I was only in Abu Dhabi for a few days but in the short time that I spent there I had my mind completely and utterly blown on a number of occasions.
So much so that when I got back a a number of people accused me of being ‘Tommy Tourist’ given that my Instagram feed was jam-packed with images from my experience.
Getting there meant I had to deviate from my preferred choice of airline but Etihad, the national carrier for the UAE, was just as good.
The whole point of the trip – courtesy of the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority – was based around the thriving golf industry in the area and just so happened to coincide with the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship.
When we realised that the Westin was going to be our base, and the fact that we could look out over the driving range where the European Tour’s finest warmed up every day, there were smiles all round.
There was no time to shake off the effects of a long-haul flight as we headed out to the Yas Links to tick off the first of two rounds of golf off the itinerary. While the round didn’t go to plan as far as my personal game was concerned the experience was an enjoyable one.
Also, before I get chirped for not revealing the results of the shootout against Wade Pretorius, I did in fact lose to the man representing Compleat Golfer. The contest was decided on the par three 17th given that we both bombed the monster 18th.
In fact, the closing stretch at Yas Links is arguably the toughest I’ve ever experienced but adds to the experience. As far as the overall 18 is concerned the front nine seemed to offer a lot more opportunities to score while the back nine provided a stern test.
After the golf it was back to The Westin to freshen up for dinner at Sacci which ended being a fantastic Italian restaurant on the hotel’s property.
The morning involved following the likes of world number one Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and the tournament’s eventual winner Rickie Fowler around the Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
After getting involved in Friday Brunch, a hallowed tradition among the expat population it was time for a golf lesson from Tour pro Russell Knox. You can read more about that experience here
A drive out to the desert was on the cards in the late afternoon and it’s only once you reach the vast expanse of nothing do you realise how impressive it is that Abu Dhabi emerged, quite literally, out of the dunes.
If you’ve got a weak stomach then riding over the dunes wouldn’t be your cup of tea. But it did end up being a lot of fun as we descended upon the camp that had been set up for us.
A falcon, henna tattoos, belly-dancing, sandboarding, camel rides and shisha pipes provided the full desert experience.
The third and penultimate day of the trip ended up providing the adrenalin junkies in our group with the tonic. A ride on the world’s fastest roller-coaster was the highlight and an experience you can’t really explain. Let’s just say that the first three seconds of the ride, when you’ve accelerated over 200km/h are the worst. From then on out it’s OK.
A visit to Yas Hotel – which is situated on the race track that hosts the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – followed for another epic dining experience before a visit next door to Yas WaterWorld.
Let’s just say that the Valley of Waves pales in comparison.
A sunset cruise, which included a sneak peek of Sheik Mansour’s mammoth $285-million dollar super-yacht, capped off the third day.
An early start to get to Saadiyat Beach Golf Club but the Gary Player design lived up to the hype and provided a personal highlight of the trip. As you’d expect when playing golf in the desert, you need to be great out of the sand and this course had plenty of it.
But the general consensus among our group was this this was a gem.
After lunch it was time to head back to the action at the tournament to watch the closing stages before dinner at the Emirates Palace. To say that the place was gawdy is an understatement, a stay here costs $40 000 per night.
Dinner was a feast of Middle Eastern cuisine and the plates just kept coming. As did the camel milk custard which I gave a bash but I had to decline when offered a sip of camel’s milk.