Asian Games Golf Venue Desert Oasis No More
Ten years later, as Qatar's booming economy radiates Doha's suburban sprawl out from downtown, the oasis label hardly fits. The area around the club these days is surrounded by condominiums, small office buildings and hotels, most of them under construction.
And course manager Ranald McNeill even debunks the desert part: The site of the original golf course was hardly a classic desert -- for a start, there wasn't any sand.
'Nothing but rocks,' says McNeill, smiling at the anomaly. 'It used to be a popular picnic spot for the locals with a few palm trees. Back then, it was a fair way out of town.'
In fact, McNeill had to import sand from as far as 60 miles away to help grow grass on the fairways and fill the bunkers.
In 1998, the course hosted its first Qatar Masters, now a regular stop on the European and Asian tours. Ernie Els, who won the tournament in 2004, will be back on Jan. 25-28, along with Sergio Garcia, Retief Goosen and Stuart Appleby.
On Sunday, the best amateur golfers from Asia competed at Doha Golf Club in team and individual events at the Asian Games. The third round started with an unusual condition -- the wind wasn't blowing strongly off Doha Bay. The sun was shining, and scores were low. Mika Miyazato and H.Y. Choi were among the leaders in the women's tournament that concludes Monday.
Officials shortened the men's course from its usual pro tournament length of 7,374 yards to 7,122 for the Asian Games, and 5,751 yards for the women.
Still, the only grass course in Qatar has its challenges. Visitors to Doha pay $275 to see if they can keep their ball on the fairways and not in the desert scrub and the natural rock formations that architect Peter Harradine incorporated into the 18-hole layout.
If the limestone rock outcrops don't punish you, watch out for several holes that incorporate man-made lakes, including the par-3 17th. More than 60 imported cacti run along the 18th fairway.
The 16th hole has been reduced by about 45 yards to 306 yards for the men at the Asian Games, but accuracy remains important.
'If it hits the rocks not far from the front of the green, it's a lottery -- it could go anywhere,' says McNeill, an Australian. 'Often, the ball will land on the green and roll off the back into trouble. The course is like that -- low scores are there for the asking, particularly if the wind's not blowing. But there's also a lot of places where you can get into trouble.'
Wendy Stewart, from Aberdeen, Scotland, who was following a group of Asian Games golfers Sunday, agreed the course could be challenging.
'You can see on a day like today when the wind's light, there could be some good scores,' said Stewart, who regularly plays at Carnoustie, where the British Open will be held next year. 'But you can see a number of places where even the pros will be tested.'
Asian Games golfers this week got one break -- the course's winter grass program had summer Bermuda grass switched over to Kentucky blue for the cooler season. To do that, McNeill and his staff had to 'overseed' the greens with the Kentucky variation.
Bermuda grass grows horizontally, making putting more difficult. Kentucky blue grass grows vertically, allowing for a softer lift as the grass wraps around the club face on the fairways.
'And it makes the putting easier,' adds McNeill. 'The green is pretty true and smooth.'
The golf club has grown in the past several years. Recently, it opened a golf academy for up-and-coming golfers in Qatar. To try to tap into the local market, there's a nine-hole academy course fully floodlit for night play.
'With the traditions here of having people take from about 1 to 4 o'clock off in the afternoon, particularly in the heat of summer, it has become very popular,' says McNeill. 'Our last tee time is about 10 p.m., and we're getting as many people through there now as we are our championship course.'
As the only major grower of grass anywhere in Qatar, the club has started a subsidiary -- basically, a turf farm. The eight artificial lakes can handle the course's irrigation and also provide water to an area near the 17th green and 18th fairway where the turf is grown.
It came in handy for Asian Games organizers two weeks ago. After 10,000 athletes trooped through the main Khalifa Stadium for the opening ceremony, McNeill and his staff transferred a football stadium worth of turf from the golf course to the games' soccer venue.
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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake
Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.
While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.
“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.
Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.<
DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi
Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.
“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”
Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).
“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.”
Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.
Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace).
“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.”
Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi
What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.
Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.
McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.
He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.
McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65).
Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds.
“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”
Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder
Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.
Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.
Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:
Filling in tomorrow for Corey Pavin that WD today @cbgolfchallenge I do things like this a lot to help events and asking for sponsors exemptions here but didn't get any help.— Ken Duke (@DukePGA) January 18, 2018
Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.
Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.