Wednesday, April 17, 2002

Paddy's Sports View 17th April 2002

“The Montgomerie” at Emirates Hills (designed by Colin of that ilk) is now, at last, open for business and I played in the first corporate golf day to be held at this remarkable course. Every Dubai golfer will welcome, but with some trepidation, the “Monty” as an extraordinary addition to the local golfing scene.

The “Monty” is extraordinary in the same way that (say) the “Burj Al Arab” is extraordinary. What I love about the Burj is that when you take guests there for the first time they never say “This reminds me of …” The Burj is not like any hotel that you have ever seen - and whether you like the d├ęcor or the architecture personally is not really the point. It is a spectacular achievement in a genre (international hotels) often characterised by uniformity and blandness. And with the “Monty” it is just the same – there is nothing quite like it anywhere.

At the end of our golf day at the “Montgomerie” most of the participants looked shell-shocked. The bankers who comprised the winning team strode in shirtsleeves and white socks to collect their prizes at the dinner like members of the SAS who had completed a particularly dangerous mission. The rest of us looked on, applauded generously, but (in most cases) tried to find a glimmer of comfort from our terrible rounds. My wife and I had played with the delightful Bob Conner and his wife. Bob is the silver-haired and golden-voiced chap who introduces the players on the first tee at the Desert Classic. Both he and Angela are good golfers and they had a few moments to treasure in their rounds. But in the main they were as startled by the “Monty” as the rest of us.

If we keep hold of the analogy with the “Burj Al Arab” for a moment you will see why even a golfer of yet to be revealed talent like me can welcome the “Monty” – difficult and bizarre ‘though it undoubtedly is. The course is unique in concept and execution. As with the Burj somebody had the vision to create something that you won’t find anywhere else. Compare this with (say) the thirty or so courses on the Costa Del Golf around Marbella in Spain. If you play these courses will you actually remember any of them? Valderama, perhaps, because of its fame and it history - but aren’t most of the other courses much the same?

If you play the “Montgomerie” you will certainly never forget it. 6753 yards off the Blue (sorry “Sapphire”) tees with Par fives to close the front nine and the back nine of 565 and 567 yards respectively. The 18th is actually 656 yards off the championship tees – and this gives a clue to what might have been in the mind of Colin Montgomerie when he worked with Desmond Muirhead to design the course. Monty knows that big hitters like him, armed with modern equipment, will regularly drive 350 yards. So for a Par five to be worthy of its name (instead of being an automatic birdie for the pros) you have to make it impossible to reach in two. Mind you I would not put it past Monty, the Tiger or Ernie Els to reach the green on the 18th with a 380 yard drive and a 275 yard second – but I don’t think that too many Dubai golfers will be trying this!

But it is not just its length that makes the “Montgomerie” unique. Take the 13th for example. This amazing Par three is on an island, shaped like the map of the UAE, with, allegedly, the largest green in the world. Now it may have a large green but when we played it all four of us put at least one ball in the lake and one or two of us have deferred to another day the pleasure of putting on its huge surface. Another aspect of this hole’s original design is that there are no less than five tee boxes each of which has a completely different shot to the green. One day you could be approaching the hole from one side of the lake – the next day from the other side!

So play the “Monty” as soon as you get a chance. But you will probably go straight to the 19th hole when you leave the course and remain speechless until, after a stiffener or two, you begin to return to some kind of normality.