TROON // Amid time spent reflecting on his narrow failure to become the oldest major winner in history at the Open championship last week and steeling himself for the impending Senior British Open, it was clear yesterday that Dubai is never far from Greg Norman's thoughts.
The Australian spoke at length about his concerns over the elements in the UAE that could potentially hinder his new Earth course, the venue that will host the world's richest golf tournament next November. Norman designed the Earth course at Jumeirah Golf Estates that has been chosen to host the first Dubai World Championship, an event that has an estimated Dh18.3 million prize fund. He revealed he had made changes in the design after learning that the course would host the climax to the European Tour season in 2009. The European Tour will be rebranded as the 'Race to Dubai', and the two-time Open champion feels it must have the flexibility to cater for all types of players.
"I was there a couple of months ago," he said. "We made some substantial changes, to tell you the truth. When we first originally did the layout for the Earth, we never anticipated having the largest prize money golf tournament in the world played there. "So I've had to make some adjustments to it - the size of the field, being 60 players, the time of year in the desert, with the amount of wind that blows, and the wind in the desert switch.
"Cold air rises, hot air sinks. So the night air cools down, the wind will switch from 180 degrees during the day. So I had to make some adjustments to that." Norman finished third behind the winner Padraig Harrington in the Open at Royal Birkdale, but revealed he had not just learned to be a gallant loser after losing his lead over the final nine holes on Sunday. He feels the Earth course cannot make the same mistakes as Birkdale, when strong winds saw tees pushed forward.
Norman is studying the progress of the Earth course as studiously as any shot he will play at Royal Troon this week. "As a designer, I think the R&A missed the boat (at the Open), because when you have to move to tees up 60 yards on par 4s, the thought process of weather conditions was not really thought out properly," said Norman. "You have to make the golf course flexible. I did that in Dubai. I had a meeting with the European Tour about it, and I explained that the golf course is built at 7,700 yards.
"It's a monster of a course, but you're never going to play the course 7,700 yards. The flexibility of this course is phenomenal. Use it. One day you want to set it up as 7,200 yards, go for it. Next day, you want to push it out to 7,600. That way you balance it out for every player, and not just building a course for five or six players that hit the ball 320 yards. "That's what I've done at the Earth course."