Golfer's guide to Dubai: Where to play, eat, and stay

Friday January 27th, 2017
View of the 17th hole at the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club.
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Long a winter haven for Europeans seeking sunshine and fun, Dubai is now attracting more Americans as well—and not just Tiger Woods. Here’s your guide to planning a golf trip to Dubai: the best golf courses, hotels, restaurants, and sightseeing.

HOW TO GET THERE

It’s just over 14 hours to fly from New York’s JFK to Dubai International Airport. Your best air carrier option is Emirates. Those fortunate enough to travel in business class or first can board the aircraft directly from the airport lounge—a great way to begin the journey.

WHERE TO STAY

The legendary Burj Al Arab Jumeirah is worth a tour, even if you’re not holed up there for the night. That’s the property with the helicopter landing pad from which Tiger has launched golf balls and Roger Federer and Andre Agassi have swatted tennis balls. The Burj Al Arab’s lavish, grin-inducing excesses, including a lobby aquarium and suites fit for sultans are colorful tributes to the joy of spending.  No less opulent is the four-year-old JW Marriott Marquis Dubai, the world’s tallest hotel. Kudos to the superb service and convenient central business location. Enthusiastic roars for two of the great hotel restaurants in existence, Prime 68 Steakhouse (on the 68th floor) and especially the Rang Mahal by Atul Kochhar, for Indian cuisine nonpareil. The Park Hyatt Dubai blends luxurious Western and Moorish influences and sports handsome views of the marina. Ideally located close to superb shopping, dining and Dubai Creek, it’s also just five minutes away from the airport. Best of all for golfers, it sits adjacent to one of the best golf experiences in the region, Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club.

The Burj Al Arab Hotel in Dubai.
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WHERE TO PLAY

Without question, Gil Hanse’s design at Trump International Dubai has a chance to be a game-changer in the Middle East. Early reviews have been hugely positive. However, because it hasn’t officially opened yet, we’re reserve final judgment until a later date. Until then, here are the top three must-play courses in Dubai.

Emirates Golf Club (Majlis)
The Middle East’s first all-grass golf course dates to 1988 and it continues as the most prominent course in the region. Host to the PGA European Tour’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic for nearly 30 years, Emirates is best recognized for its mature trees, lush landscaping, scrub-covered open areas  and soating skyscrapers. Most memorable is the dogleg par-4 eighth, with its backdrop of extremely tall buildings. If you watched Rory McIlroy’s “Standing in the Hall of Fame” Omega Watch TV ad from 2015, you know the hole very well. McIlroy is a two-time champion here, as is Tiger Woods. Only Ernie Else, with three triumphs, has more wins at Emirates.

Jumeirah Golf Estates (Earth)
Home each November to the PGA European Tour’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship, this 2009 Greg Norman design requires terrific ball-striking to succeed, which explains why Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson have each won twice here since 2012. Mostly open, with generous fairway landing areas, the Earth demands long hitting on a layout that stretches 7,706 yards from the tips, yet also asks for precise hitting, with numerous hazards in play, as well as vexing greens that fall away at the edges to shaved-down slopes. Unforgettable is the par-5 18th, where a serpentine, rock-lined stream bisects the middle of the fairway.

Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club
Conveniently situated five minutes from Dubai’s international airport, making it the perfect first or final course on your trip, Dubai Creek furnishes a superior par-3 course—Rory McIlroy has sampled it—and a totally fun championship 18, more resort-y than Emirates’ Majlis, but no less fascinating. The finish is world-class, with the 354-yard 17th and the 421-yard 18th, a pair of dramatic par-4s that skirt the wide, boat-filled Dubai Creek. The daunting home hole features a backdrop of one of golf’s most distinctive clubhouses. It incorporates the lateen rig of a traditional Arab dhow, its three curved concrete “sails” soaring 115 feet above their bases. 

The par 3, 12th hole at the Faldo Course at the Emirates Golf Club in Dubai.
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WHERE TO DINE

Dubai boasts an incredible array of superior restaurants and cuisine choices, from exotic to traditional, more than 9,000 in all. Perhaps it’s impossible to narrow it down to only a few. Nonetheless, we will—by providing our recommendations on the most memorable dining experiences, those that combine world-class food and service with one-of-a-kind unforgettable ambience. The most famous dwelling in Dubai is Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, 2,722 feet, with 163 floors. You might remember Tom Cruise hanging off its side in 2011’s “Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol.” The elevator ascent is alarmingly swift; the dizzying, dazzling view from the top will buckle your knees. Dine at At.mopshere and you get all of that—and you knock out your hunger pangs at the same time. The highest restaurant in the world, 1,447 feet up, is located on the 122nd floor. The ground-to-ceiling windows yield incomparable views of Dubai and the Gulf region. Best of all, the European fare is nearly as memorable as the setting. It also does a first-rate afternoon tea.

Ossiano, in the Atlantis, The Palm, celebrates the life aquatic like no other restaurant anywhere. Seafood is the specialty here, and it doesn’t take a marine biologist to see why, given that the restaurant is practically underwater, engulfed by a floor-to-ceiling aquarium that’s home to 65,000 marine animals. Afternoon Tea is another specialty here, but dinner is a remarkable feast for the senses, not to mention bellies, with the langoustines, risotto, prawns and miso black cod among the favorites.

Thiptara at the Palace Downtown Dubai dishes out superb Bangkok-style Thai cuisine in a unique location. The name of the al fresco restaurant means “Magic at the water,” and that’s what’s on tap here. Thiptara sits on the edge of Burj Khalifa Lake and tables feature views of the Burj as well as the Dubai Fountains. The stir-fried lobster and chicken in green curry are swimming in savory flavors.

The lobster salad at Ossiano, a restaurant at Atlantis, the Palm in Dubai.
Courtesy of Atlantis The Palm

WHAT TO SEE

Dubai is world-renowned for its luxurious and distinctive shopping options. One visit to any of the malls, souks or even automobile dealerships and it’s easy to see why. If there’s one must-do shopping excursion, it’s to the Dubai Mall, an unparalleled monument to commerce. From the mall itself, you can enter the Burj Khalifa, the number one attraction in the region, and also visit the highly rated, highly entertaining Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo. It’s also right across the street from the jets, lights and choreographed music of the Dubai Fountains. What’s inside the mall staggers the imagination, from an ice skating rink to SEGA Republic, a 76,000-square-foot theme park with more than 150 video games, plus a motion simulators and a roller-coaster, to 1,200 shops of every description. 

Perhaps the top cultural experience is a visit to the traditional Souks (markets) in Deira. Located on the northern bank of Dubai Creek, this labyrinth of narrow, curving streets is home to a kind of commerce practiced for hundreds of years. Most popular are the Deira Gold Souk and the Deira Spice Souk, the former which might be the world’s largest open market for ancient and modern jewelry pieces, the latter a veritable repository of olfactory and gustatory delights. Also worth a visit are the perfume and textile souks.

To experience a unique perspective in the Dubai desert, take to the water, on Dubai Creek. This wide waterway can be navigated via a restored or replica Arab dhow, or else try the small wooden ferry known as an abra between docking points on either side of the creek. The creek was instrumental in Dubai’s early growth, attracting fisherman and pearl divers and it’s instructive to take in the dwellings on both banks, a beguiling blend of ancient structures as well as the most modern.     

The Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai, the tallest mixed use tower in the world.
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