Ernie Els’ business interests in golf course design are an eye-opener in Kuala Lumpur
It’s a fine balancing act for a player competing with the best on tour and designing courses
Ernie Els during the CIMB Classic at Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club.
We almost got a tournament finished without a rain delay for what seemed like the first time all year on the PGA Tour. Ironically it was in the thunderstorm capital of the world, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The officials had wisely decided to start play early each day to avoid the inevitable afternoon storms. The big one came early on Sunday and resulted in the play-off for the CIMB Classic taking place at 7.30 on the Monday morning. It only involved two players, Ryan Moore and Gary Woodland, so the whole field didn’t have to change their travel plans.
Most players were heading either back to the States or on to China this week for the next swing in the global golf merry-go-round. My player, Ernie Els, was staying put for another day in order to make a site visit to one of the courses he is designing in Malaysia.
Fine balancing act
It is a fine balancing act for a player who is still competing with the best on tour and also trying to manage his business interests in-between golfing gigs. Of course he has the facilities and the man-power to make these trips as painless and efficient as possible.
Ernie’s design team were in tow in south east Asia and his post-tournament day was consumed with a visit to his course, Desaru Coast, near Johor Baru in the southern peninsula of Malaysia.
Well it’s not a golf club yet and the ground certainly isn’t that stable. After the one-and-a-half-hour trip by helicopter down south, the chopper landed on one of the tees and sunk low into it as it settled. Boots on – machetes were not required any more although they were at the early stages – sunglasses and topographer charts in hand, a set of clubs and off the Ernie Els design team went in search of another perfectly crafted golf course. Ernie likes to walk and hit shots on the planned routing before final decisions on layout are made.
It’s two years since they first set foot on the property and it was a number of years before that when the connections were made, deals done and permission secured. I was travelling with the team; Thad Bell, the architectural landscaper, Greg Letsche, the architect, and Thomas Rubi, the business developer, all of whom have worked around the globe, like everyone else in the golf business.
Naturally the process is the same no matter where you are but the local habits are very different. As I watched a security guard laboriously open the gate to enter the private airfield in Kuala Lumpur, it was suggested that the speed of the gate opening was fairly indicative of the way things happen down at the golf development in Johor – very deliberately. Apart from the technical expertise, a large part of Thad’s job on the ground is to deal with the cultural differences.