Sultanate of Oman Golf
Well what a week that was in Oman, prior to going there were slight concerns about the Coronavirus, a few golf tour operators dropped out, the rest from around the world were quite bullish about going and saying to our customers everything continues.
Well how the world changed in a week, oh boy. Golf travel companies are under threat, the industry hitting a dark hour, cancellations and postponements galore. Things will get back to normal though, we are just not sure when and at what pace it will all pick up. In the meantime we have to stay strong, stay positive and plan for the future for our wonderful game.
Positive and confident is the order of the day.
So lets turn to golf destinations. One of the places to be considered on the return to order is Oman. Get this destination on your Dream Golf Holidays list. Golf, culture, cuisine certainly fits the bill here. Throw in some excellent hotels and you have yourself an amazing time in the Middle East.
Sultanate of Oman
Oman is situated at the Southern tip of Arabia. It is one of the last places to get a real feel of traditional Arabia, there is so much tradition to soak up, the climate is superb with an excellent infrastructure that blends in with the Old Omani ways.
The best time to visit Oman is October to April which makes it perfect for that winter golf break. I was there in March and the temperature varied between 25 and 29 degrees, very pleasant indeed.
Oman is so diverse, amazing deserts and sand dunes, green oasis that spring up from nowhere, just like being in a Western! Rugged mountain ranges to explore, cycling both road and mountain is very popular.
There are Wadis, great swathes of valleys so rich in their diversity. And then the beaches, miles and miles of excellent uncrowded beaches. Mud brick villages are still in abundance, living the traditional way. Buildings cannot be built above 6 floors high, so the skyscraper mentality in other Arab countries doesn’t, thankfully exist.
However Muscat is certainly modern, with modern chains of hotels and Western food chains, it is mixed though with the traditional, which tempers the modern feel. Al Mouj, just outside the centre of Muscat, is extremely modern, nice hotels, swanky restaurants, port and of course a magnificent golf course.
Souks are plentiful with bartering over frankincense, jewellery, perfumes and gifts. Nizwa Souk is certainly worth a visit with its many different components which go far beyond a trinket to bring home!
The Omani people have a great reputation for friendliness and hospitality. That was certainly evident wherever I went. Truly humble, friendly, smiley people. A nation so proud of their heritage and culture, they just want to share it all with you.
Food in Oman is an eclectic mix of Middle East, Far East and East African, lots of spices and warmth, lots of curry and lots of fish. In the Souks you can purchase all types of wonderful spices, the smell is amazing.
The Kempinski Hotel, with their unmistakable Lady’s in Red. This hotel really does hit the mark. The entrance and first view is an absolute wow. The internal architecture draws the eye to the large glass windows that then lead on to the gardens and infinity pool, leading then into the Arabian Sea, how amazing.
This 5* property should be at the top of your list for a stay in Oman. Ideally situated for the golf courses and not much more than a good drive away from Al Mouj Golf club itself, which is the gem amongst the golf courses.
The service level is extremely high, attention to detail is covered in every way. The rooms are spacious and comfortable will all the facilities one requires. The bathroom facilities with walk in shower room and bath area are of an excellent standard.
The food, or certainly the food I had was buffet style, it was though an exceptionally elegant and abundant one with lots of fresh food cooked around the different food stations. Breakfast was a similar affair. The service of all the team within the hotel was absolutely impeccable.
There is also a sports bar within the hotel complex with numerous tv’s showing sport from around the world which also serves alcohol and the usual sports bar food, burgers, ribs pizzas etc. This is a great place to chill out. And you get your beer…and the peanuts….don’t forget to give the shells back!
Not every hotel in Muscat serves alcohol. The Kempinski does, one has to remember this is a predominantly alcohol free country and where it is served it isn’t cheap. It is a place to come and enjoy a beer or a wine rather than have gallons of the stuff!
Al Bustan Palace Ritz Carlton
How do you describe this hotel? I doubt you will find a grander entrance to a hotel anywhere. This used to be one of the Sultans Palaces and indeed the 9th flor of the hotel is still used by the Sultan to entertain guests and for guests to stay. There is a private lift to the 9th floor and non of the Ritz Carlton staff have access to the 9th floor. All very strange and secretive.
The grounds were amazing, spacious gardens. Lovely pools, some rooms you could step off your balcony straight in to the pool, superb.
