majlis ****1/2
This is Dubai's premier layout, bar none. Hailed as the Desert Miracle when it opened almost twenty years ago, the Majlis course is a personal favorite of Ernie Els, and it's easy to see why. It winds majestically around dunes and man-made lakes, and the holes are distinguished by a number of blind tee shots and lengthy par fours. A mammoth double green shared by the ninth and eighteenth holes sits in front of a clubhouse modeled after a bedouin camp. The club has a second course, called the Wadi, that's under renovation by Faldo Design and is expected to reopen this month.
Sheikh Zayed Road; 011-971/4399-5060, dubaigolf.com. Yardage: 7,185. Par: 72. Architect: Karl Litten, 1988. Greens Fee: $193.

Arabian Ranches Golf Club ****
Despite not containing a single water hazard, this is unquestionably the toughest track in the emirate, one best avoided by high handicappers. The layout, billed as the only true desert course in Dubai, has narrow, rippling landing areas flanked by unforgiving wasteland. The well-bunkered greens offer another form of defense: huge swales and runoff areas. And then there is the wind: Depending on the time of year, a northwesterly shamal or a southeasterly sharki whips off the desert, wreaking havoc on golfers. The experience is at once brutal and magnificent.
311 Emirates Road; 011-971/4366-3000, arabianranchesgolfdubai.com Yardage: 7,691. Par: 72. Architects: Ian Baker-Finch and Nicklaus Design, 2004. Greens Fees: $104–$125.

Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club ****
Superbly situated along the banks of Dubai's famous waterway, the Creek Golf Club is a palm-fringed, water-laced course that has recently been toughened up by longtime Dubai resident Thomas Björn. Despite being the centerpiece of an exclusive development (there is a 225-room Hyatt on site), the course feels secluded. It's also home to a world-class short par four: the mischievous seventeenth, where the creek impinges on the left side of the fairway. The clubhouse, resembling the sails of an Arab dhow, is one of Dubai's most recognizable buildings. A beautifully manicured nine-hole par-three course, floodlit for night golf, makes for an ideal warm-up round.
Baniyas Street; 011-971/4295-6000, dubaigolf.com. Yardage: 6,857. Par: 71. Architect: Karl Litten, 1993 (redesigned by European Golf Design/Thomas Björn, 2004). Greens Fees: $143–$170.

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