x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

The greatest show on Earth

William Johnson plays the first nine holes of the lush course hosting next month's Dubai World Championship.

The only sand that can be seen on the Earth course of the Jumeirah Golf Estates is in the bunkers.
The only sand that can be seen on the Earth course of the Jumeirah Golf Estates is in the bunkers.

William Johnson plays the first nine holes of the lush course hosting next month's Dubai World Championship dubai // Greg Norman removed the veil of secrecy from the front nine of his promising Earth course, the venue for next month's new showpiece event on the European Tour - the US$7.5million (Dh27.5m) Dubai World Championship, which also concludes the season. Norman, who has designed the new course at Jumeirah Golf Estates, recently signed off the daunting run-in to his 7,706-yard creation - a stretch measuring 1,702 yards over the last four holes and labelled as the Golden Mile.

Now he has raised the curtain on the nine outward holes that cover an aggregate length of 3,859 yards. One of the first surprises to hit you as you seek to keep your ball on the lush fairways is how little water there is on the opening holes. The sandy surrounds, that are a feature of most UAE courses, are nowhere to be seen. Indeed, the only sand on the course is the soft, powdery, imported substance in the bunkers which Norman and his construction team have sprinkled liberally around the testing terrain.

Otherwise, if your tee shot misses its intended landing area it will enter rough that will be no more than two inches high or find the ubiquitous bark mulch that adds an appealing contrast of dark brown to the verdant grassy areas and the pale sandy traps. It is tempting to say that you will struggle to lose a ball until you reach the only water hazard on the front nine - a lake which has to be crossed on the way to the green of the 186-yard par three sixth.

There is no hiding place here and anything short and left will get wet and bring a double-bogey five into play. This is likely to be the hole which players will remember most in the first half of their round, similar to the way that the 17th - a brute of a par three that has been modelled on the famous "Island Hole" at Sawgrass, Florida - has become the overall "signature" hole. The careful construction of a course, which was originally intended for resort residents, has now been modified into a tough test among the world's top 60 professionals on the European Tour - rebranded the Race To Dubai - when they battle it out for a $1.5m (Dh5.3m) first prize next month.

My guide for the day was Bob Knott, who has carried out the precise instructions of Australia's "Great White Shark" Norman. After negotiating the treacherous sixth hole safely, Knott revealed we had just completed his version of "Amen Corner", which comes slightly earlier at the Augusta National venue that stages the US Masters each year. Knott's Amen Corner at Earth comprises three holes starting with a long par-three fourth hole, which, for most mortals, would involve the embarrassment of having to take driver.

It demands a phenomenal strike of 246 yards to get there and that big hit usually has to be produced into a prevailing wind or breeze. The meat of the sandwiched Amen Corner is the fifth hole which involves negotiating a dog leg to the right through a valley and up a hill to the green. The tricky green will send your ball scurrying back down the slope if you do not judge the approach properly. That was one of several undulating holes on Earth after having arrived at the first tee to be greeted by an inviting downhill drive on to a left-to-right sloping fairway.

Knott was rightly proud of the way his team have transformed a relatively flat landscape into an up-and-down true test of golf which should fully extend the likes of Lee Westwood, the Race To Dubai leader, and the chasing pack. @Email:wjohnson@thenational.ae