Michael Weston discovers a hidden golfing treasure at Al Mouj Golf Resort in Oman.
Al Mouj Golf Resort Review
Sandwiched between the Gulf of Oman and the Hajar Mountains lies the ‘Middle East’s best-kept secret’. You won’t find any swanky skyscrapers here, like those dominating the skyline in many of its extravagant neighbours.
Muscat, Oman’s understated capital, offers tourists an altogether different experience, but with its magnificent mosques, golden sands and mesmerising views, it won’t remain a secret much longer. Travelling golfers are spreading the word, too, for Al Mouj Golf is one of the very best courses in the Middle East.
Greg Norman’s layout, home of the European Tour’s Oman Open, lies at the heart of a luxury leisure and residential complex, with the course beautifully positioned along a stunning stretch of coastline. It’s tough – any tour player will tell you that – and when the ocean breeze picks up, it’s probably the most difficult course on the ‘desert swing’. But for its 300 members, it’s paradise. Likewise for visiting golfers, as nowhere is ‘millionaire’s golf’ more spectacular.
Steep humps and mounds line the fairways over the first few holes, but it’s the bunkering that represents the biggest challenge, for Norman’s large, deep sand traps are a constant feature.
At the par-5 3rd, for example, the green is surrounded by traps that will punish anything but the near-perfect approach. This is often the case – merely good shots won’t always cut it, especially as the slick, sloping greens have severe run-off areas.
Into the middle of the front nine, and holes 4, 5 and 6 play alongside and over a large lake. The island green on the par-3 5th can look quite small when the wind is up, making good club selection crucial to avoid a visit to the kind of drop zone even tour pros wouldn’t much fancy under pressure.
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Right by the shore
Then come the sea views. The par-5 7th hugs the shore, as does the 9th, a long par 4 where the tee box sits just yards from the beach. Up ahead, deep bunkers await, along with a treacherous green, all of which makes par a very good result as you head into the back nine.
The par 3s at 11 and 13 both feature beautiful ocean backdrops; both make a strong case for ‘most memorable hole’, although Al Mouj has many – and they keep coming.
These stunning short holes are separated by the par-5 12th, which plays along the coastline. Stray a fraction too far left over the rocks and your ball will end up on the beach.
Water comes into play again on the par-4 15th, which makes for a tough drive, before the finishing stretch looms into view.
You just know the coastline will have one final say, and it’s there on the right all the way down 18. If you choose to play from the tips, you’ll face a carry over a section of beach, before Norman asks one last question with a huge green that’s heavily protected by bunkers.
“Al Mouj is a must-play if you’re ever in Oman,” says Eddie Pepperell. “I’d say it’s the best course I’ve played in the Middle East.” Golf course superintendent Steve Johnson may be biased, but he’s also been wowed by Norman’s masterpiece. “I’ve been fortunate enough to work at some very, very good golf courses, and the way the golf course is now, this is up there,” says Johnson, whose 25 years in the industry have included stints at Gleneagles, Sandy Lane in Barbados and Port Royal in Bermuda.
It’s an impressive layout, and not just from a course design perspective. Winner of the 2019 IAGTO Sustainability Award for Community Value, Al Mouj is regarded as a thought-leader in eco-friendly golf course practices. Conservation, resource efficiency and community engagement lie firmly at the heart of everything here, for which Johnson and his team deserve enormous credit.
Away from the course it’s very easy to fill your days. From the sumptuous Kempinski hotel – absolute heaven for breakfast lovers – the marina is just a short walk away.
In a little over half an hour, you can be dolphin watching and snorkelling with turtles around the breathtaking UNESCO-protected Daymaniyat Islands. A guided tour is thoroughly recommended; it’s the best way to explore the city’s many castles, forts and museums, as well as the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, a marvel of Arabian architecture.
No trip to Oman would be complete without a trip to the Wahiba Sands, a four-hour drive from the capital but certainly worth the effort. Watch a golden sunset before setting up camp for a night’s stargazing in the desert.
A tour of the mountains is another eye-opening experience. Villages such as Balad Sayt are not exactly tourist hotspots – part of the appeal – but rather fascinating short stops where you can gain an understanding of what mountain life is like for Omanis. Should your guide take you for refreshments at Misfah Old House, sample the local coffee and dig into your pockets for a few rial in exchange for a pot of delicious local honey.
Back on the road and the adventure continues; there’s always more to see and do in Oman – and a warm welcome is extended wherever you go. Essentials
How to get there
Oman Air (omanair.com) operates daily flights from Heathrow to Muscat, which take around seven hours. Manchester also serves Oman’s capital. Once there, navigating the new $1.8 billion passenger terminal is gloriously stress-free. Tourist visas cost around £10 and you can apply for them online via various agencies.
Where to play
- Al Mouj Golf W: almoujgolf.com
- Muscat Hills Golf & Country Club W: muscathills.ecommune.com
- Ghala Golf Club W: ghalagolf.com
Where to stay
- Kempinski Hotel Muscat W: kempinski.com
- Mysk by Shaza W: myskhotels.com
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