Double Open Champion Greg Norman designed the Earth course at Jumeirah Golf Estates and it’s his first Middle Eastern course design to open for play. The Earth course is also the first course to have been built specifically for a championship and then unveiled as the first tee shot was hit at that championship.
The visionary master plan of Leisurecorp-owned Jumeirah Golf Estates is to create the world’s premier golf destination at the centre of a luxury residential golf community. Four courses are planned, Fire, Earth, Water and Wind which will form part of a massive leisure and real estate facility nine times the size of London’s Hyde Park.
Few people experienced Greg Norman’s Earth course, even though the layout was fully grassed in April 2008. In January 2009 a handful of Pros including Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose and Darren Clarke were invited to play the last four holes of the Earth course, described by Norman as “the most challenging mile in golf”. Since then, the Earth course was closed for play, waiting for its curtain call at the inaugural Dubai World Championship in November 2009.
We’re led to believe that never before has a course been closed to the public for so long, simply waiting for its debut. The theory being that the Earth course would not only look and feel established but also it would boast a level of conditioning which most of the top pros had never experienced before.
The Fire course, also designed by Greg Norman, opened for play in January 2010. Vijay Singh’s Water course was next on the list, followed by the final course in the elementally named series – Wind. The Wind course, co-designed by Sergio Garcia, Greg Norman and Pete Dye, promised to be the most celebrated Jumeirah course, which was to be routed through the desert dunes in a traditional links-like style. Unfortunately, the global financial crisis put paid to either development.
The world was transfixed by the Earth course as the Dubai World Championships unfolded into a very exciting climax to the 2009 season. In the end, England’s Lee Westwood cruised to victory, closing on 23 under par. His final round of 64 was not only one of his career best performances but also a course record on the Greg Norman-designed Earth course. Along with the title, Westwood claimed the €830,675 first prize and the European No.1 spot for the second time in his career.
Robert Karlsson overcame Ian Poulter in a play-off to win the 2010 Dubai World Championship, but it was Martin Kaymer who won the Race to Dubai, becoming only the second German to finish the European season as No.1. 2011 was Luke Donald’s year. The Englishman achieved an historic US and European money list double after finishing 3rd at the Dubai World Championship. Alvaro Quiros lifted the 2011 title but Donald grabbed the headlines, becoming the first player in history to claim the double. In 2012, Rory McIlroy emulated Luke Donald’s achievement, winning the US and European money list double, but the Northern Irishman went further in the season-ending finale and birdied the Earth’s last five holes to secure the DP World Tour Championship title by two shots.
2013 was Henrik Stenson’s year, winning the World Tour Championship by six shots from Ian Poulter, the big Swede became the first golfer to win the Race to Dubai and FedEx Cup in the same year. In 2014, Stenson successfully defended the title, the first title defence of his career but Rory won the Race. McIlroy went on to win the 2015 World Tour Championship title and became the first golfer to retain the Race to Dubai trophy since Ernie Els in 2004. Matthew Fitzpatrick won the season-ending title in 2016, but the Race to Dubai honours went to Henrik Stenson for the second time. Jon Rahm, European Tour Rookie of the Year, lifted the 2017 title but Tommy Fleetwood won the Race to Dubai after Justin Rose came up short in the final round.
Danny Willett won the 2018 DP World Tour
Championship, his first title since the 2016 Masters, but Italy’s Francesco
Molinari won the Race to Dubai and was crowned European No.1 after defending
champion Tommy Fleetwood failed to win the season-ending tournament. Jon Rahm won the 2019 event by birdieing the final hole to
deny Tommy Fleetwood and evergreen Lee
Westwood won the 2020 Race (eleven years after winning the inaugural
event) becoming the oldest ever golfer (47) to be crowned European No.1.
Bob Knott, the senior development manager for golf courses at Leisurecorp, reckons that the Earth course will be rated “the world’s best newcomer” and he also thinks that within five years both Fire and Earth will be World Top 100 golf courses. Knott's prediction has so far failed to come true.
Something of a personal favourite, the risk-reward nature of this course makes it a rollicking good time. Take the tiger-line and it's very conceivable to add 30+ yards to your drive. The endless sea of funds available to Greg Norman means essentially gave him carte blanche design-wise and no 2 holes feel the same. Hazards including water, bunkers, waste areas and bushes come into play on every hole, although the rough is seldom penal. The fairways and greens are always in great conditions so putting your ball in the right spots will set you right.
