Sitting on the terrace of the most sumptuous clubhouse I have ever seen, eating a first-rate breakfast while gazing over the pristine practice putting green, I felt instantly as if I had stumbled into a king's paradise where my every whim would be taken care of before I had even thought of it. And the magic of the place was that I felt like I belonged there - a millionaire if only for a day!That the golfing experience didn't quite live up to the billing is not entirely surprising, but I left the Els feeling that there is an opportunity missed here.The course itself is stunning, but only if you can ignore the half-finished building site that surrounds it or some of the less than beautiful skyscrapers that abound in Sports City. The group of 4 buildings decorated by a cricket bat, tennis racquet, golf club and hockey stick stay in my mind as some of the ugliest architecture I have seen anywhere in the world. The fact that on several holes you take your line off the bright red hockey stick is a real blot on the overall experience.Having got that gripe out of the way, the quality of the course is visually stunning and in great condition. The wasteland desert areas give a real sense of where you are, while the manicured fairways and greens are so lush that it feels a real privilege to play off them. And throughout it is a serious test of golf.The highlights were the 7th and 15th holes running either side of the two lakes in the middle of the course, and the 9th and 18th holes playing up towards the magnificent clubhouse.It was good to see some normal length par 3 holes, testing all types of approach shot, rather than the 200+ yarders that seem to be the norm at the other courses around here.The fairways are enormously wide at times and nearly all of the trouble seems to be around the greens, which are fast and very slopey, with a lot of very deep bunkers placed aggressively around most of them.And when you find a green that appears on the card to have no bunkering, like 6th or 8th, then beware, because the wasteland is near at hand at the bottom of some huge slopes to cause you real problems if you miss the green.If I were to be hyper-critical I would say that the course feels a little bit unbalanced as a result - too easy off the tee and too difficult around the green. An example of the difficulty of the slopes is the par 3 second, where it is hard to find a flat spot to place the pin, and some putts break by 10 feet or more. The bunkers also have very deep sand in them, so it is not unusual to get terrible plugged lies - a bit unnecessary when you consider the difficulty of the greens being played to!A final annoyance was that in December, when no other courses had any restrictions, the greenstaff stuck rigidly to a carts on paths policy. With the very wide fairways this became so annoying that we ditched the buggies after 12 holes and carried for the rest of the round.So the Els, for all of its polish, is for me a bit too much style and not enough substance. It still ranks very high compared to most courses that I will ever get to play, but it flatters to deceive and is not as good as some of the other options around here, nor as good as the sumptuous clubhouse surroundings would have you believe.
Date: March 23, 2013