Host of three Challenge Tour events between 2016-18, Ras Al Khaimah’s Al Hamra Golf Club first joined the DP World Tour’s schedule in 2022, when it was given the rare honour of hosting back-to- back events in February due to the cancellation of the Qatar Masters due to Covid restrictions. First staging the Ras Al Khaimah Championship, and then having just enough time to roll the greens and repair the divots for the following week’s Ras Al Khaimah Classic, both tournaments were well supported by members of the tour, with Ryder Cup hopeful Nicolai Hojgaard winning the Championship and rising Kiwi star Ryan Fox taking the spoils in the Classic.
My trip coincided with Al Hamra’s hosting of the 2023 Ras Al Khaimah Championship, which also attracted a decent field, with both Fox and Hojgaard back to defend their honours, while a whole host of stars, including former Ryder Cup player Thorbjorn Olesen and three-time major champion and former Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington, were also in the starting line-up.
For the duration of our trip we stayed in the five- star Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah, which is just a drive and a pitching wedge from the golf club, and also happened to be where the players were being hosted, so it was quite something to not only be invited to attend the pre- event party with all the players, but also to sit down at breakfast every day and be surrounded by golfing greats.
Taking a courtesy buggy to the course on practice days I shared a ride with Thomas Bjorn and Padraig Harrington at separate times, which is not something you get to do a most tournaments! I was also lucky enough to be invited to play in the Pro-Am for the event, and was paired with rising German star Yannik Paul, who was not only great fun to play with but also a seriously good ball striker.
Our group enjoyed a memorable round on Al Hamra’s excellent course, which, as you’d expect for a Tour-level venue managed by Troon Golf, was presented in superb condition. First opened in 2008, Al Hamra was designed by Peter Harradine, who is responsible for many of the Middle East’s top tracks, including the National Course at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
Located on a largely flat swathe of land, the holes are laid out around a series of lagoons, and as such water features heavily on many of them, most notably either side of the fairway on the par-5 third. The 6th and 7th are the first two ‘dry holes’ – a strong par 4 and a lovely short hole, and these opening seven, along with 17 and 18, also have floodlights for evening golf and make a perfect 9-hole loop.
A very long par 5 and a maximum-distance par -4 take you to the turn before the back nine begins with a trio of very scary holes. The 10th and 12th are probably the two hardest par 4s on the course, both with greens perilously close to the lagoon, and they sandwich a very scenic par 3 with a green that juts out into the water.
There is some respite from the water over the next five holes and hopefully the chance to pick up a shot or two on the card. The round finishes with the extremely intimidating par five, where water threatens all the way down the right side of the hole to the very edge of the triple-tiered green. It reminded me of a mirror image of Pebble Beach’s 18th, where water is omnipresent down the left.
Sadly, despite our best efforts, our group didn’t win any prizes, but we thoroughly enjoyed the day. Yannik just missed the cut in the main tournament, but has since gone on to finish second in events in India and Thailand, and is riding high in the DP World Tour rankings, so thankfully his time with me didn’t harm his future prospects!
I spent the next two days shipping back and forth on the shuttle between the luxurious surroundings of the Waldorf Astoria and the golf course, watching the pros in action. If you’ve not been to a tournament before, or even if you have, I’d strongly recommend coming to this event, as I’ve not been to one where you’re able to get closer to the action or where you can engage with the players on such an intimate level. England’s Dan Gavins won the event with a score of 17 under, and with the cut coming at 4 under, it shows just how good these guys are.
The Waldorf Astoria was none too shabby either, with 346 spacious and luxurious rooms and suites overlooking the Arabian Sea, eight stylish dining options, including a buffet and seafood, steak and Japanese restaurants, as well as a pool and beach bar. There are two big outdoor swimming pools and you’re less than a minute’s walk away from the 350-metre private beach overlooking the azure waters.
Being only an hour’s drive north of Dubai, you could easily slip in a game at Al Hamra and a stay at the Waldorf Astoria as part of an extended trip to the UAE, but I’d strongly advise giving over a couple of extra days to explore what this unique area has to offer. As well as another 18-hole championship course at nearby Tower Links Golf Club, there are lots of memorable activities to do in ‘RAK’, as it is known by Emiratis.
