(Photographs courtesy of the clubs)
Few are short but all are sweet examples of world-class golf design. Welcome to the Middle East’s best par 3s
By Kent Gray
With a defence system including (but not limited to) an old railway shed, a grand hotel, heather, a skinny green, a subterranean pot bunker and an equally uncompromising stone wall, the fearsome reputation of the ‘Road Hole’ at St. Andrews is warranted.
If you still need a refresher on why the 17th at the Old Course is the most recognisable hole in golf, search the ‘Sands of Nakajima’ and follow the endless thread. Just don’t say you weren’t forewarned, especially if you are of a nervous disposition in the sand already.
Thankfully you needn’t be a 450-yard par 4 at the Home of Golf to inspire awe.
There’s something about par 3s that trigger the golfing senses. Picture the 12th at Augusta National, the island greened 17th on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass or to the tiny (f)lick that is the ‘Postage Stamp’ at Royal Troon. How about wedging toward the pounding Atlantic Ocean that backdrops the downhill, 106-yard 7th at Pebble Beach?
In the Middle East, we’re blessed with countless examples of how a good little ‘un often beats a good big ’un. That, of course, begged this, the definitive compilation of the region’s finest short holes.
So what’s the criteria to make the cut in our list of treacherous tiddlers? It’s the same exhaustive process that determines the world’s most respected course rating system, seven categories which reward shot values, design variety, resistance to scoring, memorability, aesthetics, conditioning and ambience.
Our Top 10 Courses in the Middle East 2020 judging panel applied the same criteria to each par 3 at all the courses rated. We then tallied the scores and ranked them accordingly to compile our list from 18 to No.1. A couple of clubs feature more than once, other clubs not at all. Some selections will surprise from courses flush with memorable par 3s. It all serves to emphasise the impartiality of the system.
Without further ado, welcome to the Middle East’s best par 3s, wee wonders all. Enjoy.
18. 16th Royal Greens Golf & Country Club
180 Yards, Stroke Index 16
Hit the ball right to left? Welcome to the warm turquoise waters of the Red Sea my friend, a place where Dustin Johnson’s title hopes momentarily took a dip with his ball in the final round of the inaugural Saudi International in 2019. Bail out right and you may still donate your sphere to Davy Jones’ Locker given how tight the green is cut to the wet stuff. Soak in the views while trying not to think about blading your chip or bunker shot.
17. 16th Ayla Golf Club, Jordan
210 Yards, Stroke Index 14
The odds are against even low markers on this downhill, normally downwind hole to a green that slopes away to a back left bunker. Back right? Water. A pure strike is required to hold the green with the strong prevailing wind lowering ball spin. Come in too low and the ball will find its way to the back or fall into the sand. Gulp.
16. 2nd Fire, Jumeirah Golf Estates
250 Yards, Stroke Index 17
You might be sensing a theme emerging by now and it’s not the fact Fire, like Ayla, came from the design board of Greg Norman, nor that the Shark loves a good bunker. What we are trying to say is, ball striking baby, like, you better be ripping your irons today kinda ball striking. You’ll need something stronger if you play from the tips here, something we strongly advise against. It’s easy enough to drop a shot or three without going further back than most of us travel to work nowadays.
15. 4th NEWGIZA Golf Club
187 Yards, Stroke Index 13
If you like your golf with a hearty dollop of history, put NEWGIZA on your must-play list. The signature hole at the Cairo layout – the last project of Thomson Perrett & Lobb – includes elevated views to the Great Pyramids of Giza. Breath-taking.
14. 17th The Els Club, Dubai
212 Yards, Stroke Index 15
Trust us, don’t leave it short on this beastly par-3. Don’t go long either come to think of it. Or right. And definitely not left. Gosh no. Any two putt par, one each of which will be a slippery down or side hiller, is cause for celebration. An up and down par? Well played, Seve.
13. 16th Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club
198 Yards, Stroke Index 17
With views to the Burj Khalifa on the 5th, that big carry over water on the 8th and the equally memorable 14th, you might be surprised by the par 3 that resonated with our judges at DCGYC. But by a fraction, they plumbed for a mid-iron carry over sand to the elevated 16th and a test with the putter. The start of a magical three-hole finish that gives the ‘The Creek’ its name and your card all those big numbers.