Best Hole: 18- Both 16 and 17 are phenomenal but 18 is unique. You have the choice of keeping it down the left side of the falaj before playing it on to the green or looking to fire it over to have a go in 2 (admittedly this requires a 300+ drive). The bunkers around the green are a no-go zone, especially if the pin is situated at the front of the green. Even a sideways bunker shot may roll back down to the green. To get an idea of just how quick it is, check out Justin Rose's putt from a few years back. Class.
This just about sneaks 5 starts, but its a 4.5 I think. I cant really put my finger on it, but I left slightly underwhelmed. It's always fun play the famous courses and test yourself against the pro's, but the course didn't excite me much. Great condition and fun to play, but it is all quite samey. You stand on every tee and look out a sea of bunkers all over the fairway. You then get to your ball and find that you cant see the bottom of the pin. Nearly every approach shot seems to be uphill, and I think you can only see the bottom of the pin on 3 or 4 holes. Its well worth the twilight rate, but in my view there are some much better courses in the region (Majlis, Yas, Al Zorah).
On the 1st you immediately realise that there is seemingly more bunkerage than fairway. Slightly daunting. However like many of the holes here, you need to bring course management into play. Often tempted to hit a driver off every par 4 tee, many times you are better taming the bravado and hitting a low iron or 5 wood. Once in the bunkers, you may find both you and your ball literally underground – some of them are 8 feet deep. One criticism is that there are very few easy entry points to many bunkers – just steep slopes to edge down tentatively. They really should make them easier to enter and leave. The bunkers are often huge, and another slight criticism is that you are only offered one (sometimes 2 of late) rakes, meaning often lengthy ambles round bunkers just to find a rake, not to mention the physical exertion required to rake a deep bunker with 45 degree entry points.
Moving on, the course is in great condition, however one thing really stands out when you first play it: you need to strike the ball differently to most courses you’ll likely have played. Why? The fairways are so solid that any divot more than a few millimetres will grab the club and rob you of 90% of your club-head speed. I guess they were designed and set up for pros who possess great acceleration into shots, and are used to very clean ball striking. But for us mere mortals who are used to proper turf and soil (don’t forget this is a desert, nothing is natural here!) you need to quickly get to grips with your club length. Many who play here will soon realise this and then adjust, only to start topping shots – scared to actually dig into the ball and get under it. Find the medium between the two and you will succeed. Such striking accuracy also means that for most golfers, you need to take out any aggression or desire to blast the ball – I’ve seen it many times. Accurate ball striking requires a relaxed swing, pivot and shot – you’ve heard the expression relating to ball striking ‘play 80% within yourself’? Well Earth course will demand it. Well struck shots on this course will reward accuracy rather than power – the fairways are naturally quick and their contours will add extra yardage if you find them.
Fairways aside, the greens are extremely quick (12+) and tough to read. Like the fairways, the greens seem slightly ‘hollow’ i.e. they don’t have 1000’s of years of soil beneath them, meaning soft landings for chips and low approach shots will be few and far between. That aside however, the greens play great and are a real test for any golfer to read and conquer. Skirting the fairways you’ll find the signature dark brown wood chippings, which pretty much constitute the rough here at Earth. Tough to play out from, you’ll find yourself needing to learn new shot techniques. The course really is a lesson in golf. How Lee Westwood made it look so easy is incredible (even though he did admit it was the best he’d ever played).
Holes to note – well there are many. The last 4 holes are a joy – tough, water around, angling fairways. The 18th really springs to mind, a long uphill par 5 with a narrow creek meandering all the way from tee to green. The island green par 3 17th demands real accuracy. Overall, if you can get to play here, focus on clean ball striking with small to nil divots, brush up on your bunker shot techniques and you’ll love it. It really is a gem of a course as this website states. Well maintained with friendly staff. To play it you’ll need to find a member, alternatively you can say that you’re thinking of joining and pay the green fee for a ‘trial round’. Not cheap at over GBP 100 but golf lovers all know that they secretly want to play this course....!