Dubai Golf has officially rolled out VIYA to international audiences. VIYA allows customers, both in the UAE and around the world, to book world-class golf, dining, experiences, spas, and more at venues in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
VIYA is a one-stop-shop for those in, and visiting, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The platform offers golf bookings and seasonal promotions at Dubai Golf’s world-class golf venues: Emirates Golf Club, Jumeirah Golf Estates, Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club, Yas Links, Yas Acres, Saadiyat Beach Golf Club, and Topgolf Dubai – in addition to numerous other venues in the region.
In addition, the platform contains a variety of dining offerings at a plethora of restaurants and all the pro shops located at each of the Dubai Golf clubs. It can also be used to book spa days and treatments, as well as individual or recurring fitness experiences.
VIYA has been designed to reward customer loyalty, by offering 1 UAE Dirham (local currency) back for every 10 UAE Dirhams spent at a Dubai Golf venue and every other venue on the app – a 10% rewards programme. Whether it be in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, rewards earned on the platform can be redeemed at any other VIYA venue – this includes all restaurants, golf courses, pro shops, spas, gyms, beaches, and at Topgolf.
Christopher May, CEO of Dubai Golf (operator of VIYA), said: “VIYA really is the go-to platform for booking golf, leisure activities, and dining in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. It contains the very best of what the area has to offer and features a number of fantastic promotions every week. We also created VIYA with the goal of rewarding our users. We’re delighted that with every purchase, users earn rewards in UAE Dirhams that can then be redeemed at other VIYA venues, no matter which they choose to visit.”
He added: “While VIYA is a brilliant platform for residents to enjoy, it is now very much a tool that visitors and holidaymakers can utilise during their stay. It’s the easiest way to book tee times, dinners, and leisure experiences, and the rewards can be redeemed instantly, allowing visitors to benefit from them during their visit.”
VIYA has evolved from its original form as a golf bookings app for members of Dubai Golf clubs, to a fully servicing booking portal for activities and experiences throughout the region. It also now includes a variety of partners from outside the Dubai Golf business, to further enhance the user experience and create a broader offering for customers.
VIYA has already acquired more than 120,000 users in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and visitors from around the world can now utilise the platform.
VIYA is free to download, and you can do so by heading to any mobile app store. To explore VIYA, head to: www.viya.ae/
Originally, golf was not on our agenda when preparing our trip. For I had not known that golf was played in the country, whose Arab tribe of Hashemites goes back to the great-grandfather of the Prophet Mohammed.
I only became aware of this through the huge urban future project ‘Ayla’ in the city of Aqaba on the Gulf of the same name. In 2008, construction began on a super-modern holiday destination, including the Ayla Golf Club. It is located in the pulsating Ayla Oasis, the great impressions of which we will review at the end of our round trip.
But before that, we will visit Amman, Jerash, Bethany, Mount Nebo and Madaba, whose visits would be worth a separate report. From there we continue to the thousand-year-old rock city of Petra.
The early morning walk through The Siq, a narrow path surrounded by rock walls up to 90 m high and leading to Al-Khazneh/The Treasure House of the Nebateans, is a top highlight of our visit. Close behind ranks Ad Deir /The Monastery which requires further climbing up the valley almost 900 steps through Petra and rising up 200 m in altitude, offering breathtaking views.
Those who do not dare to make the walk through the gorge or the ascent alone can enlist the help of experienced four-legged professionals.
The overnight stay in a tented camp in the middle of the desert and the balloon ride over Wadi Rum are equally unforgettable.
We feel transported to the great scenes of the films ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’, ‘The Martian’ and ‘Dunes’ which were filmed here, and still feel the desert sand on our skin and the bumpy tours on the back of the Bedouin pickup trucks.
Relaxation on the Gulf of Aqaba
After pillars, temples, rocks and sand, the sea calls. The coastal city of Aqaba is located in Jordan’s extreme south on the Red Sea, close to the border crossing with Israel. Its seaport is the only one in the country and the gateway to the rest of the world.
Aqaba is a free trade zone and has more than 150,000 inhabitants. It is located at the northernmost tip of the Gulf of the same name, a branch of the Red Sea, and is bordered on its western side by Israel and the Sinai Peninsula and on the eastern side by Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Surrounded by turquoise sea
We spend a few relaxing days at the five-star Hyatt Regency Aqaba Ayla Resort, which is located just over four kilometres from the centre of the port city. It is surrounded by bright blue lagoons with water from the Red Sea and has 286 modern rooms and 43 suites.
