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A Desert Oasis

by Lewine Mair - June 1, 2015

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES | The 7,675-yard Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates is only six years old but already this proud bearer of the European Tour Destination label and venue of the
tour’s season-ending finale is intertwined with some of the greatest names in the modern game.

Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson are among those to have won the DP World Tour Championship over its fairways, with Stenson coming out on top in 2013 and again in 2014.

Stenson and Jumeirah Golf Estates could in fact have been made for each other. Both went through the wringer during the recession - and both came out the other end at the top of their games.

To the credit of the owners, the European Tour and all concerned, the DP World Tour Championship carried on regardless. The Earth Course itself was always in pristine
condition, while there was almost a touch of glamour attached to having the event played on the equivalent of a film set.

The spreading clubhouse was but an empty shell, with the same applying to the majority of the fairway homes. However, for the purposes of the tournament week, windows likely to be caught on cameras were dressed to look as if there was life within.

David MacLaren, who was responsible for the Marriott hotels’ golf portfolio before taking over as director of property and venue development for the European Tour, will tell you that few things have moved him more than the sight of players relaxing in the clubhouse on its opening day ahead of the 2014 championship. "It was as if they had always been there," said the director, whose daughter, Meghan, is the reigning British Stroke-Play champion.

The building has much the same flow as Earth and Fire, though it offers a degree of spaciousness that is altogether less apparent on some of the more exacting holes outside.

There is an easy blend of formal and less-formal lounges and eating areas, with the first-floor terrace an out-and-out winner; a perfect place to dine in the still of a desert evening
and the optimum position from which to enjoy goings-on at the 18th.

Each member of the Tour Properties collection - Terre Blanche, London Golf Club, St Leon Rot, PGA Catalunya, Fleesensee, Estonian Golf and Country Club, Le Golf National, Quinta do Lago, Kungsangen, Linna Golf, The Dutch, Diamond Country Club and Jumeirah Golf Estates - work for amateurs and professionals alike. Mind you, those amateurs who have it in mind to follow in the professionals’ footsteps would do well to accept that they should use tees in keeping with their handicaps.

The Earth is aimed at the longer hitter but the canny iron player can have his day. Luke Donald proved as much when he chased McIlroy in the 2012 DP World Tour Championship.

There were times when their clubbing differences were positively mind-boggling. At the 476-yard 12th, for example, Donald was taking a 6-iron for his second where McIlroy was wielding his sand wedge.

Caravans of camels who would roam the course in the early days of its construction moved on from the area long ago. (No-one sent them packing in a hurry in that their padded feet never damaged the greens.)

Yet, were they to be invited back, they would not take the hump at developments on their old stomping ground, starting with the fact that both Earth and Fire were built on the existing desert sand.

Nor, presumably, would they sniff at the news that the American bunker sand on the Earth is used at no less a venue than Augusta National.

All the professionals revel in plotting their way around the glistening white bunkers and hitting from a series of perfect fairway lies. They may not be quite as excited as the nomads
of old at the abundance of water towards the end of their journey, but what a climax those last four holes represent.

When McIlroy opined, "Greg has done some quirky things here," he would have been thinking in particular of that meandering stream which runs long-ways down this 620-yard par-5.

"The most challenging mile in golf," to quote designer Greg Norman.

The aforementioned 18th is the hole which makes for the greatest drama.

When McIlroy opined, "Greg has done some quirky things here," he would have been thinking in particular of that meandering stream which runs long-ways down this 620-yard par-5.

As kindly a fellow as Justin Rose dreads the hole but for Stenson it is one in a million - and one to bring in the millions.

In 2013, he would have needed to drown in that meandering stream not to make off with the winner’s cheque and the bonus that went with it.

As it was, he was five ahead of Ian Poulter on the tee, and six clear by the time he had hit a stunner of a 3-wood to a foot to sign off with an eagle.

Members standing on their terrace might wait 50 years to see another shot like that.
MORE INFO jumeirahgolfestatesclub.com

Jumeirah's Grand Sights
Jumeirah Golf Estates is not yet the finished article in that two further courses have yet to materialise. People wonder what it will be like when it is complete but, even now, the complex is the stuff of dreams for the golf addict.

Those who have a morning round booked on either the Earth or Fire courses would be wasting the experience were they not to hit some balls under the early-morning sun. (You don’t get too much of anything else on a Dubai morning.)

There are senior touring professionals in the UK who can remember the days when practice arrangements embraced little more than a couple of practice nets. The facilities at Jumeirah Golf Estates are at the other end of the spectrum, with the practice range, along with the putting and chipping areas, stretching grandly round two sides of the clubhouse.

Along with its sister European Tour Destination, Terre Blanche, Jumeirah Golf Estates boasts a stunning European Tour Performance Institute. If only to see what the modern game has to offer, visitors should leave time to check it out.

Again, they might want to look at one of the fairway show homes with their £3 million-£7 million price tags. (The real estate side of the European Tour Properties network is well and truly thriving, thanks not least to the profile afforded via their licenced links to the tour and a marketing partnership with global real estate concern Fine & Country.)

The houses are one thing, the views another, with front rooms looking out across the course to the tall towers of Dubai. The sights are spectacular by day; even more so by night.

Indeed, Jimmy Walker, that astro-photographer-cum-US Ryder Cup player, would be hard pushed to disagree that the buildings in their night guise are almost up there with the stars.

L.M.

Local knowledge

• Visit the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. There is no point in visiting Dubai if you don’t have a picture of what was/ wasn’t there before.

• See the Burj Al Arab Hotel. Why? Purely for the sake of seeing this (unofficial) seven-star establishment. You will have to book breakfast, or afternoon tea, at the very least, to be allowed in but, once you succeed on that score, travel up a main escalator which is flanked by tropical fish.

• Be prepared to barter at the Gold Souk, where you can have confidence in the authenticity of any purchases. The Dubai Government keeps a tight rein on standards.

• One shopping mall is enough. The BurJuman Centre, with its fine shops and surrounding gardens and quality restaurants is as good as any. The Mall of the Emirates, with its indoor ski centre, has 30 million visitors a year, which might just put you off.

• Visit the Al Lusali Camel Racing Track and Market. Camel owners, no less than professional golfers’ management men, want appearance money for their charges. Do not be lured into their pens to take pictures for which you definitely will be charged.

• The Date Market is a short stroll from the Gold Souk. Shining dates are piled high on plates, with plenty of free samples going the rounds.

• Go on a tour of the city and its buildings by night. It will be more spectacular than by day and you won’t get caught up in trafic.

• Take an unhurried trip down Dubai Creek and across the centuries as you witness everything from ancient dhows to state-of-the-art yachts.

• The Heritage House museum provides another great taste of life in the Dubai of old.

• Book a couple of nights at the Ala Maha resort, which offers a glimpse of the Bedouin way of life. This is the only boutique resort in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (50 minutes from the centre of Dubai).

L.M.


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