DUBAI // The new Earth Course, which will host the world's richest golf tournament in November received a spectacular unveiling when five of the world's leading professionals played what is already being dubbed the Golden Mile. The last four holes on the Greg Norman-designed course at Jumeirah Golf Estates measure almost exactly a mile and Norman, a former world No 1, has set it up to be one of the most demanding finishes on the calendar.
As David Spencer, chief executive of the golf arm of Leisurecorp, the US$100million (Dh368m) sponsors of the Race To Dubai, the rebranded Order of Merit, put it as he stood on the 18th tee: "Somebody at the end of this year is likely to have a putt on that green in the far distance that will be worth $3.67m." That will be the case if the inaugural winner of the Dubai World Championship which carries a first prize of $2m also wins the Race to Dubai which would be worth a further $1.67m.
Yesterday the World Championship organisers invited a cluster of big names to have a preview of the new course. In one team of three were Sergio Garcia, the world No 2 and the top ranked player in action at the moment in the absence of Tiger Woods, Justin Rose, who won the Order of Merit in 2007, and the Northern Irish Ryder Cup player Darren Clarke. They were up against Robert Karlsson, the 2008 Order of Merit champion, Martin Kaymer, winner of last year's Abu Dhabi Championship and runner-up there two weeks ago, and Khalid Yousef , the Emriati teenager who has received a sponsor's invitation to play in this weekend's Dubai Desert Classic for the second time.
A birdie two by Karlsson on the 191-yard 17th hole, which is based on the famous Island Green at Sawgrass in Florida, tipped the balance in a tight match which was watched by a gallery of about 100 guests, including George O'Grady, chief executive of the European Tour, and Keith Waters, the Tour's international director. O'Grady said: "This is really exciting to be able to see what is the vision for our tour's showpiece event. These are the kind of conditions that we wish we could play on all the time."
Garcia said:"We only got to play four holes but what I saw out there looked great. "There are a lot of possibilities for pin positions because the greens are so big. There are lots of different ways that they can set up the course, so I'm looking forward to playing it for real." The Spaniard, who is leading the Race to Dubai, is, barring injury, likely to be among the 60 qualifiers for the Dubai World Championship.
The other four professionals will also fancy their chances of competing for that record purse. As for Yousef, a scratch amateur golfer, he hopes his time will come one day. He said: "I would love to be back here as one of the qualifiers. "I have to believe in myself that I am capable of rising to the level I saw out there. "It was a great experience for me. These top players made me feel so welcome and they have certainly helped to calm my nerves before the Desert Classic."