The recent announcement of the world’s richest golf tournament in Dubai has set off intense speculation about the course hosting the $10 million (Dh36.7m) prize money event.
That honour would either go to Fire or Earth – the two courses being designed by the legendary Australian Greg Norman – which will form a part of the four-course Jumeirah Golf Estates (JGE).
Fire and Earth are expected to be ready by the end of 2008, well in time for the November 2009 Dubai World Championship. The construction work on the other two courses – Water and Wind – is expected to start next year.
The USP of these courses, insists David Spencer, CEO of Leisurecorp – developers of JGE – is that they will be the first eco-signature golf courses in the world. In other words, they will incorporate the finest and most modern practices of ecological conservation.
JGE has kept the details of all these courses a well-guarded secret, but after speaking to Norman, Spencer, and others who have had the privilege of having a look, Emirates Business pieced together a preview of this most awaited golf course complex and what makes it unique.
“We have gone the whole way to make sure ecological balance is maintained throughout – starting from the basics such as recycled water for course irrigation to re-using the recycled water, the kind of grass we use for fairways and greens, to the choice of fertilisers,” said Spencer. “Of course, in this day and age, being sensitive to nature is the way to do things, but we want to set a benchmark for all other golf courses in the world.
Growing ecological awareness and opposition by environmental groups has forced many developers to quit golf course projects.
The most recent example is Donald Trump’s plan of building a $2.1 billion (Dh7.70bn) golf resort near Aberdeen, Scotland, which was rejected by politicians on concerns it threatened a protected nature reserve.
Norman is the chairman of the advisory council of Environmental Institute for Golf (EIG) – which aims to provide knowledge and research on the environmental aspects of golf courses – and Dubai World Chairman Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem is a board member. Vijay, Garcia and Dye are also members.
Spencer assures Norman is perhaps the most ecologically sensitive designer in the business and he has taken care of these aspects from the conceptualisation stage.
“Norman’s basic design philosophy is ‘least disturbance’. He would possibly add to what Mother Nature has already given at a particular site,” said Spencer.
Both the courses, along with all facilities and amenities, including the clubhouse and the driving range, will be fully operational much before the championship. “Both courses are on track. The bulk of the shaping job is finished and the top soil has been laid. The bunkers and tees are in place and we have already begun the grassing programme. The foundation stone of the clubhouse has been laid. It is all very exciting for us,” said Spencer.
As for the general concept, Earth will have lush-green vegetation and is built around water streams such as a parkland course. The Fire course is built around lakes and the natural terrain of sand.
Norman, who was in Dubai recently, revealed some more details.
“With regard to how tough the course is going to be, we take directions from the developers,” said the two-time Major winner.
“The courses are going to be extremely difficult. The reason being, in the long run, we want to have the capability of testing the very best players in the world. Both are going to measure around 7,500 yards, which is not really long compared to other new courses,” said Norman.
Norman was particularly excited about the closing stretch of Earth – the par-4 16th, which has water all the way to the green; the par-3 17th, which is a true island green and the par-5 18th, which will be more than 600 yards long and will have water at every nook and corner. Norman reckons the 17th at Earth will be far more challenging than the famous 17th of TPC of Sawgrass.
“The 17th is probably going to be the world’s toughest par-3 island green hole,” said Norman.
“The 17th at Sawgrass has now become easy because players are hitting sand wedges and pitching wedges into it with the aid of modern-day technology. We wanted to keep ahead of the game, so we built a hole that is 183 yards long and should be one heck of a challenge for everyone,” he said.
WHAT’S SPECIAL ABOUT EIG?
The Environmental Institute for Golf (EIG) is a collaborative effort of the environmental and golf communities, dedicated to strengthening golf’s compatibility with nature. While EIG have specific programmes to make golf courses eco-friendly, they broadly fall under five focus areas –
- Water management: Use of reclaimed water, sophisticated weather instruments, drought-and salt-resistant grasses, water conservation and water protection practices
- Integrated plant management: The science and art of growing healthy turf to ensure sound environmental health This includes the use of pesticides and fertilisers
- Wildlife and habitat management: The use of best management practices and enhancement of wildlife habitat, buffer strips and wetlands on the golf course help to protect wildlife for future generations
- Energy and waste management: Through the use of technology, eco-friendly products, “green purchasing” practices, waste management, recycling, composting and other innovative practices
- Golf course siting, design and construction: Innovative design and construction techniques positively influence the future of golf courses.