Among personal highlights was a trip to the nearby desert for a sunset dinner at the beautiful Sonara Camp. Located the heart of the sand dunes, it had everything you could ask for, including some fun activities to keep you entertained before dinner. Whether that be a short
camel ride, feeding a falcon, sand boarding or live music – it had it all as you watched the sun go down. When the camp lit up it was time for a decadent three-course dinner, accompanied by some unique live entertainment including a captivating fire show and acrobatics. A Harvester this wasn’t.
While it was an extremely peaceful end to the night watching the sun setting over the dunes, the same couldn’t be said for the adrenaline-fuelled activities I experienced the next day. About an hour’s drive away from the Waldorf Astoria sits the spectacular Jebel Jais, the highest peak in the Hajar Mountain range which provides breathtaking views right from the very top. It’s also home to the world’s longest zip wire experience, and in the bus on the way over, our group began to sound a little nervous as what lay ahead of us came into view.
The zip line, Jais Flight, measures 1.8 miles from top to bottom – or rather side to side – soaring across the jagged mountain peaks and swooping through the deep ravines and roads below. Standing at the top platform, it’s certainly a daunting prospect, but it is simply an unmissable experience. If travelling horizontally in a tangerine jumpsuit while strapped to face down to a gurney- style harness at speeds of up 80mph for almost three minutes is your idea of fun, then be my guest. It’s breathtaking in more ways the one, but once you get over that initial fear and open your eyes, the views across the vertiginous valleys are incredible, while the adrenalin rush is off the charts.
Once our heart rates had settled down and our stomachs returned to somewhere close to where they should normally be, we enjoyed a superb lunch at 1484 By Puro, a mountain-top restaurant named after its height in metres above sea level which offers more of those majestic views and some fabulous food – although I gave the oyster platter a miss while I waited for things to settle down in the tummy region.
As if the zipline wasn’t enough adrenaline for one day, after lunch was somewhat digested, it was time for the final activity, the Jais Sledder. It’s effectively a bobsled on a monorail that reaches speeds of 30-40mph – although it feels much faster as you’re sat so close to the ground – which hurtles you down the Hajar mountain range on a 1.8km winding track. While it may not be as heart- pounding as the zipline, it’s still a definite must-do if you like seeing the whites of your knuckles as you hold on for dear life as your cart flies around hair-raising hairpins. And just like the zipline, it only takes a couple of minutes before it’s all over, but the memories will stay with you for far longer.
One of the other fascinating experiences on my trip, although slightly less stressful than the high wire, was a visit to a local pearl farm. Located in the old fishing village of Al Rams, about 20 minutes from our hotel, we boarded a traditional pearl fishing boat and headed out into the lagoon to learn about the innovative scientific techniques used in modern-day cultured pearl farming and learn about how Emiratis used to dive for natural pearls. We explored the Suwaidi Pearl farmhouse, which was located on a floating pontoon, while our knowledge guide helped us to harvest a handful of oysters and opened them to find out whether there were any Arabian pearls inside – which there were! All told, it was a brilliant few hours on the water and an wonderful insight into a centuries old business that still thrives today in Ras Al Khaimah.
Although it has long been a popular weekend retreat for Dubai’s stressed-out citizens, ‘RAK’ looks destined to attract adventurous travellers from all over the world thanks to its unique combination of natural wonders and man-made excitements both on and off the golf course. And that looks sure to be fast-tracked by the imminent opening of a new island off the coast of Ras Al Khaimah. Due to open in 2026, the island will be one giant entertainment and hospitality complex operated by the Las Vegas-based Wynn Resorts, featuring a 1,000-room hotel, 10 restaurants, and, according to latest reports, the region’s first licensed casino. If that comes to fruition, it really will be a game- changer for Ras Al Khaimah and its future on the world stage.
Rooms at the Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah start from £217 per night. For bookings, visit hilton.com
Check out all the adventures and attractions at rasalkhaimah.com
Emirates offers flights from the
UK to Dubai International Airport (emirates.com). From there it’s an hour’s drive to Ras Al Khaimah