All have a balcony or private terrace with a great view of the marina or the imposing, majestic mountains. Our Standard Bedroom on the 4th floor has purpose-built furnishings and offers beautiful views down to the golf course.
Hotel amenities include the La Plage Beach Club on the lagoon, a large relaxation area with infinity pool set amidst the perfectly maintained gardens, a luxurious Aqua Spa with Hammam, a gym and tennis courts.
Guests can choose between international and regional dishes in five restaurants and bars; we recommend them all! (alcohol is served to foreign guests in all of them).
Wi-Fi is free of charge and works well in the public areas, at the pool and in the beach club, and in our room most of the time.
The service of the staff is attentive and unobtrusive and fortunately we can communicate very well in English.
The resort has been awarded global Green Key Eco status in the hotel category, recognising its efforts and commitment to public health and sustainable environmental standards in tourism. These are felt throughout the resort, which is exceptionally clean and well maintained.
Staying at the pools and the hotel’s own stretch of beach on the lagoon in our customary swimwear is fine in this country, which is dominated by Islam. Local women wear a black suit that covers the entire body, including the head with only a small section left free for the face, hands and feet.
No fear of the great white shark
Just a few kilometres outside the resort are fantastic snorkeling and diving opportunities, where you can gaze at a variety of fish in the crystal clear waters. Sharks, such as the harmless giant whale shark, are also said to occur here.
We also encounter one of these species at Ayla Golf Club, as its designer is none other than Greg Norman, known as the ‘Great White Shark’. He designed the 18-hole par 72 championship course in 2016, which spreads over an area of 800,000 square metres and is harmoniously integrated into the original desert landscape.
A par 3 9-hole floodlit course and a Golf Academy with PGA-qualified pros and excellent practice facilities complete this comprehensive golf offering.
In harmony with nature
Specific requirements were given to the world-renowned company, Greg Norman Golf Course Design (GNGCD), to ensure the design interfered as little as possible with the environment and to comply with ecological aspects. The Ayla Oasis area, contaminated with over 60,000 mines from the Six-Day War in 1967, was first completely cleared and the golf course was built with excavated soil from the huge lagoon landscape.
Several artificial lakes and wadis were created that are fed by rainwater from the surrounding mountains mixed with lagoon water and serve as reservoirs for irrigation and act as stopovers for migratory birds, complementing the natural ecosystem. Most of the electricity is provided by solar panels.
Early bird tee time
The hotel shuttle takes us to the nearby clubhouse in five minutes. We start early in the morning, as in May, it is already 25 degrees at 7.00 a.m., though the heat is easily bearable due to the low humidity.
The wind that comes up during the round does not interfere with the game, but we find it blissfully cooling as the temperature rises.
Offering up fantastic views of the mountain scenery beyond, the open, mildly undulating course measures 7,152 yards from the back black tees. The fairways are gently curved but if you don’t find them, huge sandy waste areas await though in most cases you can play out of these quite easily. Water hazards come into play on half of the holes. Both fairways and greens are seeded with Paspalum grass, which is ideal for high temperatures.
Five different tee boxes offer on all 18 holes makes it amenable for all HCP classes.
Good conditioning in all areas
Its layout is most appealing, the conditioning well maintained. The grass of the fairways has some yellow patches at the moment as it is still in partial hibernation. We hit the countless, fairly deep bunkers more often than we would like, but since most of them are under renovation during our visit and marked as GUR, we continue playing without a penalty stroke. Those completed are boast gleaming fine, white sand.
There is nothing to criticise about the quality of the partly large, fast greens. They are true to track and a pleasure to play. Not only the course, but the entire facility is very well maintained, thanks to a team of 50 greenkeepers who do an excellent job. All the paths are paved and easy to negotiate with a buggy.
We are almost alone on the course and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere in the club, which currently has 120 members of the 400 players that exist in Jordan. As we learn from the friendly, South African Head Pro, Jason, about 5,000 green fees are currently sold per year. They would like to increase this moderately through targeted marketing measures and contribute to the Ayla Oasis developing more and more into an attractive, internationally recognised sporting and golf destination.
The Mena Tour, for example, has already made a stop here. In 2019, the Jordan Mixed Open was held for the first time, a tournament format in which players from the European Challenge Tour, the Staysure Tour and the Ladies European Tour took part under the motto ‘We share the same drive’.
