x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

A crash course from Earth's creator

The former world No 1 Greg Norman, the designer of the venue for the finale to the Race to Dubai, gives his take on its 18 daunting holes.

The fifth hole of the Greg Norman-designed Earth Course at the Jumeirah Golf Estates.
The fifth hole of the Greg Norman-designed Earth Course at the Jumeirah Golf Estates.

DUBAI // When Greg Norman first cast his experienced golfing eye over the barren terrain of Jumeirah Golf Estates (JGE), the former world No 1 had plans to design and develop a course that would provide testing but not too demanding facilities for members and residents of that new complex.

The stunning announcement two years ago that Leisurecorp, owners of JGE, had struck a multi-million-dollar agreement with the European Tour to sponsor the order of merit and introduce the lucrative Dubai World Championship to the fixture list brought a swift and dramatic rethink from Norman, known in his playing days as the Great White Shark. From holiday golf to tournament golf in one fell swoop was Norman's brief and with the help of a team of enthusiastic course builders led by Englishman Bob Knott, Norman's blueprint became the stunning reality of a magnificent 7,706-yard par 72 Earth Course, which will stretch to the limit the 58 professionals who will play it in this week's inaugural DWC.

Norman is particularly proud of what he calls the "Golden Mile" - a potentially card-wrecking finishing stretch of four holes measuring an aggregate of 1,702 yards and featuring what will surely become the signature hole of the not-so-short 17th. That scary par three is based on the Island Hole at Sawgrass, Florida, where many aspiring winners of the prestigious Players Championship on the US PGA Tour have entered a watery grave.

Earth also has its own version of Augusta National's Amen Corner where many US Masters titles have been won and lost. Here it comes early in the round with two difficult par threes on the outward nine sandwiching the awkward par-four fifth. Norman has made several tweaks to his Earth creation and the latest was to order the building of six more deviously placed bunkers which have raised the total number of sand traps to 102.

1. (454 yds, par 4) A relatively straightforward start. A downhill drive to a fairway which slopes from left to right. Avoiding the deep fairway bunker on the left will lead to a short-to-mid iron to the green. The green angles away right, with mounding supporting the front left and promoting shots aimed left of the pin.

2. (583 yds, par 5) Players will look to take on the fairway bunker on the right. The left-hand side of the fairway feeds down to a hollow just short of the greenside bunkers. However a shot here takes on the risk of the large fairway bunker stretching down the left-hand side. The safe route is to lay up short of the left-hand fairway bunker and leave a short iron to the perched green. 3. (452 yds, par 4) An uphill tee shot across the landing area, with the big hitters rewarded with extra run down towards the green. A gentle rolling green that falls off back left and short right. If the pin is cut back left, approach shots should be aimed slightly right in order to allow for the right to left slope.

4. (245 yds, par 3) This long downhill par three hole will play one less club than you think. A well-protected green with deep bunkers surrounding short and back left of the green. Avoid these bunkers at all costs, if you can. 5. (407 yds, par 4) A slight dogleg right that climbs back up the hill through a valley. The tee shot should favour the right-hand side of the fairway in order to avoid an approach shot over the greenside bunkers. A well-struck mid-to-short iron second shot will set up a realistic birdie chance.

6. (186 yds, par 3) The first of the water holes playing into a crosswind, only a fully struck shot will carry the water. A large bunker protects the bailout area to the right, meaning the only line is straight at the green. A great par 3 hole which demands your full attention. 7. (572 yds, par 5) A fantastic par five with deep fairway bunkers awaiting the slightest wayward shot. Two big hits are required in order to carry on to the green. The safe option is to lay up short of the cross bunker and play a short iron on to a green which slopes from back to front.

8. (461 yds, par 4) A dogleg left back down the hill, the tee shot will be assisted from a right-to-left crosswind. A mid-to-long iron shot is required to carry the mounding at the front of the green. Although no bunkers surround this green, it is protected by undulating fall off areas. 9. (499 yds, par 4) Only a driver from the tee will do for most players. The second shot is uphill and will require a long iron or even a rescue club to negotiate the two greenside bunkers. A par at this hole will feel like a birdie!"

10. (437 yds, par 4) An accurate second shot is required as the green has a narrow entrance. Any aggressive approach to the back of the green must be cautious as the slope runs off back left." 11. (401 yds, par 4) An inviting tee shot should be laid up short of the two fairway bunkers and then the approach must carry the single bunker protecting the left entrance to the green. A definite birdie opportunity on the back nine.

12. (476 yds, par 4) This strong par four requires two precise shots to achieve the surface of the green. Club selection will be vital for the approach with a deep bunker lurking on the left. 13. (204 yds, par 3) A picturesque par three which plays uphill to a well-protected green that is wider at the front half before narrowing to the back section which has small ridge running across it. A makeable birdie opportunity.

14. (626 yds, par 5) A slightly downhill tee shot with distance being well rewarded. The safe option is to lay up short left of the fairway bunkers and pitch on. A narrow entrance leads to a green sloping down towards the lake. 15. (371 yds, par 4) This short par 4 is the beginning of a fantastic final stretch. A straight hole played uphill, it's nothing but risk and reward and the tee shot has to be played to the left to get the best reward.

16. (486 yds, par 4) The large lake to which the fairway slopes influences the entire fairway right up to the green. Again, a high-risk tee shot will give you the most reward on to the green. 17. (195 yds, par 3) A fantastic, but precise short par three. This iconic hole is a true island green. Club selection is crucial for this hole. Wind from any direction will make this very difficult with the tight island green surrounded by a selection of bunkers.

18. (651 yds, par 5) Although more risk is involved, the shot played right is narrower but opens up the green for an easier approach, whereas the shot played left is less difficult but brings into play a large group of dangerous bunkers. @Email:wjohnson@thenational.ae