Watching from a distance, specifically a fairway on the back nine of the Doha Golf Club, your motley group of itinerant golfers, shrugs and carries on.
The airplane hurtles down the runway, afterburners firing, for what appears to be, a full-power takeoff at the Hamad International Airport in Doha. You’re no plane spotter, but the trajectory of takeoff—the plane ascends at an acute angle into the skies—and the ensuing deft maneuvers by the pilot to steer the craft to the exit flight path, make it evident that something, is amiss. Watching from a distance, specifically a fairway on the back nine of the Doha Golf Club, your motley group of itinerant golfers, shrugs and carries on.
The Doha GC hosted the European Tour’s Qatar Masters just a couple of weeks before you’ve teed it up there, and the greens—ask anyone who’s played a championship layout after it’s been primed to entrap professionals—are murderously quick. Such occasions also drive home the truth about your golfing abilities, (or lack of them thereof): in this case just about breaking 100 on a course where South African Justin Harding won with a score of 13-under-par. A fallacious comparison because the 7400-yard monster that Harding scorched is a different animal from the meek white-tees-layout you were scorched by, on this gorgeous spring afternoon. That’s right, the Golf Gods, obviously moved by your hapless plight, threw in a cool breeze and even a light shower to lighten the mood.
You wake up the next morning expecting the day to be morbidly hot, and are greeted, instead, by a swirling moisture-laden wind that would be right at home on a links layout on the North Atlantic coast. “Isn’t this a really freaky weather for this part of the world?” you ask. “Not really,” chime in players at the range at the Education City Golf Club. “It stays like that for most of the first half of the year.”
You’ve got to hand it to the Arabs. Whatever you may think of their peculiar penchant for recreating world landmarks, or grand monuments, you’re not going to complain about the same sentiment being applied to golf courses. The Education City GC is no exception: this spectacular undulating expanse of finely manicured fairways, glassy greens, white sandy traps accentuated by sporadic inroads by the backwater lagoons would be at home anywhere in the world. Jose Maria Olazabal has designed the layout to finagle and deceive: yardages are very different from what they seem, and trouble lurks exactly where you don’t expect it. Thankfully, buoyed by the weather perhaps, your game has made a comeback—you manage to navigate your way around without a major disaster. It’s possible that given your remarkably finer play on the day has prejudiced your views, but this course definitely appears to be the pick of golfing tracks in Doha.
The Education City GC is a spanking brand-new course. More than the layout, the club’s USP is its expansive learning centre (hence the name). Comprising a range of short-game formats, a state-of-the-art learning and practice facility housed in the ‘Centre of Excellence,’ a TrackMan range, and even a six-hole championship course with seven teeing ground options per hole, this facility is like God’s gift for golf-technique fiends and newbies alike. The championship layout, as well as the flood lit 9-hole par-3 course, are open to itinerant golfers.
Most important lesson to be learnt at the Education City GC? Keep it on the straight and narrow. Much like that airplane that you saw the other day from the Doha GC. A friendly gentleman at the 19th hole clears up that riddle. “It’s the blockade,” he sighs. “Qatari aircraft can’t use the airspace of any of the Arab countries that have been trying to isolate the country.”
As it turns out, a goodwill gesture from Bahrain allows a Qatari aircraft to use that country’s airspace, albeit along two specific routes (one for incoming, and the other for outgoing). That means that all the air traffic in and out of Doha has been herded into what is basically one wide fairway in the sky. The repercussions for visitors are limited to increased flying time: the flight from Delhi to Doha, for example, takes over an hour longer now.
Today, as you read this, your columnist is probably nearing the end of his weekend round in Delhi. Those Scottish blokes who harp on and on about the ‘true test of golf,’ should try a late afternoon summer round in north India. There’s really no choice, if you’re smart, except to land up at the course just before dawn, hit your first tee shot in near-darkness and hope to finish up by the time the Capital’s denizens are just beginning to read the dailies, sipping on their morning brews.
Out of curiosity you check the weather app on your phone. Still keeping tabs on the weather in Doha, Siri announces that the mercury is just about breaching the 30 degree centigrade mark and isn’t expected to fall below the early twenties…That’s just unbelievable. And really what swings it when it comes to golf in Qatar.
You landed up in Doha expecting sand dunes, glitzy skyscrapers, blinding white heat, and snobbish Arabs. You found, instead, a beautiful and largely flat-urban landscape, intersected by blue-water lagoons, friendly people, temperatures that steadfastly held under 25 degrees centigrade and a pervasive cool breeze that literally blew your mind. When it comes to golf, Doha is, literally, quite cool.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game