The Jumeirah Golf Estates are on Fire

Day 3 of desert golf in Dubai lead me to the famous Jumeirah Golf Estates. Probably you don’t recall this name but once a year, there’s a big golf tournament in Dubai; no it’s not the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, it’s the other one, the even more important, the DP World Tour Championship, the grand finale tournament of a European Tour season. This is where the leader of the Race to Dubai is crowned, where we’re talking big money and where legends are born.

And we’re talking great golf on one of the most prestigious courses in the Middle East. Currently the property features 2 courses designed by Greg Norman, the Earth and the Fire. The Earth is the more mature, the manicured, the highly maintained super golf course with finest white bunker sand and famous for hosting so many extraordinary professional tournaments… Just FYI, I played the other one. This is the story.

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The Jumeirah Golf Estates are situated pretty much next to The Els Club, i.e. near Dubai Sports City, a bit outside the city. You drive through nothing than sand on empty roads until at some point and out of nothing you see loads of green trees. You realise it’s the entrance to something which you find in Dubai so often—gated communities which keep real treasures inside, like oysters: some of the best golf courses in the world.

Jumeirah Golf Estates offer two courses. Initially they planned for 4, named after the 4 elements, but currently they only have the Earth and the Fire up and running. Both are designed by Greg Norman. Nobody really knows what happened to the plans for Wind and Water.

It wasn’t even easy to find the golf club house when we entered the property through the main entrance. Later I figured that they just haven’t found the time to put up a proper sign as the club house was re-opened not so much before, so we touched holy ground which was just opened weeks ago, the club house that is. But this came to my mind again quite often that day when I was looking for the way to the next hole—there were just no signs at all.

Anyway, I was dropped off at the front desk, unloaded my bag and made my way into the pro shop to pay the bill. The Fire course, which I decided to play is more affordable than the Earth, and later I understood why. The Fire green fee goes for 655 AED (160 EUR) whereas the Earth costs 795 AED (190 EUR) for 18 holes on a weekday. As the days before have been so costly in terms of green fee (Montgomerie and Els are no bargain either!) I figured it’s time to save some money and went for the Fire. Worst decision to make if you ask me.

So I went back outside, looking for my clubs, i.e. the cart to which my clubs were strapped. Eventually I found them on a cart, full of rubbish and dirty like crazy. I was told that they didn’t find the time to look for a proper cart and asked whether I would be so kind as to drive to the driving range myself and change into a new one. I wasn’t in the mood to start a discussion hence I did how I was told and tried to find the way to the range. As there were no signs whatsoever, this was a fairly tedious process.

I found the range, looked forward to get a new cart, smiled at some staff but they didn’t smile back and kept on working, which by the way was something between just staring and doing nothing. So the service I have to say wasn’t the best out here. At some point I asked a guy to help me, he managed to set my new cart up and I was ready to go. I jumped on, kickstarted the vehicle on my way to the first hole… which I couldn’t find because, yes you guessed it, there were no signs.

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After asking around I found the first tee of the Fire course, no starter in sight at his desk, so I took the liberty and stocked up a little: 2 pencils, 10 tees, 1 metal divot tool, 3 scorecards (as a souvenir), a pin sheet and a yardage book… Yardage book? This was the moment when I realised that the carts weren’t equipped with GPS screens. Horror scenario! I left my GPS watch at home as I believed that all these top-notch clubs already have arrived in the 21st century, but this one obviously hasn’t. Tricked me big time. As I don’t use radars, I had a lot of guess-work ahead of me. That was also the moment in which I decided not to give a damn about the score anymore. Also, I got a pin sheet but there was no information of today’s location. I guess the starter would have given me that info but as there was nobody, I was left with nothing.

The hole was free, I was a bit ahead of time and decided to practise the putting for a moment. So I did, and after a while I decided to tee off from the green markers, the second farthest here.

I smashed a 2-iron in the middle of the fairway and was only left with a small chip shot onto the green. That was a good start! Birdie chance missed but could be worse for an unknown course without any GPS. I hopped back onto the cart, looked for the right path to the 2 and off I went. At the tee box I realised that the group in front of me was still there! Wow, they must have been super slow, as at least for 15 minutes I couldn’t see anybody on the first hole. One of the two gentlemen must have been 90 years old, guessed from the far. So I waited and waited, and waited for a couple of holes. On hole 4 a marshal came by and told me that I might play through but they had some other slow groups in front of them also. So it was supposed to be a very long, warm day. Hole no 2 by the way was a very nice par 3, downhill with a forced carry to a well secured green.

