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Often, when people travel, they like to pursue their passions...take a cooking course in France or go hiking in the Himalayas. Golfers are no exception. But after you've played Pebble Beach and St. Andrew's old course, you might like to try golf with a little twist. Our vagabond correspondent, Doug Lansky, has done just that. He's played ice golf in Finland and a round at a remote course in southwest Uganda, where there were no flags in the cups -- he had to find someone who owned a flag to run ahead and hold it. Now, he's in the Persian Gulf giving sand golf a whack.

Postcard: Sand Trapped

By Doug Lansky, 4/12/2002

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The green fee at the Dubai Country Club was $30, which seemed a bit steep since there wasn't actually any grass on this golf course. Instead, the starter handed over a scorecard and medium-pizza-sized slabs of astro turf, and pointed me towards the first tee.

Waving my Astroturf mat, I asked him what it was for.

"That's the fairway," he said.

He wasn't kidding. According to the rules printed on the score card, I could place my ball on the Astroturf mat as long as I was within the wooden stakes that outlined the fairway. The trouble was, the mat didn't fit into any of the golf-bag pockets, or my pocket, so I resigned myself to carrying the thing around like... well, a pizza.

Playing on the all-sand course on the eastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula sounded like a golf oddity I shouldn't miss. As a golfer who spends most of his time in the bunkers, it seemed perfectly suited to my game.

I set off for a round with my childhood friend, Peter, who was transferred to Dubai for work. However, I began having second thoughts about our game as I broke a sweat while putting the clubs into his car. It was near noon and 110 degrees in the shade, only there wasn't any shade to be found in this air-conditioned-city-state.

Dubai, one of the United Arab Emirates' seven sovereign shaikhdoms (try to say that five times fast), looks like someone took a quarter of downtown Miami, washed it, squeezed in a few more fast food franchises, replaced the Cubans and Haitians with Filipinos and Pakistanis, then dropped it into the desert.

Which is exactly where my first ball landed... on a vast stretch of sand. But at the Dubai Country Club, it qualified as fairway. I plopped down my Astroturf disc, placed the ball on top and took a few tentative practice swings with my five iron, then stepped forward and swung at the ball. I hit it a tad low, knocking the ball about five yards but launching the astroturf like a Frisbee, possibly setting the distance record for a synthetic divot.

A few shots later it was time to putt. The brochure says the browns "arguably have a truer surface than grass." I suppose what they mean by this is that they get into an argument every time someone on staff tries to make this point. It felt more like putting on a clay tennis court, after the abuse of a singles tournament. The brown was made of sand mixed with oil, and steamrolled. There was a broom at edge of the brown to sweep up your footprints after you putted. Or perhaps we were supposed to use the Olympic curling technique and sweep just in front of the rolling ball.

I finally knocked my ball into a bunker on the ninth hole. Yes, they actually have bunkers on this course. And no, they're not filled with grass. The sand in the bunkers was more refined than the sand on the rest of the course, similar to the grains you find in hotel ashtrays. I found it easier to hit from the bunker than the fairway. If I'd only known earlier I would have been aiming for the bunkers the entire way, but in this 120-degree heat, nine holes was as far as we were going to get without melting.

Perhaps the best thing about sand golf is the water conservation. While other golf courses in Dubai need up to a million gallons a day to stay green, the Dubai Country Club manager assured me his course only requires 10,000 gallons a week. For the life of me, though, I can't tell what they do with it.

Savvy Resources:

Dubai Country Club

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