Ernie Els gave up some of his valuable time to reveal his thoughts on the opening of the Els Club, managed by Troon Golf, in Dubai Sports City.
How & when did your relationship begin with Dubai Sports City?
I?ve been coming to Dubai since 1994. I?ve always had a special affinity with the city as it has grown. I?ve also been pretty successful here in the Dubai Desert Classic.
When I saw the plans for Dubai Sports City, I knew that this was going to be a great project. Being able to design a golf course in Dubai ? you know, that?s pretty special. And obviously this whole project at Dubai Sports City is incredibly exciting ? I mean, I think it?s fair to say there is nothing else like it in the world.
Has the course design emerged how you originally saw it?
Yeah, definitely. We felt that we could create a desert style links and I think that?s exactly what we?ve achieved working with Greg Letsche and the Els Design team. I think that they?ve done a great job in shaping the course. The greens will mature and the bunkers are tough. I also think that the desert wind will give the course a good links feel.
Why ?The Els Club??
The Els Club is the first of a select number of chosen projects that will bear my name. They will comprise an 18-hole signature Els Design course plus a unique hospitality offer in the club house? good food, great bars, a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere with great service from the moment you arrive. Basically, everything you want in a great day?s golf. We?ll also definitely serve my wine! Hopefully, the formula will combine all the best of all the clubs where I have played over the last 20 years.
How many Els Clubs do you expect to build over the coming years?
I don?t know. Time will tell on that one. We have no specific plans today. The important thing is that we are looking for the right opportunities in the right locations around the world. Places likes South Africa, the UK and the US are obvious potential locations given my links with all three. But I am keen to explore the potential in some of golf?s emerging markets such as China, India and the Far East.
What do you want The Els Club legacy to be for members & visiting golfers in Dubai?
For the members, it should be that they enjoy a great course with a fun clubhouse. For the visitors I want them walking away having had a great day on and off the golf course.
Are you genuinely going to be involved with The Els Club?
We are actually setting up our office at the clubhouse, although I am not going to be at the course every week or month, because my focus is professional golf and the Majors. I will be keeping a close eye on the Els Club here in Dubai and I am sure that I will visit it regularly over the next couple of years.
Where do you feel that this course sits amongst your global designs to date?
That?s for others to judge. You mature as a designer and I genuinely feel that this is a great course. I am very proud of what we?ve achieved here. I?m confident it will rank amongst the best golf courses in the Middle East for many years to come.
What makes it so special?
Well, being part of Dubai Sports City which will become perhaps the most prominent location for sports on the planet helps. The course itself has come together well because of Greg Letsche and the Els Design team and the shaping of the course. It just feels like a desert links. It will be a good test for all levels of golfer.
Which is the best hole in your view?
There are several holes, which spring to mind: The 9th is a long par 4 which plays downwind in the morning and upwind in the afternoon. The 12th is inspired by Muirfield in Scotland. The 16th is great risk/reward short par 4. The
17th is the best par 3 whilst the 18th is great par-5 finishing hole.
Are you going to own a property in Dubai Sports City?
Absolutely. I?m really looking forward to owning a home and having a corporate base in Dubai Sports City. I mean, this is one the premier developments in the Middle East.
How do you view Dubai Sports City?s plans?
Fantastic. One day I look forward to watching South Africa beat India in a Test here, then the Springboks will beat England in Rugby and perhaps Manchester United will beat Arsenal. And I win a couple of Majors! That would be a great year in sport.
Is the Els Club environmentally friendly?
We?re always careful about the impact on the environment. For example, we?ve created wetlands and lakes which will encourage both birds and fish to flourish at The Els Club. Right now we?re testing solar panel golf carts to reduce electricity consumption. We have also sourced trees and vegetation from sustainable forests or carbon neutral nurseries worldwide.
How will The Els Club compare to Tiger?s? Is there a lot of competition between you on this?
I don?t know about that. I am sure Tiger will do a great job. It?s his first design and he?s going to be under the spotlight, so he?ll want to deliver. I guess in years to come the visitors will judge for themselves which course they like the best. The thing is, though, it?s great for Dubai that we both have courses here. And as I said, I?m proud that mine is here in Dubai Sports City.
What are your goals for the season?
To win Majors. That?s what we all want to do. This year I?ve geared my schedule
around the majors, so that?s obviously my main focus.
How has your practice gone over the winter?
Really well. I had a great break with the family at the end of December when I just put the clubs away. Since the start of the New Year, though, I?ve been working hard on my game and my fitness back in South Africa. I feel really ready for the year.
What did you learn from the Dunhill in December?
Well, obviously it shouldn?t happen, but it does. You know, if you look back over the years, some of the best players in the world have thrown away tournaments on the last few holes. What more can you say? I mean, I didn?t finish the job, but it?s history. You learn from it and you move on, simple as that.
Can you win this week in Dubai?
Definitely. I?ve won this event before and I enjoy playing this course.
Will you be likely to commit to play the Race to Dubai in 2009?
I?ll make a decision on that at the end of this year. It?s great for the European Tour and it?s great for Dubai.