The rooms themselves seemed more dour in decor than certainly the modern Kempinski and had an old feel to them, though I do believe there has been a recent renovation.
The setting for dinner was incredible, the lapping sea yards away, craggy rocks lit by the hotel lights, extremely romantic.
The food was extremely tasty and varied. As you can imagine there was plenty of fish on offer, as well as a bit of meat for the carnivores in the audience.
The size and scale of the building is quite spectacular, the grounds could probably fit a 9 hole golf course in them. It is certainly a hotel to look at in a golfing itinerary if only to say you have stayed in a Sultans Palace.
Anantara Jabel Akhdar
Incredible, if you want, peace, quiet, solitude and a place to rejuvenate yourself for a while then this is the place. Stunning, the setting, the vistas, the ambience. For a memory of Oman this has to be seen.
High in the mountains, over 2000 metres above sea level, we left Muscat in 28 degree heat and arrived at the hotel in 14 degrees heat!! A refreshing difference. It seemed like you had been transposed to a different world, a different time, everything about the place was so different to the heat and hustle of Muscat.
Truly stunning views from your room, the restaurant, the mountain balcony and the infinity pool. A sight worth seeing whatever the cost. Sometimes in life one feels very humbled, very privileged and in awe. The few hours spent at Anantara Jabel Akhdar certainly fit that category.
There is a monument stone in honour of Princes Diana who visited the site prior to the hotel complex being built. It was quite a poignant moment stood there, collecting one’s thoughts in this idyllic place.
It really is hard to comprehend the beauty and magnificence of the landscape. It has to warrant as one of the most stunning and vast sights I have ever seen.
The rooms were very spacious and rustic, fitting the environment perfectly.
The food, both dinner and breakfast were buffet style but of exceptional quality and variety.
W Hotel Muscat
Modern, trendy, vibrant feel, straight lines and brand new. This hotel opened in January so is completely on point decor wise with a great feel.
The gardens and pool area, similar to the Kempinski wander and meander down to the sea. There are plenty of sun beds and terraces to sunbathe on with private booth’s one can book, this looked exquisite for a day’s relaxation.
The room was extremely spacious with great views of the sea, gardens and pools. The decor around the hotel was funky with great lighting, the colours blending well with the straight lines or the architecture.
One of the piste de resistance of this Hotel is the rooftop bar, fantastic views with its own infinity pool reaching out high above the sea. Didn’t get to use it, only open during daylight hours and I was out exploring then.
Dinner was a treat, the hotels signature dish of Tomahawk steak (like a T Bone) and Omani lobster, a fact about Omani lobster, they don’t have claws, quite a sight to see.
Overall a very nice hotel in a great location for the golf courses.
This is a brand new hotel with some of the facilities yet to open, part of the Spa, tennis courts and some outside areas. Internally the hotel really does fit the bill, spacious lobby area, rooms of a very decent size, excellent decor. The gym, if you want a gym whilst on holiday, is extremely well equipped.
The hotel is very well situated for the golf courses, the complex it is in is still being completely built, when completed it will be a superb addition to the Muscat scene.
The hotel did host a number of the European Golf Tour pro’s for the 2020 Oman open.
So four courses were played in the Muscat area. All very different to each other which helps it to be an extremely enjoyable experience.
Ras Al Hamra Golf Club
Ras Al Hamra is a super track. This was my first experience of night golf, the back 9 took a hole or so to acclimatise the eyes however it really was superb. A definite to do.
Ras Al Hamra is an 18 hole layout (two loops of the same 9 hole layout but from varying tees and double greens to provide a completely different course second time around). It is the first fully floodlit golf course in Oman, and what a pleasure it is to play. The strategic placement of the tees with the very large double greens create in essence a perfect 18 hole course. It is a par 71 layout varying from 5,400 to 6,500 yards.
It was originally opened in 1969 as a sand course, and as said it was converted to a grass course with established trees and native shrubs planted throughout. This helps provide the natural feel of the surroundings.
The move from sand to grass was undertaken by Graham Marsh Golf Design, this course is desert style surrounded by arid wadi and rocky hills. It is situated next to the Gulf of Oman. The complex also boasts tennis courts, hockey, kayaking amongst other activities.
This course is a 30/40 minute drive from the Muscat hotels. Definitely a great course to play on your first full day in Muscat whilst still finding your holiday legs! Play it about 16:00 and you will experience the day/night golf.
