October 2018 saw the launch of our new golf travel business. We had decided from the start that we would provide golf breaks and holidays just like the rest, but also holidays and Hosted Trips to destinations that offer that little something different.
Just over a month ago we were invited on our first FAM trip (familiarisation trip) by a company called Performance 54, the destination being Muscat, Oman in the Middle East. My first reactions were, is this actually a golfing hotspot? Is it safe to visit? Does anyone fly direct? Is there anything else to do whilst you are there? Well, over the past 4 action packed days, all these questions have been answered and then some.
Straight away our first question was answered on booking the flight. Yes there are direct flights. We flew with Oman Airlines direct from Heathrow (British Airways also fly direct) through the night, there is also a daytime flight but the night flight suited us on this occasion as we had just got back from 2 weeks of event hosting in Portugal. I had never heard of Oman Airlines before but as with the likes of Emirates, the airline was modern, spacious and we were well looked after by the on board staff. Check in was seamless and off we set. The outward flight is just 6.5 hours and 7.5 hours for the return.
Before we set off, our host Maddy Pearce of Performance 54 had issued us with a full itinerary, this was certainly going to be a full on 4 days of getting to know the area and the golf it has to offer.
On arrival in Oman you do have to go through security checks just like visiting the USA, but the queues were small and it took no time in getting through. Before heading to Oman you have to get a 26a tourist visa, which is very straightforward and costs approximately £10. We were then picked up by the transfer company that Maddy had organised for our whole trip and transferred to the Mysk Hotel in a place called the Walk, a new development of apartments, hotels, shopping mall and Marina. The transfer was 10 minutes from the very impressive and recently new international airport.
After a little chill out time, we were whisked to Al Mouj Golf Club. Luckily for us, we were in Oman for the final day of The European Tours Oman Open and were fortunate enough to receive a full hospitality package for that afternoon. This golf course is off the scale. One of the most impressive overseas links courses I have ever witnessed. I couldn’t wait to play it the following day.
We had been invited to play in the sponsors and volunteers golf day on the Monday at Al Mouj Golf Club and to play it didn’t disappoint. I have been fortunate to play some of the most impressive golf courses in the world and this definitely ranks in my top 10. I usually mention that most golf courses have some quiet moments, this doesn’t, it’s great golf hole after great golf hole. It’s not for the faint hearted as there is a lot of water and sand to negotiate but it is mightily impressive.
Over the next couple of days and nights we got to experience the neighbouring Kempinski hotel and its fabulous restaurant and bars. The Mysk hotel we were stopping in was a dry hotel but that didn’t alter the standard and is also a price point down from the Kempinski, however when taking a group, we will stop at The Kempinski. We then got to buggy around all 18 holes at Ghala Golf Club, which is set back from the coast and has 18 very impressive golf holes that are set in a beautiful spot in Muscat. The condition of the course was immaculate and one I wished we had had chance to play. We got to play Muscat Hills Golf Resort the following day, again a superb layout set amongst a community of very impressive Villas. Another great test of golf that had some very incredible holes indeed, especially some of the par 3’s. The condition was not quite as good as the other two courses but still mightily impressive for a country that isn’t renowned for its grassy areas.
One of the most important things about going to the more unusual golfing destinations is ensuring there is other stuff to occupy your time and Oman offers a plethora of cultural experiences. A must visit is the Grand Mosque, the building itself is a sight to behold but I have been told the inside is jaw droppingly good, unfortunately when we went to visit we went at prayer time so weren’t allowed inside. Bear in mind there is a dress code for men of long trousers and long sleeve tops, same goes for ladies but a head scarf must also be worn and no shoulders on display. We then headed to the Sultans Palace in old Muscat, en route we passed the harbour, which had in port both of the Sultans yachts, which were actually more like cruise liners. The palace itself is unbelievable and apparently the Sultan never stays in it, just his security do. It sits opposite the National Museum which is another must see venue. We headed back to the port area where we stopped to experience one of the Souks in the area, again a must thing to experience. We had great fun seeing the products and bartering with the locals and coming away with cashmere, incense and souvenirs for the kids. We took in a Turkish coffee before heading back to the hotel. On our way back we saw another very impressive building, the National Opera House that again would be something to write home about if visited.
Our final morning we had a choice to either relax and wait for our midday transfer or get up at the crack of dawn and head off to the Daymaniat Islands to swim with the turtles. This is a 35 minute boat journey to these remote small islands in the Gulf of Oman. The snorkelling was sensational with the fish and coral impressive itself. Then you see the turtles which are breath taking to see in their natural environment.
The answer to my final question at the start, is it a safe country to visit? The answer is simple, yes. The Omani people embrace tourists and are some of the friendliest people I have ever met. Customer service is exceptional and they are also extremely passionate about their country and what it has to offer, often asking “do you like what you see?”
Unlike its neighbours, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, there isn’t one skyscraper in sight, the tallest structure is the 100-metre control tower at the airport just eclipsing the 92.5 metre centre pillar of the Grand Mosque.
In summary, we fell in love with Muscat and the country of Oman and the Omani people. It’s a place like no other and a travel experience you should try as a golfer or non-golfer.
We will be hosting a trip there later this year or early 2020, I would encourage you to come and see for yourself its true beauty.