In 2022, the idea was taken up of hosting the Jordan Open Golf Championship, in which men, women and juniors from 14 countries compete for victory.
We enjoy the fair course with its varied holes and undisturbed play.
An award-winning clubhouse
Just as impressive as the course and its practice facilities is the clubhouse with its extraordinary design. Paying homage to the Bedouin architectural heritage. Renowned architectural firm, Oppenheim Architecture & Design, designed the structure from undulating concrete in an organic, contemporary style.
Ahlan wa sahlan
We feel extremely welcome and safe at all times throughout our journey. Everywhere we are warmly welcomed and well looked after. The decision to take a trip organised by a tour operator with an experienced guide was spot on. Our guide studied in Germany and with his extensive knowledge gave us deep insights into the Arabic religion, culture and history, which we would never have been able to discover on our own in such a short time. If necessary, I will be happy to establish the relevant contacts.
In spring and autumn, Jordan is a great travel destination that now also offers golfers a new, attractive alternative, but coming here just to play golf would not do justice to the Arab country with its extensive range of offers. We were thrilled by the combination of culture, unique landscapes, well-appointed hotels, gastronomic delights and getting to know the Ayla Oasis with its superb golf course.
Golf course architect Ron Kirby in an interview about his jobs on the golf course, his style as a designer, the influence of well-known architects, sustainability and the redesign of Apes Hill in Barbados.
Ron Kirby: “Get any job you can on a golf course”
What made you decide to get into golf design?
Ron Kirby: My career began with a talent I had for sketching when I was a teenager, just north of Boston. If you had the means, you could get to the Museum of Fine Arts for free art lessons on Saturday mornings. My brother and I would ride the subway to get my art lesson, so I knew how to sketch and handle a brush. Later I won a caddie scholarship, and I went to greenkeeper school.
When it snowed in the winters, I went to Florida – where my dad had a club pro job – and I realised that the movie stars in golf were the course designers. There was a centrefold in Sports Illustrated with two architects who were the flavour of the month: Robert Trent Jones and Dick Wilson. They were superstars.
Define Ron Kirby’s style…
Ron Kirby: I’m just looking for fun, different holes to build. I look for a chance to make the short holes more exciting and I always want to make something that’s fair for the player. Because I was a greenkeeper, I want to build things that can be maintained, kept neat and manicured.
Tell us about the people you’ve worked with over the years. Who were the most influential and why?
Ron Kirby: Trent Jones was a visionary. He could take any piece of ground and he would get the best layout – he knew how to put the holes in the right position for the wind, the sun direction, and his routings were very good. Another thing I learned from working with Trent Jones is that he didn’t do it all. He did the layouts, but he had a team of people working for him. You need good staff. And I had a lot of good staff.
I’ve also worked with Jack Nicklaus, who would always get the best sites and the best budgets. Nicklaus was a finishing school in golf design because of his strategy. He knew what a golf ball could and couldn’t do.
What advice would you give other designers from what you’ve learned?
Ron Kirby: Respect the ground. Try and make your golf course fit. It’s a lot of fun being a golf course designer, but you’ve got to be patient to get the right assignments. I’m proud that I got a chance to put my two cents in. The best thing to do is get any job you can on a golf course – even pulling the carts out. I grew up on a golf course, and I’ve never worked anywhere else.
Apes Hill Barbados: Stunning views and fun holes
You have just completed work at Apes Hill in Barbados – what hole there most reflects your style?
Ron Kirby: The second, for sure. It was a par three; now we’ve got a two-way hole. We extended the green and moved the tees back. It was almost an unplayable par three: into the wind, uphill… nobody would love this hole, so you’d play two holes and already you didn’t like the course. We turned it into a really fun, friendly par four. You have a chance to get out of there smiling. I didn’t have to go too far to find a hole I would love.
How did you bring to Apes Hill what you learnt from designing Old Head?
Ron Kirby: Old Head is basically an island connected with a little isthmus at the gate. But you have almost 360° of cliffs, so you try to get as close to the cliffs as you could to use those features. When I saw Apes Hill, you’ve got some super vistas. You can look at two oceans in some places! So, I said, “all we’ve got to do here is make sure that players can take in the vistas”.
What is your message to everyone who is about to experience Apes Hill?
Ron Kirby: Well, if I could meet every one of them, I hope they would buy me a beer and say I did a good job. I want people to enjoy their game and want to come back again.
Over the years, what’s changed with sustainability and what have we done here at Apes Hill?
