There’s always unique joy in playing a golf course you’ve not played before, especially a course you feel you know well or have read much about.
Adding to that joy, the course has a great layout in an ideal location where the heat of summer is tempered by a lovely cooling sea breeze while everyone you meet is engaging.
It was late in 2021, and the Monday in between the penultimate AVIV Dubai Championship and the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, when we made the 75-minute journey north to the Al Harma Golf Club in the UAE emirate of Ras Al Khaimah.
I joined good friends Dave Cannon, the renowned golf photographer and author of the fabulous pictorial tribute publication Seve, along with one of Ireland’s top photographers in Eoin 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 what I describe is a mini version of the Sydney Opera House and with course having hosted the Dubai Desert Classic 1999 and 2000, and also the recent Dubai Invitational.
It was a continuing comfortable drive negotiating our way around the enormous expanse of Dubai Airport and then through the emirate of Sharjah and onward into the desert where we had our attention to camels almost everywhere. It kind of excting, as gone was the ‘madness’ of Dubai and replaced with a calmness of far fewer vehicles, far fewer buildings and that Dubai skyline of endless skyscrapers. It was a pure Middle East desert landscape.
Arriving at the clubhouse we were warmly greeted by Craeg Deery, then marketing manager of club.
Looking around the clubhouse proper, and like I seem to do on each occasions I enter ar at a new golf club for the first time, I found myself admiring photographs, golfing artifacts or club member achievements. Catching my eye was four rows of two photographs and slap in the middle was a great face shot of Tiger Woods.
As well, 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 at Al Hamra as much 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 township of Al Hamra, meaning ‘red rock’ in English, is located along the shores of the Arabian Sea, with the central feature of the course being a somewhat square-shaped tidal lagoon feature with four interconnecting lakes. The central lagoon leads directly into the Arabian Sea. 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.
A feature of a Harradine-designed course is that it’s often characterized by a series of feature lakes and water is also key at Al Hamra coming into play, as it does on 11 holes and nowhere more obvious 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 while there is the usual mix of four par-5s, four par-3s, and 10 par-4s.
Harradine presents the golfer with a relatively soft introduction, with the 337-yard first hole, presenting an early birdie opportunity for accomplished players. 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.
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 the wise option is to stay left. The first of the par-3s is the 133-yard fourth hole.
You now cross a resort entrance 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 Jahzira, 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.
There are definite birdie chances at the fourth hole, and the dog-leg right fifth hole, ranked 18 and 16 respectively, before crossing the roadway to play holes six to 17.
In the distance, you can see a former defensive watchtower, one of only two remaining built over 100-years-ago on the sand dunes of Al Jahzira, a village renowned for fishing, pearl diving, and boat building, and the near 12-meter-high towers watch over the community’s water wells and protected the settlement from attack in the early days of the emirate.
Not that you’ll need any watching-over playing Al Hamra.
The 10th is a great Harradine designed risk-and-reward hole, with water all the way down the left side, giving longer players 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. For us mere mortals, however, it’s a lay-up just shy of the water and a 9-iron or wedge into the green.
Probably, my favourite Al Hamra hole is the par-3 11th. A much-photographed hole that you play over the water, and with the dramatic backdrop of five ‘Royal Breeze’ apartment buildings overlooking the crescent-like hole. The green is guarded by a dozen palm trees, standing like sentries on the right-side and all the way around the back of the hole.
If you’ve threaded your way safely through those four holes – nine, 10, 11 and 12 – then the par-4 13th and par-5 14th, and ranked No. 15 and 17 respectively, present good birdie opportunities. Dave did this with a great birdie on 14 and up-staging both Eoin and me by landing his second shot to just a few feet and inside both of us.
Make sure in crossing the small road behind the 14th to stop at the ‘Milk Bar’ where you’re greeted by Sudda. He’s very engaging and a great ambassador for the club.
After playing the long par-4 17th, it’s back into the golf cart and once across the bridge, you’re presented with the stunning sight the 18th and 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
Standing on the 18th tee – a par-5 at 532-yards – it seems like a pretty 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 juts in and out of the water, so, even the straightest of drives may still find a watery grave in the Arabian Sea.
For this 16-handicapper, it was just pleasing to have the opportunity to play Al Hamra as it’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed playing a golf course for the first time. Of course, it was a great day weather-wise, the company was great, Craeg managed to join us for a few holes, and I was chuffed I had brought my B+ game to Ras Al Khaimah.
So, many thanks again to Craeg and the team at Al Hamra for a wonderful day’s golf, and best wishes to both the club in the exciting new chapter at Al Hamra and to those teeing it up at this week’s 2024 Ras Al Khaimah Championship.