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The ‘Great White Shark’, who won 89 titles worldwide and held the number one ranking for an extraordinary 331 weeks in the 1980s and 90s, established Greg Norman Golf Course Design in 1987. It has since designed over 100 courses across 34 countries and six continents and is today one of the world’s most sought after design firms.
Norman’s design philosophy is inspired by his reverence for classic, traditional designs which use the natural contours of the land, giving each course a unique character. He refers to this as a ‘least disturbance approach’. The Australian, who won the Open in 1986 and 93, also believes rather than a course having a signature hole, each hole should stand on its own and should be designed with that thought in mind.
Another part of his design philosophy is a strong belief in promoting environmental sustainability, with many of his projects having been awarded the coveted Audubon Society Award for environmental stewardship.
Norman’s first Middle East design, the Earth Course is part of the prestigious Jumeirah Golf Estates, a huge residential golf complex in Dubai. Each year, the course hosts the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, the climax of the European Tour’s Race to Dubai. Norman called the last four holes, played alongside or over water culminating in a meandering creek running the full length of the final hole, “the most challenging mile in golf”. It’s a parkland-style course with rolling fairways and brilliant white bunkering, framed by a plethora of trees and shrubs, making the course a feast for the eyes.
Also part of the complex, the Fire Course is less acclaimed than Earth but is nonetheless highly regarded due its risk-reward layout, manicured fairways and a great variety of holes. It has brilliant views of the surrounding complex and plays slightly easier than its older sibling with lower set greens and less punishing bunkers. It’s also more wild and rugged with a links-like feel.
Located between the Gulf of Oman and the Hajar Mountains in Muscat, Oman’s capital, Al Mouj Golf is one of the best courses in the Middle East. It’s at the heart of the luxury leisure and residential complex Al Mouj Golf Resort, with the course beautifully positioned along a stunning stretch of coastline. Home of the European Tour’s Oman Open, it’s a testing, sometimes windy links layout with humps and bumps and large, deep bunkering, typical of Norman designs. As part of the Norman project, there’s also an enjoyable par-3 floodlit nine-hole course. The course is at its best alongside the ocean, with several spectacular holes. Al Mouj has helped put Oman on the global golfing map.
El Camaleon Golf Club at the Mayakoba resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, became the home of the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in 2007, the first PGA Tour event to be contested outside the US and Canada. Part of a community of luxury hotels, the course winds through three diverse ecosystems: the tropical Mayan jungle, mangrove wetlands and the Mexican Caribbean shoreline. Holes are bisected by massive limestone canals and Norman even incorporated a cenote, an ancient cavern common to the area, into the heart of the opening fairway. It has all the hallmarks of a Norman design: manicured and good to look at, very testing, but designed with amateurs in mind with five tee boxes.
TPC San Antonio is home to two championship courses, the Canyon Course designed by Pete Dye and Norman’s Oaks Course. Spanish star Sergio Garcia assisted Norman with the design of the course which plays host to the PGA Tour’s Valero Texas Open. It’s long at 7,435-yards and sheer-faced limestone walls facing some of the holes make it a unique challenge. The layout features large, rolling greens and tree-lined fairways which force angled approaches. Cavernous bunkers are strategically placed throughout and there’s devilish water hazards on several holes. It closes with a formidable test, a 591-yard par 5 that requires a carry past a creek to a green that is bordered by bunkers.