x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Earth will test the very best

The Dubai World Championship director credits Greg Norman with designing a course worthy of a prestigious tournament.

While discussing the layout of the Earth golf course, tournament director David Garland insisted the course set up a challenge that was fair and true while letting the players play to the best of their ability.
While discussing the layout of the Earth golf course, tournament director David Garland insisted the course set up a challenge that was fair and true while letting the players play to the best of their ability.

DUBAI // David Garland has just completed his fifth visit to the new Earth course on Jumeirah Golf Estates - venue for the Dubai World Championship (DWC), the US$7.5 million (Dh27.5m) finale to the European Tour season. Garland in his capacity of director of operations for the Tour is the tournament director of the lucrative new event. He is relishing the prospect of laying out the 7,706-yard course to provide a hard but fair test for the 60 top golfers who qualify to play it in November.

"It is a fantastic course," enthused Garland who has worked closely with Greg Norman, the Australian golfer who designed it and Bob Knott, the Englishman who led the team who built it. "Greg has designed a wonderful golf courses. He has made a few changes. When he initially designed it, the plan was to create a tough resort course. Now he has had to adapt that design to make it a wonderful championship course and I am sure the players will love it."

The key to the smooth preparations for the DWC was in Garland's case a full day's reconnaissance mission with Norman to walk the embryonic course, swap thoughts and implement the changes Norman wanted to make. "It was invaluable to get the inside knowledge from Greg," said Garland about their May summit meeting. "On a traditional golf course you always have somebody to ask about how it plays but I can't do it here because nobody has played it. It's brand new and a virtually unknown quantity.

"Greg was keen to make sure that it was transformed from the original plan - to make into a tough resort course - into a suitable venue for a tournament of the DWC's importance and I am sure that his meticulous attention to detail has made that happen. The intention was to fulfil Greg's wishes as far as possible and I think we have done that." When work was completed early this year it was to prepare the scene for what was originally intended to be the richest event in the history of golf. A cut of 25 per cent in the prize fund announced on Monday means that it no longer claims that accolade.

But with a likelihood of $75m being split between the DWC and the Race to Dubai over the next five years, the focus of most of the world's best golfers will be on the UAE from now on. "Earth is very much worthy of being the venue for our end-of-season showpiece event," said Garland. "I'm sure the players will agree when they see it." Almost the entire field of 60 for the DWC will be sampling the delights of Earth for the first time when they arrive for their allocated practice rounds in mid-November.

Garland promised to take that into consideration when he sets out the task facing them when they set off in pursuit of a possible first prize of $2.75m - the total for winning the DWC and the Race to Dubai. Large greens and multiple tee boxes give Garland and his European Tour colleagues ample scope for varying the degree of difficulty facing their professional members but he does not intend to meddle too much with the basic layout at his disposal.

"If this tournament is won by a score of 20 under par then we are fine with that," he said. "Equally if par proves to be good enough over the four days that won't be a problem either. We can make the pin placements trickier if we want to and we can lengthen or shorten most holes but there are no pre-conceived plans to make too many adjustments." Garland, who is the tournament director at two other European Tour venues and also plays an influential role when the Ryder Cup is staged in Europe, emphasised that the intention is to provide birdie chances on every hole but also punish those who stray off the beaten track.

"The course will be very challenging," he declared. "The length of it guarantees that. Those who play well will be rewarded and those who don't hit the ball so sweetly will struggle to score. "Golf fans like to see good scoring and I think there is ample scope for lots of birdies. "We have 60 of the world's best golfers coming here. In good conditions some players will score really well here. "I don't see the need in setting up a course that is too tricky. It's more about setting up a challenge that is fair and true and letting the players play to the best of their ability."

Garland, who refused to discuss the reduction in sponsorship by Leisurecorp, the Dubai-based development company, maintained that the partnership between his Tour and Leisurecorp is progressing smoothly. "Everything is going well in the partnership," he said. "Everybody is working together towards this fantastic event at the end of the year. "It has been an enjoyable experience so far. This is a completely new creation. We are delighted to see it coming to fruition eight weeks away. There have been a couple of hiccups along the way but everything has worked out well in the end.

"I think the Race to Dubai has captured the imagination of golfers around the world. It has given us a new brand. In eight weeks time we will be right in the middle of it and in nine weeks it will all be over." wjohnson@thenational.ae