The golf course manager is an Aussie guy, Brett, Really great guy, knowledgeable, has been around the golf industry a long while and knows his onions on golf course design, his background.
We were treated to an exceptional Omani feast at the Ras Al Hamra clubhouse, the chef certainly did his bit for us. The clubhouse also sits on the edge of the beach and sea so a full day can be made of it here.
Ghala Golf course
Ghala is a 20/30 minute drive from the Muscat hotels. This course meanders in the main through a valley surrounded by what can only be described as Palaces perched on top of the cliffs. The Minister for Oil has one of these Palaces, with his own private drive down to the golf course. The new Sultan also has a very large Palace here.
The 18-hole course at Ghala is surrounded by the Al-Hajar mountains which encases the golf courses wonderfully, providing you with a feeling of serenity throughout your time here.
The narrow fairways leading into the mountains provide a challenge for all levels of player. Ghala Golf Club is the oldest club in Oman, being established since 1971 as a sand course. The course now is completely grass with excellent greens and the maintenance is top class.
The course is extremely pleasant to play, the holes are varied throughout. The green structures were undulating and quite difficult, again which is good. The fairways are quite narrow so positioning on the course is very important. It is quite a long course 6527 yards from the men’s tees.
The clubhouse is spacious with good views of the 18th green with an open porch and seating area looking out over the course. The clubhouse is due for renovation over the next number of months to make it a more relaxed, informal atmosphere. There are no restrictions on the serving of alcohol in the clubhouse Some clubs cannot serve alcohol before a certain time, no restrictions here.
Al Mouj Golf Course
This is the crown jewel of the courses in Oman, used on the European Tour, it is a bit of a brute of a course that bites you all the way around. A joy to play though.
The scenery is amazing, every hole is different, the run offs from the green are definitely there for the Professionals, they are so tough to manoeuvre your way around the different hazards and nuances of the course. I’ll state again though it is a joy to play and to marvel at the scores the pros get.
The course is directly under the flight path to Muscat Airport which is a drive and a wedge away (for some!!)
The course follows a 2km stretch of of coastline that was scrubland only a few years ago. With the Indian Ocean crashing on the rocks and the wonderful Hajjar mountains as a backdrop , the course, with its unbelievably manicured fairways and greens (the fairways will be better than most greens back in the UK) bunkers galore, some very deep, lots of water hazards and the massive Indian Ocean to boot the course is an absolute gem.
The natural dunes help to block the view of the airport and indeed dampen the noise of nearby traffic. The course is 7,342 yards long, from the back tips but there are plenty of forward tees to choose from. The course has a definite links feel about it, which is a good addition to the other, traditional Omani courses. The Course provides a challenge to all level of golfers. If your like me you will need a few balls in your bag. The whole complex is superb, from the driving range to the short game area to finally the par 3 floodlit course.
There is a fantastic book, produced by two Norwegians which captures photographs of the 173 species of birds that frequent the course at Al Mouj, quite amazing. Greg Norman designed the course and first visited the site back in 2006. He still believes Al Mouj is one of his best ever golf course creations.
For a couple of years now Muscat Hills has fallen off the cliff a little in terms of standard, course maintenance and general upkeep. The owners, who I believe to be high up Royalty fell a bit out of love with golf so the course suffered.
It was the vision of the late Highness Kais Bin Tarik Al Said, now however a different member of the family, keen on golf is heading up a renaissance for the complex.
I have to say it is a most wonderful layout, totally enjoyable, superb par 3s and lots of variety along the way. The condition, 90% there, but unbelievably playable and any golfer would enjoy it.
Muscat Hills was the first 18 hole grassed golf course to be built in the Sultanate of Oman. It was designed by the renowned world wide designers Paul Thomas of David Thomas.
It is a 72-par, 6980 yards golf course. It has sea views and again the magnificent splendour of the Al Hajar Mountains. The course meanders its way through natural Wadi terrain with wide fairways and tricky shots over wadi escarpments.
The course is a fair test of golf which would be enjoyed by all. The clubhouse has a large outside seated area and a spacious interior, the food at the golf club was really enjoyable.
Again the course is extremely close to the airport, 5 minutes drive and to the hotels in the area.
So in summary, one to definite play and as it gets back to its total former glory it will be a wonderful place to play, relax and have great memories of Oman.
