30 Nov 2020

Greg Norman’s Fire lights up desert-double

World renowed golf course architect Greg Norman, a two-times Major winner with 91 career titles and World No.1 for 331 weeks, talks to Mike Gallemore about his design of the Fire course at Jumeirah Golf Estates, which plays host to the 2020 Golf in Dubai Championship presented by DP World, and the Earth course, which has been home to the European Tour end of season climax, the DP World Tour Championship, since 2009 when Lee Westwood triumphed.

Mike Gallemore: How pleased are you to see that the Fire course is finally hosting a European Tour event at Jumeirah Golf Estates, back-to-back with the forthcoming Golf in Dubai Championship?
Greg Norman: We designed both the Earth and Fire courses with the potential for tournament play in mind, so it’s very exciting to have the Fire course join the Earth on the European Tour rotation. To have the opportunity to showcase the diversity and contrast of the two courses in a televised setting is something I’ve hoped for all along, and I think it will be an exciting two weeks golf for Dubai and the golfing world.

MG: One of the most immediately noticeable differences between Fire and Earth is the colour of the sand in the bunkers. From your standpoint as course designer, what would you say are the other main differences between the two layouts?
GN: The Fire course is more open and the features are much more rugged with waste areas and native grasses framing the views, which is in stark contrast to the more manicured Parkland setting of the Earth course. The Fire plays more like a links course, so there are more options for playing the ground game and using the contours to score well, especially when the conditions are firm and fast.

MG: The remit for the Earth course was for it to host the European Tour’s season-ending event, how difficult was it to design a ‘sister’ course on the same property and make it stand-out on its own merit?
GN: One of my mandates to my design team is that every golf course we design throughout the world has its own identity and unique character. We came into this project with the same mindset and the entire project team committed to it from day one, so it was a fairly seamless process.

MG: It was said prior to opening, that the Fire course was ‘designed to reflect the local surroundings’ – what was it about Dubai’s landscape that you took into consideration to achieve this vision?
GN: We spent a lot of time researching the different types of drought-tolerant flora and fauna in the region that would be good framing material for the Fire course. We also customised the design of the irrigation system so that certain parts could be taken off-line once the plant material was established. It’s a fairly complicated process, but ultimately you have to keep the irrigation water away from the native plants if you want to maintain the type of “indigenous” look that we have created on the Fire course.

MG: It’s been a notably successful few weeks with the Fire course being chosen to host the 2023 World Amateur Team Championships (Eisenhower Trophy) and now, with back-toback Championships at JGE the two courses will be recognised worldwide – that’s quite an achievement.
GN: I’ve always thought there was tremendous potential for the game of golf in the Middle East, since I first came to Dubai as a touring professional in the 1990s, so its extremely rewarding to see the two courses I’ve designed at Jumeirah Golf Estates becoming such an integral part of taking that growth to new heights. It’s a huge part of what drives my passion for golf course design.

MG: How pleased are you that the Fire course is finally getting the recognition and the status that it deserves?
GN: The members at Jumeirah Golf Estates have known from experience what a hidden gem the Fire course really is for several years now, so I guess that’s the most important thing. But it’s also great that it will now be showcased on the world stage and tested by some of the best amateur and professional players in golf.

MG: The Earth course has its spectacular ‘Big Finish’ with the closing holes – which do you think are the most outstanding holes on the Fire course?
GN: What I love most about the Fire course is the variety we were able to create in the routing of the golf holes. It has everything you desire – long/short, upwind/downwind, right to left, left to right. All the holes are very memorable, but the par 3s particularly stand out, because we were able to bring water into play on the 8th and 14th holes.

Golf in Dubai Championship

MG: Many of the members and visitors to JGE prefer to play the Fire course – was that your intention to create such a popular alternative to the Earth course?
GN: Absolutely, that was a major part of our original design brief for the project. We wanted each course to have its own individual identity, while at the same time, complement one another. I think we’ve certainly achieved that with both courses and it’s very rewarding to hear all the positive reviews.

MG: You have designed so many magnificent courses all over the world and in the Middle East, including Oman, Dubai and Jordan, where do you think the Fire course stands in your list of masterpieces.
GN: I’m very attached to all the courses we’ve done around the world, so it’s hard for me to rank them. But I would definitely consider the Fire course to be among the best in our portfolio. As a course designer, there really is no greater honour than to see your courses have a positive impact on the growth of the game of golf, and I’m extremely happy to see the Fire course join the Earth course in accomplishing that in Dubai and the Middle East.

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