There’s always that unique joy in playing a golf course you’ve not played before. Normally, it is a golf course you know well or you’ve read about. Also, that delight is magnified if you’ve managed to play well.
There is also a joy teeing up at a golf course you know relatively little about but where you also play well, and while missing a couple of birdie putts, you do manage a handful of pars. Adding to that pleasure, the course has a great layout, it’s in an ideal location, the heat is tempered by a lovely cooling sea breeze, everyone you meet is engaging and the club is soon to impact on the world stage hosting a first DP World Tour tournament.
Al Hamra Golf Club will be the newest United Arab Emirates (UAE) club to host the DP World Tour when it welcomes the February 3rd to 6th, 2022 Ras Al Khaimah Championship presented by Phoenix Capital. The $2m tournament also becomes the third of the seven Emirates to host a DP World Tour event and will also be the third of four tournaments to feature on the Tour’s 2022 ‘Middle East Swing”.
Those who know their European Tour golf, or more specifically Challenge Tour history, will be aware Al Hamra hosted the Challenge Tour from years 2016 to 2018, and with the 2018 tournament being the final event of the season and producing a top-10 that included a number of now established DP World Tour players and winners including Spain’s Adri Arnaus (First at Al Hamra), Frenchmen Victor Perez (Runner-up) and Romain Langasque, Portugal’s Jose-Filipe Lima plus the Scottish duo of Robert MacInytre and Grant Forrest.
Fast forward to late 2021 as it was the Monday in between the penultimate AVIV Dubai Championship and the season-ending DP World Tour Championship when we made the 75-minute journey from close to the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai north to Al Harma.
I joined good friends Dave Cannon, the renowned golf photographer and author of the fabulous pictorial tribute publication Seve, along with Ireland’s top photographer Eion Clarke boarding a taxi taking us first past the Burg Khalifa, and the world’s tallest building, before the sight of the stunning Dubai Creek Golf Club clubhouse, and a mini version of the Sydney Opera House and with course hosting the Dubai Desert Classic 1999 and 2000. It was a continuing comfortable drive negotiating our way around the enormous expanse of Dubai Airport and then through the emirate of Sharjah and into the desert where we had our attention drawn to dozens of camels. Gone was the ‘madness’ of Dubai and replaced with a calmness of far fewer vehicles, far fewer buildings nor a skyline of endless skyscrapers.
The taxi driver turned off the highway and here we were pulling up in front of Al Hamra Golf Club.
Our host Craeg Deery sent his apologies as he was delayed with a meeting that day with European Tour staff so we had the enormous pleasure of being welcomed by his assistants.
When entering any clubhouse for the first time I always find myself admiring those items on show whether they are photographs, golfing artifacts or club member achievements. Saying that and catching my eye were four rows of two photographs and slap in the middle was a great face shot of Tiger Woods.
I thought to myself Al Hamra must also be very member-friendly as there were notices of upcoming Christmas and New Year activities. Another sign of this ‘atmosphere’ was on the practice range that is also used for rugby, football, and hurling. Hurling? Yes, there is a strong contingent of Irish living in Ras Al Khaimah and working as teachers. We were informed by Craeg they like their golf and they love their hurling.
After a superb brunch, we made our way to the practice range for a short warm-up session and then the excitement of making our way to the first tee.
Al Hamra was designed by Peter Harradine and opened for play in 2007. The surname Harradine is legendary in the Middle East with the Swiss-born golf designer having designed both courses at Abu Dhabi Golf Club that were opened in 2000 and then in 2006 the National Course hosted the inaugural Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. (I can still recall 2006 when Chris DiMarco’s wife caddied for her winning husband and I still have the 18th hole flag signed by Chris from that event). Harradine also designed the first golf course to be built in Qatar with the opening in 1997 of the Doha Golf Club and a year later the club hosted the inaugural Qatar Masters.