The cultural sightseeing I undertook was quite amazing. This is such a diverse country. Where to start?
Bait Al Zubair Museum
Absolutely fascinating place, tracing the history of Oman and showing the different facets of life.
There are over 5,000 pieces of cultural history within the museum. These include Omani weapons, swords, daggers, jewellery, costumes to the basic utensils used throughout centuries. The museum really helps to give a sense of the importance of Oman over the years as part of shipping routes to different continents of the world. Oman was a really important trading post.
To hire a guide to take you around the museum would be a great idea, brings everything to life. To come away from Oman knowing more about the country than when you came sounds a wonderful thing and should be done.
Al Alam Palace
Everything you see in Oman regarding Palaces, Government buildings etc is always on the grandest scale. The Al Alam Palace is no different.
This is a wonderful place to walk around and to get the feel and the scale of the influence of the Sultan of Oman.
The Palace is the ceremonial palace of His Majesty the Sultan. It is situated in the heart of Old Muscat Town. The Palace is not open to the public but just to be able to walk around the perimeter is a great experience.
To look down the Gulf and see the BIG Guns protecting the Palace and the City you get a sense of what life used to be like, or maybe it still is!
Jebel Akhdar & Nizwa
Before arriving at Jebel Akhdar the journey takes you through some wonderful sights. Amazing mountain formations, real life (not just in films) Oasis and date farms. Quite truly amazing. The guides we had were superb, so knowledgeable, so enthusiastic.
The whole area and what is described as the Green Mountain is so rich in history and culture. This trip is so much more than just golf. It is the life experience that sits well and truly in the realms of Dream Golf Holidays.
Date farms are in abundance in the area and as described below they are a prize possession to have. There are so many different varieties of dates. Never knew that, guess it is like apples, looks like the same tree but different type!
The Oasis at Wadi Bani Khalid is definitely a beauty spot and a very popular one at that. Definitely worth the visit, not every day you can go to an Oasis.
I have spoken about the hotel at Jabel Akhdar, now a little more about the fantastic area it is situated in. It is rich in the crops it produces, roses for rose water, pomegranates, walnuts, peaches, apricots, all growing perched on the mountain cliffs.
From the hotel there is a lovely walk through the mountains, probably about a mile, that gives you amazing views and a feel of being within the community.
Seeing the old houses, wooden doors, garden plots just perched there in this vast canyon is quite surreal. The history of the place, the sense of being somewhere very special engulfs you.
Even if you don’t stay in the area it is unbelievably worth a visit to Jabel Akhdar.
Nizwa is in the foothills of the Hajar Mountain range. It is a bustling city with one of the major tourist attractions in the country, Nizwa Fort, built in 1668. Definitely worth a visit, there is a small charge to get inside the fort.
The souk in Nizwa is extremely organised, different souks for different things, Cattle, goat, spices, fish, dates, quite amazing.
The Nizwa area, and indeed Oman is famous for dates. Date trees/farms are in abundance in this area. People who don’t have a date tree can ‘hire’ trees from these farms and they get the harvest from those trees.
The smell of the spices is amazing, turmeric is abundant (and getting a lot of good press in the West!) Saffron is plentiful and so reasonable.
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
Magnificent, truly magnificent. What a building and what an honour and privilege to be shown around it. It is a massive site, the grounds are extensive, the architecture stunning. 20,000 people can pray within the grounds and that happens every Friday. Unbelievable, wonderfully unbelievable. The main prayer room alone can accommodate 6.500 people
Every area you look a just oozes grandeur. Black and white marble used everywhere, everything extremely symmetrical.
The carpet in the main prayer room took 27 months to make BY HAND, it was made in Iran, it is a one piece carpet and is believed to be the largest carpet in the world. It weighs 21 tonnes. What an amazing fete that is in itself, never mind the scale of anything else.
And whilst we are on scale, the main chandelier in the main prayer room weighs 8 tonnes…… you don’t want Del Boy on that cleaning job!!
Walking around with our guide was an absolute delight, so informative, so knowledgeable and so humble. Religion can be a wonderful thing in the right hands!
Think of the most idyllic island, nothing else around, clear blue waters, soft white sand……… well that’s Dimaniyat Island. And only a couple of hours sail from Muscat.
