Dubai golf round-up: Ernie Els rekindles long friendship with Ricci Roberts

European accent to top trophies; a Dubai golf legacy; long friendship is rekindled . Steve Elling reports.
Ernie Els jokes with fellow South African Ricci Roberts ahead of the DP World Tour Championship. Warren Little / Getty Images
Ernie Els jokes with fellow South African Ricci Roberts ahead of the DP World Tour Championship. Warren Little / Getty Images

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As the final event of the 2014 European season unfolded on Thursday, the tour set up an impressive array at the first tee at Jumeirah Golf Estates. Trophies for the Ryder Cup, PGA Championship, US Open and British Open were placed at the first tee, with a fairly clear implied message: it was a very good year for the European contingent. All four trophies are held by European players, including two by world No 1 Rory McIlroy, who was also a key member of the winning Ryder Cup team. It quickly became evident that the metallic cluster of grapes at the top of the Wanamaker Trophy had broken off, but McIlroy said it was his personal replica, not the PGA’s original.

Set to soar

The Jumeirah development opened a sprawling, Spanish-themed clubhouse this week, yet another step in the development of a community and golf tournament that, for quite a spell, had decidedly uncertain futures. Eight years ago, shortly after the Race to Dubai was conjured up and the seasonal bonus money was announced, the global economy tanked and the annual finale in Dubai was on shakier ground than most realised. George O’Grady, the chief executive of the European Tour, stood on the practice range this week and spoke with some parental pride about the efforts to keep the event afloat. Firstly, to help protect the primary sponsor, the prize money was slashed. The tour secured secondary sponsors, such as Rolex, to firm up the financial underpinnings. Six years ago, in the tournament’s first year, the course was not in stellar shape and the driving range was mostly sand. O’Grady, who plans to retire in the next few months, has worked for the tour since its inception, described the before-and-after picture, then summarised the event’s history as: “Keeping this [event] alive was one of my key achievements.”

Drama, dromedary

Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen, who opened with a 67 on Thursday to claim a share of third place, has logged so many rounds at Jumeirah Golf Estates that he has lost track, and has spent plenty of leisure and practice time in the UAE. But not all of his outings have been as successful as his opening round. Last year, in fact, while on holiday in Dubai with some friends, he pulled a groin muscle while trying to dismount from a camel, an injury that dogged him for several weeks. It was hard to keep a straight face when asking him to recount the incident. “It was bad luck, mostly,” he said.

Brothers in arms

Ernie Els and Ricci Roberts have staged more reunion tours than most 1970s-era rock bands. With more success, too. The two South Africans, who reached the pinnacle of the game together several times over the years and have taken just as many breaks in between, are back together this week in Dubai. Roberts, 50, has been on the bag for all of Els’s four major-championship wins and the two are like brothers in nearly every fashion. They have known each other so long that Roberts is not only Els’s biggest fan, but his toughest critic. They tend not to mince words, which causes occasional friction. “There are no secrets in this two-ball,” Els said. Colin Byrne, one of the best in the business, has been Els’s caddie for the past couple of years. “Maybe this will make for a nice little story by the end of the week,” Roberts said.

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Published: November 21, 2014 04:00 AM

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