Harradine also designed the Jebel Ali 9-hole course (1995), the 9-hole The Track course (2007), and each in Dubai along with the Sharjah Golf and Shooting Club lay-out (2005) in the neighboring emirate of Sharjah. All up, his company has designed over 200 golf courses around the world, and with his now 38-year-old son, Michael and born in Dubai, joining his father in continuing the design business commenced by Peter’s own father.
A Harradine-designed course is often characterized by a series of feature lakes as you find at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club where there are four ‘feature’ lakes and bringing into play some 11 holes.
Water is also key at Al Hamra. The township of Al Hamra, meaning ‘red rock’ in English, is located along the shores of the Arabian Sea and with the central feature of the course being a somewhat square-shaped tidal lagoon feature and with four interconnecting lakes. The central lagoon leads directly into the Arabian Sea and with the course laid out around the lagoon and lakes. It means that the water is affected by the tides and if you needed any reminder of this there’s the sight of oysters, yes oysters, growing on the rocks along the tidal line.
The water is in play on 11 holes and nowhere more than down the entire right side of the 18th.
Al Hamra boasts four tees with the course playing 7,325-yards off the Black tees, 6,989-yards from the Blue tees, 6,703-yards off the White while the red tees present the ladies with a test of 5,815-yards. As well, the course is the usual mix of four par-5s, four par-3s, and 10 par-4s.
The No. 1 index hole is the 443-yard (White tees) par-4 10th hole with water running all the way down the left side and then running in front of the green thus presenting the ‘risk-and-reward’ second shot into the green or for us mere mortals, it’s a lay-up shy of the water.
The No. 18 index hole is the 133-yard (White tees) par-3 fourth hole and with water also down the left side but only catching something that is well off the radar.
Harradine presents the golfer with a ‘not-too-difficult’ introduction to Al Hamra with the first playing to 337-yards and presenting a great chance for a commencing par or hopeful birdie. It’s not all plain sailing as there are bunkers left and right guarding the green while there’s water at the back of the green waiting to catch anything long.
If you’re playing the course for the first time your attention in arriving at the second tee will be drawn to the sight of the towering 700-room Astoria Hotel standing like a Goliath over this early portion of the course.
If the Waldorf Astoria Hotel caught your attention then the third hole will have you really taking notice as there’s water running all the way up the right side of the hole and also guarding the green.
At 543-yards, the third hole is the second-longest of the four par-5s, and as pointed out, all the trouble down the right, so like you do on the Old Course at St. Andrews, keep it middle to left all the way up the fairway and that should set you up well for a third shot into the green and, at worst, a hopeful two-putt par. Before heading off to the fourth, take a few seconds to admire the postcard view back down the fairway.
The first of the par-3s is the 133-yard fourth hole. Not a difficult hole if you’re straight though a little more challenging in catching the right-hand bunker.
There are definite birdie chances at par-4 fourth hole and the dog-leg to the right fifth hole and ranked No. 18 and 16 though be careful, as there is a clump of palm trees on the dog-leg at five that tested Eoin in managing to pick the gap which he did nicely.
You now cross a resort roadway to play holes six to 17.
The par-3 seventh is a nice hole that at first presents the sight of plenty of sand, but at a closer look it’s a generous green and with Harradine, once again, presenting a par-3 that doesn’t need to be 200-yards long to present a challenge.
You’ll notice in the left distance a former defensive watchtower and I’m told one of only two remaining that were built over 100-years-ago on the sand dunes of Al Jazirah Al Hamra, a village renowned for fishing, pearl diving, and boat building, and with the near 12-meter-high towers watching over the community’s water wells and protected the settlement from attack in the early days of the emirate.
Not that you will need any watching-over playing Al Hamra even though in coming to the par-4 eighth, you’re facing at a four-hole run boasting three of the four hardest holes on the course, the ninth and the longest of the par-4s at 459-yards, and ranked No. 2 along with the 10th as earlier mentioned, and the tight par-4, 12th hole at 422-yards, and the No. 3 index hole.