Ron Kirby: Sustainability means don’t build anything that you can’t maintain. Number one was the bunkers – we couldn’t maintain those, so we’ve eliminated two thirds of the bunkers. That’s cut back on the maintenance of the bunkers, the sand and erosion, and of course the irrigation. Zoysia grass is tolerant to drought, so we don’t have to keep pumping water on to keep it green and alive, it will maintain itself. We’ve taken away around 1,000 sprinklers, reducing irrigation by a third. Supply here is from a huge lake, which collects the mountain rainfall instead of letting it run off into the sea, millions of gallons. There will also be a par 3 for kids and families.
Tell us a bit about that…
Ron Kirby: We’ve taken inspiration from some of the world’s most famous par-three holes. It’s great for the kids and the families to go out and have fun, but a lot of golfers will say, ‘I’ve never played the Postage Stamp, I’ve never been to Royal Troon”, so they can come here and try it. We also built a 19th hole similar to the famous 17 th hole at TPC Sawgrass, where it’s so dynamic because it’s an island green. You’re either on the green or in the water.
Was it a priority to make the holes diverse enough that people of different skill levels could play?
Ron Kirby: Yes. We only needed four tees per hole, but we put them in spaces where they could cover all types, of players, from guys who can hit it pure to the average guys and then the poor players like me. We have friendly tees for the ladies, challenge tees for the better ladies’ players. It’s fun for everyone. Pick your poison and see where you want to tee it up from.
How do you feel about the finished product?
Ron Kirby: What we’ve done here is the result of a lot of hard work and it wasn’t an easy job. The weather was hitting us hard with storms, Covid delayed us… but I’m proud to be part of it. I can sit back and say this is one of mine. I can say that about maybe 150 golf courses, but this is a special one.
Enjoy savings of 21% on stays of two nights or more
After all the stresses of the Covid pandemic, who isn’t dreaming of their next summer holiday and Quinta do Lago is teeing up a treat for golfers and families in 2021, including savings of 21 per cent on breaks of two nights or more at the luxury Portuguese resort this year.
Europe’s premier golf, leisure and lifestyle family resort is offering an array of discounts when staying at its boutique The Magnolia Hotel over the coming months including Easter and summer, with reductions of more than a fifth on short-term stays.
Savings of up to 30 per cent on holidays of two weeks or more are also available while guests will have complete peace of mind when they book, with Quinta do Lago’s ‘Flexi-booking’ option offering guests the opportunity to change their booking to another date within a 12-month period without any charge.
Taking time out to relax in natural surroundings has never been more important following an extended period of lockdowns. Nestled within the privacy and security of the Algarve’s Ria Formosa Nature Reserve, Quinta do Lago is the ideal place to unwind, with its five-star facilities including three 18-hole championship golf courses, a premier sports hub, a golden sandy beach and a plethora of first-class bars and restaurants.
The resort’s relaxed vibe extends to its boutique Magnolia Hotel, with facilities including a saltwater pool, colourful restaurant and cocktail bar, cinema, gym and spa, plus a schedule of iconic poolside events to keep guests of all ages entertained.
Bed-and-breakfast breaks of two nights or more start from €77 per night for a double room while the resort’s extended holiday packages, which are perfect for families and are bookable throughout 2021 except July and August, cost from €68 per night staying in one of The Magnolia Hotel’s vintage-cabin style cottages.
A range of attractive three, five and seven-night golf stay-and-play packages are also available at the Magnolia Hotel, which also feature the resort’s ‘Flexi-booking’ option.
Located just 15 minutes away from Faro airport, Quinta do Lago is regarded as Europe’s premier golf and lifestyle resort and was one of the first to be awarded Clean & Safe approval by the Portugal Tourist Board after the Covid-19 lockdown.
The award-winning venue boasts a combination of world-class golf and lifestyle facilities and has invested a further €7m in a recent golf-course improvement programme, including a major overhaul of its famous South Course and the reopening of its main golf clubhouse following a modern and sophisticated makeover.
As well as three renowned golf courses – the North, South and Laranjal – and outstanding practice facilities, guests can stay in shape at The Campus, a world-class sports hub designed for professionals and amateurs alike to keep fit.
Complementing the facilities is a choice of 12 first-class bars and restaurants that deliver a range of delicious world cuisines, including the acclaimed Bovino Steakhouse and recently-opened Dano’s Sports Bar & Restaurant, and accommodation at the boutique The Magnolia Hotel.