16 Dec 2019

Baku – Sporting Stay and Play Paradise on UAE doorstep

By Scott Grayston

Baku, Azerbaijan, is a place I’ve always wanted to visit. Not only because it’s only two and-a-half hours away from Dubai but also because I’d heard so much about it. So, when my Worldwide Golf colleague, Jordan Smith, and I were invited to review the spectacular Dreamland Golf Resort, we couldn’t get there quickly enough.

Nestled in the Caucasus between Europe and Asia, the capital of Azerbaijan, Baku, has become a busy hub for sport over the last few years. Since 2017 Baku has hosted Formula One’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix and this year’s Europa League Final. The Euro 2020 takes place there next year, too. From November to March you can go skiing and for the remaining months of the year the weather is near perfect. For sports lovers there’s something to suit everyone. However, we were there for the golf and to check out the luxurious Dreamland Golf Resort, a spectacular destination that can match the best there is. Arriving in Baku, after flying with the stress-free Azerbaijan Airlines, we were pleasantly surprised by the climate with the temperature at 24°C and a welcoming breeze, a far cry from the Middle East at this time of year. Getting to Dreamland Golf Club was made even easier with a chauffeur-driven limo coming to pick us up from the airport to take us to the Resort, only 10 minutes away. We were lucky enough to stay in the recently opened Dreamland Golf Hotel, which looks out onto the stunning golf course and Golf Academy from our balcony. There’s no better feeling than waking up in the morning and looking at the sun rising above this golfer’s paradise.

Ride in Style

We began our days with a Continental breakfast and a combination of traditional Azerbaijani delicacies, such as qutab (thin stuffed pancakes) and shekerbura (sweet, nutty pastries) followed by eggs, bacon and sausages. Enjoying our breakfast whilst watching others practicing in divine conditions through the windows was a nice touch. Getting to the practice facilities was a treat when two Hummer buggies were put at our disposal to help us ‘ride in style’ to the Academy.

Phenomenal Practice facilities
By Jordan Smith

On arrival at the two-tier Dreamland Golf Academy, the front of house staff greeted us with a warm welcome. Seeing the range for the first time impressed both of us. Five selected greens at different yardages, cut and maintained to the same standard as the greens on the course is a real luxury for any golfer wanting to practice their game. The Head Professional, Alex Day, explained that the driving range is closed on a Monday, when it turns into a 9- hole course – a perfect route into golf for beginners who may not feel confident enough to take on the full 18 holes. There is also a FootGolf course where you can demonstrate your soccer skills. With a ‘splash’ zone for children, two fully-loaded Academy bays with all the latest training aids and technology, a five-star lounge and café overlooking the Academy with a balcony –the Academy caters for everybody and they certainly haven’t missed a trick.

Two of Azerbaijan’s top players putting in the practice with the help of the best training aids on the market.

Take your pick of the short game facilities. The Academy has four short game areas but the area that really stood out is the chipping zone, located in between the new golf hotel and Academy with two bunkers, a 50-yard fairway to practice your pitching and four flags on an undulating green. The short game facilities are maintained to the highest standard, offering a perfect place to practice for visiting guests, and professionals making the trip over. The finishing touches throughout the Academy were second to none. From as little as golf books and ornaments, to European Tour professional golf bags, framed flags from Tour events, Audemars Piguet clocks everywhere, as well as some amazing abstract golf art throughout. It’s evident that Dreamland have put a lot of thought and expertise into this project – and they are deservedly reaping the rewards for their efforts. Being only a two-and-a-half hours flight from the UAE, this is a perfect summer escape for any professionals in the Middle East who want to be treated to the highest standard and improve their golf. No matter how many hours you work on your game, you could never get tired o being here.

We couldn’t escape the stunning Dreamland Golf Club – even when we went out for a meal!