12. 12th Abu Dhabi Golf Club
186 Yards, Stroke Index 16
The green here isn’t tiny but boy, how magnetic is that water short? And that sand left and right. Heck, we’ve even bounced it off the boulders at the back trying to take all the other hazards out of play. Like the 7th on The National, this is another gem from Harradine Design. Which leads us too…
11. 8th JA The Resort Golf Course
177 Yards, Stroke Index 15
Club selection is critical from the elevated tee where you are treated to lovely views over the resort’s marina and out to the Arabian Sea. With water wrapping around the left side of the green, it’s easy to find sand right and then leave your bunker escape short for fear of a thin into the H2O beyond. A seemingly simple hole where dropped shots are not uncommon.
10. 17th Al Zorah Golf Club
224 Yards, Stroke Index 8
We’re huge fans of the short 2nd hole at Al Zorah which tests your mettle early with wetness waiting any weak or pulled (pushed for lefties) strike. We also enjoy the short 15th but for design and resistance to scoring, the 17th at the Golden Bear’s Ajman layout takes some beating. Forget par if you are short here, especially if you draw a sticky lie when the tide is out. All carry, all class from Jack Nicklaus Design.
9. 15th Majlis, Emirates Golf Club
190 Yards, Stroke Index 14
The final par 3 on the Majlis isn’t dissimilar to the 17th at Al Zorah. This is a hole all about hitting and holding the green because anything short or left will leave a tricky desert lie to an elevated green and likely a frustrating blob on your scorecard. Beyond the green? Best left for spectating at the OMEGA Dubai Desert Classic.
8. 17th Dubai Hills Golf Club
203 Yards, Stroke Index 2
Few of the holes in our selection have a single figure stroke index rating. A clear exception to that coincidence is the penultimate hole at Dubai Hills. Good players will look to draw the ball away from the water that hugs the right-hand side of this hole but even low handicappers will be frustrated by a poor strike or an untimely gust at some point. Brutal!
7. 17th Saadiyat Beach Golf Club
147 Yards, Stroke Index 15
Framed by the white sands and the sparkling waters of the Arabian Gulf, the penultimate hole at Gary Player’s Abu Dhabi masterpiece scored well for aesthetics. It also resonated with our judges for resistance to scoring despite being a mere flick most days. Proof that par 3s needn’t be monsters to be memorable.
6. 11th Al Mouj Golf
230 Yards, Stroke Index 13
The island-style green on the 5th at Greg Norman’s Muscat gem makes for a memorable par 3 but it can only doff its cap to the 11th where the green seemingly melds into the horizon. Don’t be distracted by those dreamy Sea of Oman vistas…you’re going to need a pure blow to escape with par or better here.
5. 9th Dubai Hills Golf Club
220 Yards, Stroke Index 3
They clearly like their par 3s tough at Dubai Hills as witnessed by the two entries in our list, including the stroke 2 17th. The 9th is the most picturesque of the memorable collection of par 3s (we like No.2 as well) and, at 220 yards from the tips, is not for the faint of heart. We’d love a dirham for every water ball and two for every bailout right.
4. 7th Majlis, Emirates Golf Club
186 yards, Stroke Index 15
The second of the memorable collection of par 3s imagined into life by Karl Litten on the Majlis more than 30 years ago wouldn’t be out of place today at one of the UK’s famous old parkland courses. Beware the false front ready to suck your ball back into the lake and don’t be surprised if you face a lengthy first putt. And a knee-knocker for par. Or bogey.
3. 17th Earth, Jumeirah Golf Estates
195 Yards, Stroke Index 8
It’s the UAE’s answer to the 17th at TPC Sawgrass and like The Players Championship, the penultimate hole on Earth regularly has its say in the outcome of the Race to Dubai decider, often with a incredible escape from one of the bunkers. Club selection can be tricky if the wind is swirling. Par here is never to be sniffed at.
2. 17th Trump International Golf Club, Dubai
156 Yards, Stroke Index 18
Designer Gil Hanse clearly got the memo on the beauty of short, short holes. It’s easy to be sucked in by any pin cut to the front right of this cleverly sculpted green. Anything short is a bogey-plus in the making and good luck negotiating that shallow wee bunker beyond the green too. The sage option is to aim for the middle of the green and take your chances with the flat stick.
1. 17th Yas Links Abu Dhabi
204 Yards, Stroke Index 13
The downhill 4th, the nifty 8th, the pretty little uphill 13th. All stunning. But the penultimate hole at Kyle Phillips’ Abu Dhabi masterpiece? In a different league. Any tee-ball other than a green finder leaves a devilishly difficult up and down. A par here will linger in the memory, as will the social media mementoes you snapped with your phone camera from the tee. And looking from beyond the greenback towards the tee. It’s majestic from every angle and in every sense.