With a new year coming up quicker than ever its time to think differently about golf event management and try something new, a new kind of new year’s resolution. Historically you’ve probably stomped the fairways up and down the likes of Portugal and Spain, maybe even Bulgaria looking for a bit of sun with a swing. It could be your first winter away but there’s one jewel of a location that probably hasn’t gone unnoticed but doesn’t quite lure you away from the good old faithful Europe. Where is this mysterious golfing paradise we talk about… The Middle East!
Ok I get it, Portugal and Spain are 2 hours on a plane, where as the dessert takes a good 7 hours, but once your there it’s a trip well worth making. You’ve may have thought about going to the Middle East and asked google and thought… ‘this doesn’t sound too inviting’, where’s my brochure to Portugal again. Error 1: You can probably ignore almost all that you’ve heard, I think I probably heard all the same stories. I always started to think about the reasons why I shouldn’t go because of what I heard from friends, “Women are not allowed certain places and they are not allowed to show any skin if outside the resort”, “if you get caught drunk in the street then you’ll be arrested and sent to jail” and lastly “the people are not very welcoming”. Once out of the airport it didn’t take long to realise how wrong I was and how welcoming and safe I felt.
In June this year I was invited along with our Marketing Director, David, to Yas Links in Abu Dhabi by the Director of Golf, James Ibbotson and his team for what is called in the trade a FAM Trip (Familiarisation trip). This is something that Clubs Away insists on doing with all it’s resorts promoted on the website as we only recommend resorts with first hand experience. When James invited us to visit Abu Dhabi we had the exact same reservations and questioned whether Yas felt like a resort we could successfully promote in the UK.
After a slightly more roomy 7-hour flight from Heathrow on the new Dreamliner we finally landed in Abu Dhabi. I have to admit that it was no different to landing in any Western country, people were polite, spoke fluent English, the airport worked in exactly the same way as any other airport… Was my perceptions of the Middle East changing? After we went through baggage claim we were welcomed by James and Charlotte from Yas Links who were hosting us for the entire trip. Then it was out of the ice cool airport air con and outside to be welcomed by a warm gust of dessert air.
Our first night we stayed in the Crowne Plaza on Yas Island. Again the experience was something that I didn’t really expect, checking in was just the same as checking into any western hotel, polite, friendly and spoke amazing English. At reception we were informed about ‘ladies night’ at Stills Bar which is attached to the Crown Plaza. Ladies Night is an initiative by all the resorts on the Island to create a welcoming vibe to all women who are visiting Abu Dhabi, a sign that Abi Dhabi acknowledge there being an issue with how holiday makers that are women perceive the UAE and its treatment of women. Their attitude to women that are holiday makers is far different to that within their own culture, all women on Ladies Night get free drinks, can dress how they wish and most of all are encouraged to have a good time as you should when you are on holiday. The initiative works and this is where I realised that Abu Dhabi was going to be a very different place to my initial perception. It was more like Cancun on spring break!
The following day we were invited to play golf at Yas Links by James and his team. Voted in the Top 50 courses in the world by Golf World the expectations were already very high. Disappointed? NO! Quite the opposite!
From the very moment you drive into the property and are met and seen through by security you already know that you are visiting somewhere quite special, when you arrive at the Clubhouse you are met by the golf operations team who take care of everything, from taking your clubs out of the car, to taking you into the clubhouse and showing you to your own personal locker for the day. Before we teed off we were given a quick tour of the clubhouse and I realised that this was more than just a golf club, this was a place to come for the day, not just to play golf but to eat and drink, relax by the outdoor pool or have a lesson and practice on the driving range no matter what standard you are. This golf club definitely deserves a tagline ‘Don’t just play, stay the day!’
The facilities at the resort are nothing short of fabulous and impeccably presented but this doesn’t really mean much if the delivery within the venue isn’t up too much. Yas Links provides the finishing touches that match this amazing venue. There are some very subtle touches where a lot of resort courses forget about, for example, the sheer heat of the dessert hits you by the 4th hole and you actually can’t believe how hot it is. So Yas Links thought of the perfect touch to provide its guests at this point – an ice lolly! So simple but so welcoming, especially depending on what time part of the day! Later on in the round they also greet you with a keenly welcomed ice cold towel. Another nice touch is that you have water dispensers every few holes that dispenses ice cold water free of charge. I have travelled the world playing at some of the best resorts in the world and there aren’t many that wouldn’t take the opportunity to charge an inflated price for something someone would be desperate for!
After tackling the last few signature holes and hopefully keeping a dry ball your welcomed to get wet yourself and freshen up under the rain shower in the changing rooms. You can even take a dip by the pool and ease down in the steam room before returning to the club house for a bite to eat. At Yas they have both indoor and outdoor dining, overlooking the 18th green with the iconic F1 track and sea view. If your lucky enough to stay around till the evening then you can sit down to a beautiful sunset before heading back to the hotel.
The hotels on Yas Island are intentionally run by Western hotel management groups to provide its guests with a feeling of home, these management groups include; Crown Plaza, Rotana, Radisson and Hilton. One of the great things about Abu Dhabi is that it recognises that tourists feel uneasy about travelling to the middle east because of the hearsay you can read on search engines and review sites. When you start to look deep into what the UAE is trying to achieve to overcome its perception to potential tourists goes far and beyond creating a western feel in the hotels. One thing that really surprised when I arrived at Abu Dhabi was the advertisement of ‘Ladies Night’. The concept is a simple one, it a welcome and not just to women. ‘Ladies Night’ will typically be hosted by different bars at different days of the week, its communicating to the guests of Yas Island that they want you to have a good time, that they want you to have a drink should you wish to and you won’t get arrested if you are found having consumed alcohol. Of course the Middle East have a different set of beliefs to ours in the Western world, they don’t drink, they don’t gamble and yes maybe they have different relationships with their spouses that we don’t necessarily understand however, the key message I have when I write this article is that it isn’t imposed on you as a tourist. Of course you will be expected to have a certain respect for their beliefs, but we should, we are visiting their country after all and I think this is one of the things that should be embraced when we travel.
The evening is when Yas comes alive and you really know this is an island built for entertainment. Maybe you might go for a relaxing cocktail at the Viceroy Skybar overlooking the F1 Marina circuit, watch your favourite band at the Forum or party the night away down at the marina bars and clubs, there really is something for everyone. Literally so much choice, even for some of the more health conscious, you can take an evening jog around the F1 circuit when its opened up to the public.
I think the perception since arriving has totally changed and as Clubs Away, we can’t wait to build packages for our clients so they can enjoy the exquisite experience that Abu Dhabi and Yas Links has to offer. With so much going on in the world of sport with the Rugby Seven’s, Formula 1 and Horse racing happening, combined with the tourist destinations like Ferrari World and Warner Bros (soon to be completed) the options are huge. With all this wrapped up on one island makes this a great alternative to Europe and far more attractive for those looking for a round in the winter months.
We think you might be pleasantly surprised by the packages we can put together so why get in touch about our PGA hosted holidays to Yas Links.