The boat used was the stunning Al Zahra, a fantastic cruiser, an excellent way to relax a day away. The boat obviously isn’t cheap, but if there was a big enough group it wouldn’t be too expensive for the day. There are other ways to sail to the island, not as plush but still worth the trip.
The interior was exquisite, so plush, lots of room with a number of bedrooms with en-suite facilities. It was an extremely special experience.
One of the reasons to go the the islands is to snorkel, and hopefully snorkel with turtles as they use the islands as nesting grounds. Lots of snorkelling was undertaken whilst I was there, alas no turtles were seen.
On reaching the islands the cruiser anchored up and the crew got off and in to the dingy, with lots of gear. We sat on the boat for about 30 minutes, watching the activity on the beach from a distance and the crew being extremely busy.
Once on the island it was clear to see what the busyness was all about. What a wonderful set up. The temporary dining area, and then the food that came was quite stunning.
The cruiser looked good up close, I do feel though this view, framed between the rocks shows off it’s elegance.
So the food, well just a couple of photo’s but I am sure you can get the feel of the spread that was provided, sumptuous.
It’s pretty impossible not to go to these islands and come back not feeling very lucky, very privileged and very at peace with yourself. Whether on a cruiser like Al Zhara or a smaller vessel the day will be thoroughly enjoyed.
The view back in to the harbour at Al Mouj provides a beautiful sunlit view over Muscat and the magnificent Grand Mosque.
And finally, contemplation and tranquillity. Golf, Cuisine and Culture are the words to describe Dream Golf Holidays. This excursion certainly helps to bring those words alive.
Wahiba Sands Excursion
So from sea to sand and in to the desert. Wahiba sands is a 2 hour drive from Muscat, into a completely different world and landscape. 4×4 vehicles at the ready, sand dunes a plenty and here we go.
Camels just wandering around, wild. This is a rare white camel, very fortunate to see this. Camels as you can imagine are the life blood as working animals and also to breed for Camel racing. If someone can rear a very good racing camel and sell it on they will make a lot of money…there’s one hopeful below being trained!
Bashing the dunes in the 4×4 vehicles is tremendous fun. These vehicles are powerful, V12 engines, tyre pressure reduced and off you go, very exhilarating.
It was great having a professional photographer on the trip as well, thanks Bob, his eye for the photo was extremely sharp. It is amazing looking back on his photo’s and thinking, well I never saw that!!!
The desert camp was excellent, super little tented pod, extremely comfortable as was the restaurant area. A really super, fun experience.
The cuisine of Oman is a cornucopia of different countries and continents that have used Oman as a trade port and left their mark on the country.
From hotels to someone’s own house the cuisine of Oman is full of flavour, texture, spice and heat. Lots of wonderful salads abound, hot curry’s, spicy meat, lots of wonderful fresh fish.
One of the best, if not the best meals I had was actually at Al Mouj Golf club, it was a lunch, but this lunch was definitely Michelin Star standard, superb quality, amazing attention to detail.
Other food that was partaken was equally enjoyable. As ever when abroad, certainly somewhere sunny, everything tastes so much fresher, so much more succulent. Salads are amazing, tomatoes so juicy, peppers so crisp. The little simple things area always so much better.
Well what an amazing journey in a few days. Lots packed in so Dream Golf Holidays can provide a first hand experience of this wonderful golfing destination. It is definitely a trip to put on your list, one to tick off and say you have been to the real Middle East. You will play wonderful golf (well, you will play at wonderful golf courses, the wonderful golf is down to you!). You have choices where to stay, I have brought forward some of the very nice properties on offer. There are other levels of hotel, totally adequate for the job within the Muscat area. The hotels I stayed in I would highly recommend.
You will have the opportunity to embrace yourself in the culture and history of Oman, I have scratched the surface here, there is so much more to see and do.
You have the opportunity to gorge on wonderful fresh food, I was informed you had to visit the buffet a minimum of 3 times….. watch that waistline.
Finally, take the opportunity, once normal service is resumed, to soak all this up.
A few thank you’s, thank you to Bob the photographer, great job, many thanks. To Mubarak at Al Mouj Golf Club, really helpful and went out of his way many many times to make the trip a success. To all the suppliers, thank you for showing us what you have to offer.
And finally finally thanks to my fellow golf operator friends on the trip and to David, without you and IAGTO my friend we would not have had this wonderful opportunity.
Oman, your next Dream Golf Holiday Destination .