The 10th is a great Harradine designed hole using water all the way down the left side and presenting the player, and if he’s got a good drive away, the opportunity to find the green in two, but needing to clear the water that cuts through the fairway just shy of the putting surface. And as mentioned earlier, take the risk and you will be rewarded. For us mere mortals, it’s a lay-up just shy of the water and a 9-iron or wedge into the green.
Probably, an Al Hamra favourite is the par-3 11th hole measuring 166-yards and a great challenge over the water. You have the dramatic backdrop of five ‘Sea Breeze’ apartment buildings overlooking a crescent-like hole and, as pointed out, water in front, and also the same body of water runs around the back of the hole. The green is guarded with around a dozen palm trees standing like sentries from the right-side and all the way around the back of the hole.
The par-4 12th hole presents you with a tee shot over water to a tight-ish fairway where you need to stay away from the right, and as mentioned above, with a No. 3 stroke index, it’s earning its ranking. A par here is a great reward.
If you’ve threaded your way safely through those four holes then the par-4 13th and par-5 14th, and ranked No. 15 and 17 respectively, present good birdie opportunities and as Dave did in up-staging both Eoin and me on 14 by landing his second shot to just a few feet and inside my mine own ball (See photograph).
Make sure after crossing the small road behind the 14th to stop at the ‘Milk Bar’ as the fellow behind the counter is so engaging, particularly if you happen to mention ‘cricket’.
The 15th, at 191-yards, is the longest of the par-3s before heading to the last of the par-4s, the 16th at 400-yards and the 17th and some 25-yards longer. The 17th is the longest of the par-4s on the course at 425-yards and three yards longer than the 12th.
So, one hole to play and it’s back in the golf cart for the ride over a dual-lane car bridge that you first set eyes on in playing the sixth. Once across the bridge, you’re presented with the stunning sight of not only the 18th but the waters of the Arabian Sea. On the opposite side of the water is an area known as the ‘Waterfront’ boasting a marina, restaurants, and beachfront. There’s also the sight of the five ‘Sea Breeze’ apartment buildings.
Standing on the tee, the 18th hole, a par-5 at 532-yards, it seems like pretty much a straight line to the clubhouse in the distance. But it’s not so simple! Harradine has presented the golfer with a fairway where the entire right side of the hole juts in and out into the water. So, if you’ve hit the straightest of drives you still may find water. The key to not ruining a good score is to keep your ball down the middle to the left side and avoid making any splash into the Arabian Sea.
When Arnaus captured the 2018 Ras Al Khaimah Challenge Tour Grand Final the Spaniard did so with four rounds in the 60s and that included birdieing the 18th over the last two days. He signed off for a 17-under par 72-hole tally to win the title by a shot. In fact, nine of the 13 players to finish in the top-10 also birdied the last on day four.
American Sam Crocker, who finished in a share of fourth, actually played the 18th in four-under thanks to a first-round par and followed by an eagle and two birdies. Though if you are looking for a ‘troublesome’ hole that year, the 18th also produced 17 bogeys and five double-bogeys over the week.
If there was an ‘easiest’ hole it was both the par-5 fifth and 15th holes that yielded six eagles each among the elite 44-starters over the four rounds.
No doubt, many of those who competed previously at At Hamra will return for this year’s $US 2m championship and up some $US 1.25m than when they teed up four years ago.
For this double-digit handicapper, it was just pleasing to have the opportunity to play Al Hamra as I don’t think I’ve enjoyed playing a golf course for the first time, and for so long, as much as I did in teeing up at Al Hamra.
Of course, it was a great day weather-wise, the company was great while Craeg managed to join us for a good few holes AND I was chuffed I had brought my B+ game to Ras Al Khaimah.
Thank you again to Craeg and the team at Al Hamra for a wonderful day’s golf and wishing the club well in the exciting new chapter awaiting Al Hamra.