The Els Club is the first completed venue at Dubai Sports City, and it is clear that the developers are eager to make a good first impression, as the course is in immaculate condition. Every blade of grass and each grain of sand look as if they were combed and air-brushed in anticipation of the official launch.
It is also clear that Els and his crew put a lot of thought and effort into the development of this course. An enormous amount of earth must have been moved to create the rolling fairways, deep pot bunkers, and elevated greens that we regarded as the most striking features about this course.
Not as ‘easy’ as it looks
One of the interesting things about this new course from the ‘Big Easy’ is that most of the holes look relatively ‘easy’ when you are standing on the tee, because the fairways generally are wide and inviting. However, it is by no means a course where you can simply bomb your driver without fear of penalty. You really have to think your way around the course, as severe trouble lurks on every hole, especially as you get closer to the green.
Bombers should especially take note that the fairways get much tighter the farther you hit it, and a few pot bunkers are strategically placed in several fairways to keep you honest. Shorter hitters can take solace knowing that most often it is not worth the risk to try to carve your drive near or between the distant fairway bunkers.
Els has created a course in which approach shots are extremely tricky, as many of the greens are well-guarded by deep bunkers. In a few cases, pins are tucked directly behind bunkers, which mean placement of the drive is critical so as to give yourself a spot where you have an unobstructed line to the hole.
One of the things we enjoyed most about the course is that it offered a lot of risk reward opportunities. You will have many chances to shave off a little distance on a dogleg or aim for a tightly guarded pin, but while the payoff for achieving these shots will be high, you can also post a high number by ending up in a deep pot bunker or in a sandy waste area.
Perhaps the best example of this was the 15th, which we found the most difficult hole on the course. It is a long par four that is guarded by water on the right. If you shape your tee shot at an angle close to the water, you can set yourself up for a relatively straightforward approach shot, but if you lose it to the right you will be wet. Alternatively, if you take a more conservative route and bail out on the left side of the wide fairway, you will be facing a difficult challenge to get home in two.
Every hole requires some decision making, as really none can be considered an easy birdie, especially when the coastal winds are blowing strong like they did the day we played it. The course measures a whopping 7,538 yards from the tips, but wisely there are five sets of tees giving players of all skill levels a fair test.
Our main quibble with course, and it is really no reflection on Els’s design, is that currently there is a large amount of construction under way around the course. Many homes are being built directly along the periphery and most of them are in their early stages, so there is a lot of concrete on display. Obviously this problem will be remedied when the surrounding development is complete.
Our other aesthetic complaint is that although the venue is lush green, has majestic rolling fairways, and boasts two scenic water holes, there is only one tree on the entire layout, which detracts a little from the course’s visual interest.
However, strictly from a golfing perspective, Els has crafted an exceptional layout that offers a superb test for any level of golfer, a trademark of any great course. We found it to be both challenging and fun, without being overly tricked up as some new courses tend to be.
It will be interesting to compare The Els Club to the new course that Tiger Woods is developing in Dubai. Woods has been Ernie’s greatest nemesis on the course for years, and down the road we will get a chance to see if Tiger is able to keep his edge over his rival when it comes to course design.