Louie Chan talks to the Four-time Major winner and President’s Cup Captain at the Grand Opening of Royal Greens Golf and Country Club in Saudi Arabia.
Four-time Major winner and President’s Cup Captain Ernie Els talks exclusively to HK Golfer.
Louie Chan: How are you enjoying your first time in Saudi Arabia?
Ernie Els: Yeah, my first time to Saudi Arabia. I was really excited to get the call to come here. I’ve heard of King Abdulla Economic City through the years now, and I was keen to come and see what they have done. I wouldn’t say I’m surprised, but I’m delighted I came because I really think they got it right. The golf course is really good. They have a great facility here at Royal Greens. It’s a wonderful spot. I’m glad I came.
LC: Tell us a little bit about what you think of some of the signature holes, the 15th and 16th.
EE: You start out here at the clubhouse, and you play a bit of desert golf, so to speak, with quite a few water hazards. They have a great balance through the course – right to lefts and left to rights – but the real treat is when you get out to 16. The beautiful 16th hole on the Red Sea. You think you’re on some island somewhere in the Caribbean with the watercolour and the contrast. It’s wonderful, and it’s a pretty tricky hole. So, the back nine is really picturesque but so is the whole of golf course. You don’t see too many holes where you go out to the ocean, so I thought that [the 16th] was a great addition to the course.
LC: You have obviously experienced a lot of excellent championship golf courses around the world, how do you feel this will stack up against other European Tour venues next year?
EE: Well, I think this one will be one of the best in the Middle East. I’ve played most of the courses in the Middle East from Dubai to Qatar to Abu Dhabi. I haven’t played Oman, but this golf course will be one of the players’ favourites. The greens can be quite tricky, as you can see here, the wind picks up in the afternoon which will make the scoring quite tough. But it is a fun golf course. If you play properly, I think you can make some birdies and there are enough elements out there that will keep the guys honest. Your wind play will have to be there, and your course management has to be there. Wonderful golf course, I’m looking forward to playing it.
LC: How important is it for the game of golf for new regions, like Saudi Arabia, to embrace the sport and help it to grow?
EE: This event is not only going to be great for the European Tour, but it will great for world golf. We need places where we can grow the game, where we can start from grass root levels and introduce the game to new markets, and this is an entirely untouched market through the history of Saudi Arabia. This will be the inaugural
event and to bring world-class players here, to Royal Greens in Saudi Arabia, is just going to be a game-changer. This facility is wonderful, and they are going build schools here, they’re going to build housing facilities, hotels – it’s going to be an absolute unbelievable city and having golf as your main sport here. For the kids to grow up around the game, is going to be so important and I won’t be surprised when we see some world class players in the near-future.
LC: Your performance academy is an essential part of your brand. The national team will have access to these facilities as part of the agreement between Royal Greens and the Saudi Golf Federation. How important is it for that young talent coming through to give them access to a facility like this.
EE: I’ve always said, we’re a small country in South Africa, but we have produced outstanding golfers for a very long time. When you have facilities, and you have weather, you are already ahead of the game in a lot of areas. You just have to look at Europe; you can only play in some places there for only 4-6 months of the year. So here you have year-round weather, you have an unbelievable facility here at Royal Greens, at this academy, and if you have more of these facilities go up around this area, with the schooling in place here - before golf or after golf the kids can come and play and practice golf – it is just the perfect environment to produce world-class golfers.
LC: We’re looking forward to a marquee, a landmark, Presidents Cup with yourself and Tiger as captains. Do you think that will bring an added element, given both of your profiles, to the Presidents Cup?
EE: I don’t know. I have always enjoyed the Presidents Cup, competing in it. I feel I want to make some changes from the run up into the cup. Already I can get four picks going into the week. We’ve made some changes already, and I want to try and have a blueprint going forward for the next guys, really change things up and put things in place where the next captain can keep following the blueprint. It’s a crucial time for myself and the team to change things up, to be really competitive and win this Presidents Cup in Australia, which is a great venue for us. But Tiger’s got an unbelievable team, and he’s been an unbelievable player, and I think the two of us, we’ve had a bit of history in the Presidents Cup. I think we will bring an extra element to the matches and hopefully make it really exciting.
Ernie Els gives a golfing demonstration to local school children at Royal Greens Golf
and Country Club
The stunning 16th hole of Royal Greens Golf
and Country Club
From left to right: Fahd Al-Rasheed, Group Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of Emaar the Economic City (EEC), Ernie Els, His Excellency Yasir bin Othman Al-Rumayyan and Majed Sorour, CEO of Saudi Golf Federation