ABU DHABI -- This is the story of fashion and the game of golf, and how the two came together in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.
Golf in Abu Dhabi? Absolutely. With warm weather year-round and an abundance of oil money looking for things to build, Abu Dhabi has some of the best golf courses in the world, including three championship-standard courses within a 20-minute drive of the UAE capital city.
That's the golf part. What about the fashion?
Traci O'Connor was working at a software company and living in Los Angeles in 2011 when her husband, Shaun, was offered a job with Tourism Development Investment Corporation working on several new museums under construction in Abu Dhabi. After they moved here, Traci, who had begun to study interior architecture just before they left, found herself with more free time than she had had in years.
With no projects to do, she took up golf again, after 25 years away from the gam
With typical intensity, Traci took up the sport with a vengeance, hiring a golf pro to better her score.
Six months later, her golf technique was improving, but something else was bothering her. She was not happy with the golf clothes that she found available in the pro shops. "There was absolutely nothing that I wanted to wear out there on the course," she recalls. "I'm a runner and hiker and love the freedom of skirts, so I was looking for the same option in golf attire.'
What she found instead were ill-fitting skirts, dowdy shorts, and golf shirts in unbecoming material. She decided to take action and had a few golf dresses made for her, designing them herself. To her surprise, they garnered many compliments. So many, in fact, that she decided to go into the golf fashion business. And thus was born Roaming Dhabi Designs. ("Dhabi" in Arabic means "deer," which along with gazelles still roam the courses in these parts.)
While some women in Abu Dhabi wear the long black abaya which covers their arms and legs, it is not required in this country, which neighbors Saudi Arabia, and many wear Western dress. On the golf courses, therefore, cap sleeves and sleeveless dresses are perfectly acceptable for women players, and men, too, change out of their long white robes into Western golf clothes for play. Also, the high collar u-neck style of O'Connor's dresses and shirts makes these clothes acceptable at any course that requires a collared shirt for women.
Yas Links, one of several courses right in the city, is one of O'Connor's favorites. On Yas Island, it is the first links golf course in the middle East.
Designed by Kyle Phillips on the west shores of the island, which is connected to the city by bridges, and surrounded by mangroves, eight of the holes play along the coastline here on the Arabian Sea. The par-72 championship 18-hole, 7450-yard course features a dedicated golf academy, a private members practice round, a guest practice ground, a par-three course, dedicated short game practice area, six shaded hitting bays with air ventilation, as well as two indoor swing studios. All the practice areas are fully floodlit.
Yas Links was ranked in the Top Golf Courses in the World by Golf World in 2012, and its beautiful Andalusia-style clubhouse was named Best Sporting Club and Best Bar in Abu Dhabi by Golf World in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Traci O'Connor calls yas "a beautiful course with undulating greens that are the toughest in the Emirates! My favorite holes are 17 and 18, 17 being a par three over the water and 18 a very long finishing hole. Both holes have the water to the left of the fairways and greens, so not only are they picturesque but also challenging." The par three course, o'Connor says, is a lot of fun and a reat place to go and practice one's short game.
O'Connor donates five percent of her net proceeds to the LPGA Foundation girls golf program. The clothes are made in Thailand, hats and markers are made in the U.S., and all are sold in the Yas Links clubhouse, the Abu Dhabi Golf Course and Saadiyat Golf Course, as well as on her website, www.roamingdhabidesigns.com. Website designs are shipped from the U.S. She presented her clothes at the PGA Merchandise show in Orlando, Florida, in January.