From Sand Courses to World Class Grass Courses
Mundhir Al Barwani, Chairman of Oman Golf Association
The game of golf in Oman began in 1970 with two modest sand courses. Half a century later, Oman is fast earning a reputation as a unique and spectacular golf tourism destination.
I first experienced golf 17 years ago on a trip to Kuala Lumpur when I decided to go to a Golf Club and I met an Algerian coach who encouraged me to try it. I was immediately hooked by the game. After the trip, I returned to Oman and started playing on the sand courses. Sand courses are very different and the game was very challenging. You need to pull your trolley through the soft sand, use the small Astroturf mat and then you had to try to control the ball on an oily sand brown (sand golf’s version of a green). Even with all of the challenges it was still enjoyable and we built our initial skills on these courses. I am pleased to say that today we still have one sand course where the members can still enjoy the unique challenges of sand golf.
The Oman Golf Committee was established by the Ministry of Sports Affairs in 2009 to manage the development of the game and to encourage its growth within the Sultanate, I became the third Chairman of the Committee in 2014. In 2020, the success of the Committee was acknowledged with the announcement and formation of the Oman Golf Association.
The main objectives of the Association are two-fold: to see the golf industry grow domestically and also to use the game of golf to create increased global awareness of the Sultanate of Oman.
Domestically over the last 15-20 years with the support of HH Syd Qais, HH Syd Taimoor, HE Dr Rumhy and the Ministry of Sports Affairs, the game of golf in Oman has grown significantly from zero green courses to 5 grass courses. The first grass course was opened in Muscat Hills in 2009 - a dream come true for golfers in Oman who before this would have to travel to Dubai to play on a green course. Currently there are five grass courses all located around Muscat, they are as diverse as the country itself and all offer world renowned Omani hospitality to their members and guests.
Al Mouj Golf
The host venue for the European Tour’s Oman Open, the Greg Norman-designed Al Mouj Golf layout is regarded by many as one of the Middle East’s top courses. Forming part of the Al Mouj Muscat luxury waterfront development, Al Mouj Golf was recently voted the second-best course in the region by the National Club Golfer and it won the Sustainability Award for Community Value at the 2019 IAGTO awards. Complementing its 18-hole championship layout are the Al Mouj Golf teaching academy, floodlit par-3 nine-hole course, pro shop, floodlit driving range and restaurant.
Ras Al Hamra
Ras Al Hamra Golf Club is Oman’s first completely floodlit course and although only 9 holes, it has multiple tees and greens creating an 18-hole layout. Designed by the leading course architect Graham Marsh, the parkland-style layout makes its way through a series of wadis and around several high rocky outcrops. Despite its length, the course tests your shot-making ability with every club in the bag, including your driver. There are driving range and practice green facilities here, as well as PGA Professional lessons and coaching available.
Muscat Hills was the vision of the late His Highness Qais Bin Tarik Al Syd and was the first 18-hole grassed golf course to be built in the Sultanate of Oman. The par-72 layout boasts spectacular sea and mountain views as it makes its way through natural wadi terrain. In addition to the championship course and club house, there is a floodlit driving range and putting green; and the Muscat Hills Academy offers state-of-the-art equipment in their pro shop, and a team of PGA professionals who offer lessons and tuition.
Ghala Golf Club
Ghala Golf Club has come a long way since it was established in 1971. This 18-hole championship layout now plays host to the MENA Golf Tour and Oman Amateur Championships every year. Recently, the course was ranked as one of this year’s “Top 30 Most Unique” courses by Golfscape. The course is set snugly into a valley and surrounded by mountains, and its narrow fairways will certainly challenge you. After your round you can relax on its open-air porch overlooking the course.
Located around a 45-minute drive south-east of Muscat, Jebel Sifah golf course forms part of the luxurious Jebel Sifah lifestyle development and marina. Managed and operated by golf luxury experts Troon, it’s a gorgeous nine-hole, par-36 course that can also be played as an 18-hole layout with second pin flags. With the Sea of Oman out front, and Al Hajar mountains behind you, the setting is breathtaking. There’s also pro shop here stocking golf equipment, leisure apparel, and rental clubs if needed.
The domestic market is an important area of growth which will create sustainability for the industry, through initiatives such as the GOjuniors and GOladies programmes the game of golf can now be experienced by many and in time through continued coaching those citizens who show promise will have the opportunity to go forward and represent their country at national level. We are proud of the fact that our current National Teams have seen recent success, in particular at under 15 level. This in itself is very important in creating awareness and aspiration amongst other citizens to take up the game.
In 2018 the Oman Golf Association became the promoter for the prestigious Oman Open European Tour event, which takes place in February every year. The event carries a prize fund of $1.75 million and is broadcast through 30 hours of live television coverage to over 300 million households worldwide. The event which is played each year at the stunning Al Mouj Golf shows the world not only that we have fantastic golf facilities here in Oman but also allows for the beauty and diversity of the country to be seen by all. The event is a valuable asset in promoting tourism and overseas investment, the measured global media value for the 2020 Oman Open exceeded $134 million and the event was televised globally with over 2000 hours of coverage.
Golf is quite unique as it is a sport that can be played by all, socially or competitively. It can be played alone or with family and is a wholesome and healthy pastime. It promotes environmental responsibility and sustainability and supports a diverse range of wildlife and plant life. It is proven as a highly effective vehicle for investment and tourism and is a vital component of the ITC’s in Oman including Al Mouj, Muscat Hills and Jebel Sifah, all of whom use golf to drive freehold residential sales. All of these elements contribute to the Oman Golf Association’s strategies which have been aligned to Vision 2040 to ensure that the game of golf continues to grow and to positively contribute to the Sultanate of Oman both domestically and internationally.