After hole 5 I had to wait for so long that the group behind me joined me at the tee 6th and we decided to play together. Those guys were North-English lads, both named Gary, in their 50s, retired, Dubai residents, club members and just came over from the Earth course, where they already played the first 9 but left as it was too crowded. Later they mentioned they come here and play 5 times a week! What a life! I immediately hated mine…

Hole no 6 is a great one. It features large bunkers, both in the fairway and in front of the green. The second shot on this par 4 is uphill and if the ball does’t bite you have a problem. In that case it could happen that it won’t stop rolling back for 30-40 metres or so. The green is fair in size but quick as an arrow and it’s shaped like a genuine Donal Ross’ Pinehurst No. 2 turtleback. Absolutely hard to measure and an absolute bogey-hole although relatively easy to reach in two. My second found the rough to the left of the green, I chipped it near the flag and left with a par.

The bunkers are quite interesting, whereas they are not very beautiful. The Earth course has crisp white sand but the Fire here has a very dark orange type of sand and feels like powdered sugar. Tricky to get a good feeling for good bunker shots!

Next memorable hole was the 8, a par 3 along a lake. Length was about 200 metres and obviously I took my 2-iron, landed it on the green, one putt, birdie, happy times!

I have mixed feelings about the course. That’s mainly because it’s more than OK from an architectural standpoint (although there are no overly fancy holes) but from an esthetical perspective I was somewhat disappointed. The fairways lack maintenance and there are too many spots around the green or on the fairway which just don’t look alright. The greens are OK but the rest of the course is not more than mediocre, just taking the pure course condition into account. I was told that this is different at the Earth course, which is supposed to be more maintained, better kept, more extensively looked after. That’s a shame if you ask me: yes OK, there is a price difference and yes, the other one is more famous but I don’t see a reason to somewhat neglect one course which is right next to the other, built at the same time, designed by the same guy, just doesn’t make sense to me. Especially when they will proceed at some point with the Water course (designed by Vijay Singh) and the Wind course (designed by Sergio Garcia, Pete Dye and Greg Norman)—what will they do with 4 courses? Still concentrate on only one of them? I hope not.

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Have I mentioned that I almost made a wrong turn to a wrong hole? Correct, there were no signs. Is this actually the same at the Earth course? (Please comment below if you know).

After hole 9 Gary and Gary had enough for the day and left after a warm handshake and after mentioning how great Dubai is. Yeah, rub it in mate!

Being all on my own again meant that I had to wait longer. Hole 10 is quite boring, 11 also, 12 is alright, a bit uphill but nothing special. The 13 however is a long par 5 with wasteland areas resp. huge bunkers and 2 things I’ll remember about this hole: The pace of play was so slow that we had 4 groups on it at the same time. One on the green, one waiting for the approach shot, one waiting for the second shot and one waiting for teeing off. I had to wait so long, I could hear the grass grow. Oh wait, no, the second fact because I’ll remember this hole was the noise! Here in the most eastern part of the property they are still building houses next to the fairways and this was extremely loud. No surprise when there are literally 100 builders working per villa. You’ll pay a lot of money for those villas but you probably don’t want to see them during the construction phase. They look like they collapse like a house of cards during the first desert storm.

Anyhow, it was so slow that I joined again with the group behind me, 2 chaps more my age. One had an American accent, the other was British but lived in Abu Dhabi, and shame on me I forgot both names.

Holes 14 and 15 stand out as water comes into play again. 14 is a 200 metre par 3 over water towards a green right next to the lake. To avoid it I aimed a bit left and ended in the green side bunker. The next, hole 15, features quite a forced carry over the lake and then an interesting second into the well-bunkered green. I hit my tee shot fat a little and couldn’t reach the fairway, got wet.

Hole 16 seemed to be one of the shortest par 4s ever. I found myself in the fairway bunker but the other guy, the British, an excellent player by the way, took his driver off the tee and almost landed on the green. He was off a bit to the right but not more that 10m from the fringe. Impressive.

17 was a good hole for me but the 18 was an absolute nightmare. My tee shot landed in the thick stuff on the right. I had an awkward stance, didn’t hit it well enough and the second landed again in the rough. To cut a long story short, the third one again ended up in the rough and I had problems to bring the round to a good end.

Eventually I putted, thanked my playing partners, turned around to the gorgeous new club house and wished I had played the Earth course instead. Inside the clubhouse I looked for the locker room again and spent a while in there. It lacks for nothing, including sauna, and jacuzzi. Then I bought the obligatory logo balls and shirt, jumped in a taxi and made my way back Downtown Dubai bound, knowing that was it with golf in Dubai on this trip. It was special and worth every cent, or Dirham I should say.

That night we went out for a great outdoor dinner at the Vida Hotel in Downtown Dubai, followed by a party in the Armani/Privé nightclub based in the Burj Khalifa. I love Dubai! For its golf courses, people, attitude, possibilities, temperature and lifestyle. Next time we’ll be in the area, we’ll definitely try to see Abu Dhabi as well, and with it the Abu Dhabi Golf Club, the Yas Links and Saadiyat Beach. That will be grand!

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