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: Spectator films as Woods' shot hits him
It was a collision watched by millions of fans on television, and one that came at a pivotal juncture as Tiger Woods sought to win The Open. It also gave Colin Hauck the story of a lifetime.
Hauck was among dozens of fans situated along the left side of the 11th hole during the final round at Carnoustie as the pairing of Woods and Francesco Molinari hit their approach shots. After 10 holes of nearly flawless golf, Woods missed the fairway off the tee and then pulled his iron well left of the target.
The ball made square contact with Hauck, who hours later tweeted a video showing the entire sequence - even as he continued to record after Woods' shot sent him tumbling to the ground:
The bounce initially appeared fortuitous for Woods, as his ball bounded away from thicker rough and back toward the green. But an ambitious flop shot came up short, and he eventually made a double bogey to go from leading by a shot to trailing by one. He ultimately shot an even-par 71, tying for sixth two shots behind Molinari.
For his efforts as a human shield, Hauck received a signed glove and a handshake from Woods - not to mention a firsthand video account that will be sure to spark plenty of conversations in the coming years.
Molinari retirement plan: coffee, books and Twitter
After breaking through for his first career major, Francesco Molinari now has a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a 10-year exemption in Europe and has solidified his standing as one of the best players in the world.
But not too long ago, the 35-year-old Italian was apparently thinking about life after golf.
Shortly after Molinari rolled in a final birdie putt to close out a two-shot victory at The Open, fellow Tour player Wesley Bryan tweeted a picture of a note that he wrote after the two played together during the third round of the WGC-HSBC Champions in China in October. In it, Bryan shared Molinari's plans to retire as early as 2020 to hang out at cafes and "become a Twitter troll":
Molinari is active on the social media platform, with more than 5,600 tweets sent out to nearly 150,000 followers since joining in 2010. But after lifting the claret jug at Carnoustie, it appears one of the few downsides of Molinari's victory is that the golf world won't get to see the veteran turn into a caffeinated, well-read troll anytime soon.
Molinari had previously avoided Carnoustie on purpose
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Sometimes a course just fits a player’s eye. They can’t really describe why, but more often than not it leads to solid finishes.
Francesco Molinari’s relationship with Carnoustie isn’t like that.
The Italian played his first major at Carnoustie, widely considered the toughest of all The Open venues, in 2007, and his first impression hasn’t really changed.
“There was nothing comforting about it,” he said on Sunday following a final-round 69 that lifted him to a two-stroke victory.
In fact, following that first exposure to the Angus coast brute, Molinari has tried to avoid Carnoustie, largely skipping the Dunhill Links Championship, one of the European Tour’s marquee events, throughout his career.
“To be completely honest, it's one of the reasons why I didn't play the Dunhill Links in the last few years, because I got beaten up around here a few times in the past,” he said. “I didn't particularly enjoy that feeling. It's a really tough course. You can try and play smart golf, but some shots, you just have to hit it straight. There's no way around it. You can't really hide.”
Molinari’s relative dislike for the layout makes his performance this week even more impressive considering he played his last 37 holes bogey-free.
“To play the weekend bogey-free, it's unthinkable, to be honest. So very proud of today,” he said.
Rose: T-2 finish renewed my love of The Open
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Justin Rose made the cut on the number at The Open and was out for an early Saturday morning stroll at Carnoustie when, all of a sudden, he started putting together one great shot after another.
There was no pressure. No one had expected anything from someone so far off the lead. Yet Rose shot 30 on the final nine holes to turn in 7-under 64, the lowest round of the championship. By day’s end he was five shots behind a trio of leaders that included Jordan Spieth.
Rose followed the 64 with a Sunday 69 to tie for second place, two shots behind winner Francesco Molinari. His 133 total over the weekend was the lowest by a shot, and for a moment he thought he had a chance to hoist the claret jug, until Molinari put on a ball-striking clinic down the stretch with birdies on 14 and 18.
“I just think having made the cut number, it’s a great effort to be relevant on the leaderboard on Sunday,” said Rose, who collected his third-career runner-up in a major. He’s also finished 12th or better in all three majors this year.
In the final round, Rose was well off the pace until his second shot on the par-5 14th hole hit the pin. He had a tap-in eagle to move to 5 under. Birdie at the last moved him to 6 under and made him the clubhouse leader for a few moments.
“It just proves to me that I can play well in this tournament, that I can win The Open,” Rose said. “When I’m in the hunt, I enjoy it. I play my best golf. I don’t back away.
“That was a real positive for me, and it renewed the love of The Open for me.”