When we were young, we may well have played a number of different sports to a fairly high standard. Those sports typically might have included football, rugby, cricket and hockey. As you get older, nearly all of these sports have to be discontinued, and, if you are fortunate, others may take their place: squash, tennis and golf spring to mind. It is said that golf has lost some of its appeal in recent years – people just don’t have the time, but for me one of the most exciting aspects of the game is that you can watch the best players in the world on television, and then play exactly the same course that they did. You will never be able to play at Wembley or Anfield, you can’t play tennis on the Centre Court at Wimbledon, and you’d have to be very fortunate to play at Lords, but if you save up, playing the world’s best golf courses is quite possible. As a result I have holed the Open winning putt on the 18th at St Andrew’s Old Course, hit the same eagle putt as Jason Day did recently at Baltusrol and now I’ve just watched my playing partner stroke in the five footer Matthew Fitzpatrick did on the Earth Course’s 18th to win the final tour event in Dubai.
This Greg Norman-designed course is best known for being the venue for the DP World Tour Championship – the final tournament of the appropriately-named Race to Dubai season-long competition on the European Tour. This year (2016), the Race to Dubai, featuring 45 tournaments in 26 countries worldwide, was won by Henrik Stenson, thanks chiefly to his victories in The Open Championship – where he claimed his first Major – and the BMW International Open. It was the second time the Swede had won the Race to Dubai, having first done so in 2013.) The DP World Tour Championship which was played at the Earth course, was won by Englishman Matthew Fitzpatrick.
The 5th hole, Earth Course, Jumierah Golf Estates, Dubai
I visited a few weeks later, and while the grandstands had been dismantled and the hospitality tents moved to their next location, the course set up was left unchanged, and the experience a constant reminder of the current champions who played the course that November and just how much better they are than a good amateur.
There are two courses at Jumeirah Golf Estates – Earth and Fire. The plan is for there eventually to be four, so they will go beyond the inevitable Earth, Wind and Fire to also include Water. Whichever you play at, you will be received at the newly built Club House and, assuming you are renting clubs, you can pick up everything you need in the pro-shop. Club rentals are brand new Pings, shoes are also available for hire)
Changing rooms are extremely comfortable with good showers, and there’s the option of grabbing something to eat from the onsite restaurant, or leaving that until later and relying on the various stations selling food around the course, or simply summoning the refreshment cart using the GPS-enabled technology in the buggy which tells me I am 150 yards from the pin and allows me to order food and drink.
As you’d expect, this is a very long course – from the Championship tees it is 7675 yards – and while it is fun to go back and look at the shots the pros have to make, it’s best to choose a different colour to play from unless you have lots of golf balls and patience.
Sand plays a big part, with some 99 bunkers (I found several of them), but the last four holes all have water as a hazard, either having to play over it (the 17th especially is an island green) or, in the case of the 18th, in the form of a creek which runs the full length of the hole up the middle before diving in front of the green, and which claimed my ball. If you have trouble keeping the ball on the fairway the course is not as harsh as you might think – beyond the fairway the rough is not difficult to play out of, and beyond that there are wood chip areas towards the edges of the course which at least allow you to find your ball if you have really lost your way. However, like all outstanding golf courses the greens and their surroundings set this apart from being just another “good” course. There are challenging run off areas, large but perfectly true undulating greens and of course bunkers galore. Getting the ball to the green is a joy, getting down in par or better feels like a win on every hole. This isn’t a constant challenge and isn’t designed to break your golfing spirit but it does reward good golf and hackers like me can enjoy this just as much.
The rental buggy (essential in the hotter part of the year and for the distances involved) is state-of-the-art and you’ll find that the yardage is automatically fed through to the GPS in the monitor allowing you to see what is up ahead and also the length you need to avoid various bunkers or water (in theory). A couple of nice touches also allow you to order extra golf balls, keep score … and order yet more refreshments.
This is a memorable golf course and every hole contributes to the experience though there are a couple of personal standout favourites.
The island green 17th (a la TPC Sawgrass) can play as an interesting 120 yard chip or from the tips with the wind in your face a 210 yard brute with a landing area the size of a gentleman’s small silk pocket square.
Best of all however was watching my gifted partner stroke his way up the 18th. He navigated his way home and avoided the creek with a beautiful combo of smooth driver (his best of the day by some distance), a flushed three wood eased off the top of the perfect fairway and super five iron with a controlled draw to 10 feet. He milked the occasion by eyeing the putt from both sides before draining a memorable birdie. Before he committed to turning pro after this one hole feat I had to remind him that when winning his first Race to Dubai Stenson had simply played it safe with two three woods and a 3 inch tap-in eagle. These pros are different gravy and so is the Earth Course – add it to your bucket list now.