On the first night, Dreamland’s General Manager, Phil Jones and Head Golf Professional, Alex Day, kindly took us out for dinner at their favourite steakhouse, ‘Paul’s Baku.’ Jordan and I both enjoyed the most delicious steaks we’d ever had. The friendliness of everyone we met during our short stay and the atmosphere throughout the city was an absolute pleasure. Baku has a European feel to it with cobbled streets and an array of stunning architecture. There was an interesting blend of scenery and ancient heritage offset by fashion stores and skyscrapers, like the iconic Flame Towers, which is a similar landmark to the Burj Al Arab in Dubai. In addition, the weather compares favourably with a warm European city, perfect for sight-seeing and venturing around the lively streets in the evening. On the journey back to the hotel, we even got to drive along some of the racetrack where the Formula1 race takes place, so that was another fun feeling that makes you want to return and see the race for yourself.

Dreamland Golf Club opened in 2015 and is the second golf club in Azerbaijan with The National Azerbaijan Golf Club located two-and- a-half hours away by car. The Club hosted the Azerbaijan Golf Challenge Open there in 2014 so that’s testament to the quality of the country’s first golf course. Azerbaijan would be a fantastic place for a golf trip. Both golf courses are very diverse so it would be a test for all levels of golfers and there are so many fun activities to do besides from golf. It would be an unforgettable trip.

Dreamland Golf Course
By Jordan Smith

My first thoughts on seeing the golf course were: ‘Has this been designed by a US PGA Tour Professional?’ The golf course certainly has a PGA Tour look and feel to it, with its huge, light sand bunkers and pure green, dreamy, split fairways. The course can be rewarding off the tee with its wide fairways, yet subconsciously they are made to look tighter, due to the vast amount of water on the majority of the holes. The long bunkers sited in-between the surrounding lakes and fairways are a picturesque addition. It gives the layout character and provides the ‘wow!’ factor. The course has been designed by the famous American Dye family, which explains why my first impressions were a PGA Tour American feel. Cynthia Dye (wife of Pete) has designed a masterpiece, which is both challenging, yet fun at the same time. Surrounded by magnificent villas, you can admire the luxurious setting whilst enjoying the game. A few holes had a marked resemblance to some iconic holes on the PGA Tour. The 10th hole reminded me of the 18th at TPC Sawgrass, with water all the way up the left of the fairway to the green. It reminded me of the 18th at Bay Hill, a very similar layout with water all along the right and perfectly maintained fairways. Baku is known as ‘The City of Wind,” which means the course can get breezy, making it an even tougher test of golf. This is great for visiting professionals who are eagerly searching for a a real challenge.

Good to Learn

Head Golf Pro Alex Day (right) and Jordan Smith play a few holes together and both enjoyed birdieing the tricky 18th.

In the Middle East the wind conditions are mostly calm, so it can be tricky for the pros based here to play the likes of the MENA Tour and learn how to adapt to the high winds when playing different events. It’s good to learn how to contend with the wind conditions and Dreamland is the ideal place to master all aspects of your game. The course has five tees, varying from 4,736m off the Green tees, to 6,838m off the black tees. This is not a course for the faint hearted. When it comes to space, Dreamland certainly doesn’t struggle. With the space for event staging and to lengthen the course, Dreamland may well become a future European Tour destination.

After taking on the Dreamland Golf Course and seeing the phenomenal track in full swing, we headed out to the ‘Hard Rock Cafe Baku,’ just a 15-minute drive away. The restaurant had an electric atmosphere with a fantastic live band belting out the likes of ACDC and Guns and Roses music, whilst we ate succulent burgers, tacos and steaks and enjoyed the buzz. We went to a couple of bars afterwards and couldn’t believe how lively and enjoyable each place was, with welcoming locals and very affordable prices compared to the UAE. Reflecting on this trip, Baku is certainly a place you should visit, especially if you’re a golfer and can experience the magnificent Dreamland Golf Resort.

Baku is a beautiful city that will take any visitor’s breath away.

They have a long golf season from March until the end of December with temperatures around 35°C in July and August when the Middle East is nearing 50°C, so it’s the perfect place to stay and play and have fun. With an array of sporting events coming to Baku, it’s a sign of things to come, so you should go and be astounded. You won’t be disappointed. The Dreamland project is only just blossoming into full bloom with a lagoon, an additional clubhouse and a vast amount of property being developed – this golfing haven needs to be added to your next holiday plans! Enjoy your visit.

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