Ernie Els Group Newsletter – April 2017

30 Mar

All the latest news and stories from the world of golf, Ernie Els Design, Ernie Els Wines and across Ernie’s various philanthropic interests.

1. The Els Club Desaru Coast Valley Course officially opens
Malaysia, March 31 2017: The Els Club Desaru Coast, Valley Course, today celebrated its official opening, marking another milestone for The Els Club Malaysia portfolio. One of the golfing world’s most-anticipated openings, the Valley Course (pictured above) was created in partnership between two golfing comrades and fellow Major Champions, Ernie Els Design and Vijay Singh, and puts a seal to the golf development in Desaru Coast.

The Els Club Desaru Coast first hit the headlines in 2016, with the opening of the Ocean Course, designed by Ernie himself. The South African, however, trusted the vision of his great friend, Vijay Singh, for the Valley Course; a first-ever collaboration and one that raises the prestige and appeal of what is already one of the world’s premier destinations for golf.

“Today’s launch completes the golf development in Desaru Coast; paving the way for the introduction of Malaysia’s most anticipated new tourism developments that will establish this corner of Johor Bahru as one of Asia’s most prominent destinations,” commented Muhammad Zainal Ashikin Muhammad Rejab, Executive Director & Chief Executive Officer of Desaru Development Corporation Sdn. Bhd. (DDC). “We believe that we will continue to see a rise in Malaysia’s golf tourism with the opening of the Valley Course. We look forward to welcome golf aficionados from all around the world to experience a unique and rewarding golfing holiday here in Desaru Coast, while inspiring others to embrace the sport.”

The Valley Course, a par-72, which lies adjacent to the Ocean Course, is an 18-hole Championship layout measuring up to 7,200 yards. It has been crafted around a series of undulations, providing impressive vistas around the Desaru Coast region. Bunkering is a major factor, placing the onus on a well-planned course strategy.

Host to two of the most exciting new golf course designs in South East Asia, The Els Club Desaru Coast is complete with state-of-the-art amenities, including two clubhouses and expansive practice areas.

“We wanted the Valley Course to be distinct, with its own true character that would provide golfers with a memorable challenge,” said Vijay Singh. “We used the undulations to layer-in a series of high impact bunkers that will mean golfers need to think carefully about how best to navigate each hole.”

The Els Club Malaysia brand, managed by the world’s leading golf management company Troon, is set to become an international icon and set the benchmark for service and premium experiences. As the first addition to The Els Club Malaysia portfolio, The Els Club Teluk Datai shot to fame in 2014, scooping several illustrious accolades, including: The World’s Best New Golf Course by the World Golf Awards, and ranking #83 in Golf Digest’s Top 100 Courses in just its first year of operation.

The Els Club Desaru Coast meanwhile, with 45 holes of golf  (the 27-hole Ocean Course and 18-hole Valley Course) set out alongside the region’s first Els Performance Golf Academy and the Academy par-3 course, makes this one of the most comprehensive golf destinations in the world.

“Opening the Valley Course is a major step forward in realising the vision of Desaru Coast, and to have The Els Club brand as the first in a long-line of major developments at this special destination is a real privilege,” commented Ernie. “Ever since we embarked on this project, we have maintained our focus on the end product; one with excellence and distinction. All of this would not have been possible without the continued support from all our team and those from DDC.”

Guests will be able to book their tee-times direct on the or choose from a series of bespoke packages. The Els Club Desaru Coast was developed and is owned by Desaru Development Holdings One Sdn. Bhd. (DH1), a subsidiary of Desaru Development Corporation Sdn. Bhd. (DDC) mandated with the development and operation of Desaru Coast destination resort.

2. Wine Spectator & Cigar Aficionado Els for Autism Pro Am
Beautiful Old Palm Golf Club in Florida once again played host to the ninth iteration of this annual fundraising event, which has become a firm fixture on the March golfing calendar. As in previous years, an impressive line-up of tour professionals – featuring six major champions – teed it up in support of Els for Autism. The field included: Jack Nicklaus, Justin Thomas, Louis Oosthuizen, Luke Donald, Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Alex Cejka, Andrew Johnston, Brooks Koepka, Branden Grace, Bryson DeChambeau, Camilo Villegas, Cameron Tringale, Charl Schwartzel, Daniel Berger, Ian Baker-Finch, Jamie Lovemark, Ken Duke, Keegan Bradley, KJ Choi, Kyle Reifers, Thomas Aiken and Tony Finau. An incredible $1 million was raised on the day, bringing the total since the Pro Am’s inception in 2009 to the $10 million mark.

“You guys take time out of your busy schedules to support Els for Autism and Liezl and I can’t thank you all enough,” commented Ernie. “Huge thanks also to the amateurs who played today, to our hosts at Old Palm Golf Club, our partners, our sponsors, and in particular to Marvin R. Shanken, publisher of Cigar Aficionado and Wine Spectator magazines. Marvin was the inspiration behind this event and remains one of its driving forces. Thank you so much.”

Not surprisingly, given the quality of the field, there was some excellent golf played out there. South Africa’s Branden Grace, a former member of the Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation, captained the winning team of Marvin R Shanken, Rush Limbaugh and New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. Special mention also goes to Jack Nicklaus who fired a 71 to beat his age by six shots and bring home his team in second place. “I haven’t held a trophy in 10 years,” said Nicklaus.

“I had one of the best times I’ve ever had in a golf tournament,” said Limbaugh.

“Sometimes things go your way,” said Shanken, who joked that Limbaugh hit the ball so well that “he can give up radio and turn pro!”

The $10 million raised in the nine-year history of the Wine Spectator & Cigar Aficionado Els for Autism Pro Am is already working hard making a positive difference to the lives of individuals and families on the autism spectrum. You can read more about the work of Els for Autism and the ground-breaking initiatives that have been introduced at The Els Center of Excellence by visiting the website:

3. Drive to SA Open changing lives on the autism spectrum in SA
The 2017 Drive to SA Open series teed-off in March with a sell-out golf day at Pretoria CC. This series is all about raising funds for Els for Autism, playing some of South Africa’s great courses, and competing for a place in next year’s SA Open Pro Am. The 2016 series was a great success, but 2017 is bigger and better. The full tournament schedule is shown below. Winners of each event qualify for the grand final at Fancourt, where they will play for a spot in the SA Open Pro Am in January 2018. There is a hole-in-one prize of a Yamaha golf cart at every event. Ernie’s sponsor TaylorMade has also donated a set of golf clubs for a hole-in-one.

2017 Tournament Schedule
14 December, Sanlameer
8 March, Pretoria CC
7 April, Omeya Golf Club, Namibia
11 May, Zimbali
18 May, Pearl Valley (includes #GameON autism clinic)
25 May, Houghton GC
1 June, Royal Jhb East
22 June, St Francis Links
29 June, Randpark GC (includes #GameON autism clinic)
21 July, Oubaai
27 July, The Els Club Copperleaf
31 August, Kempton Park
14 September, Fancourt (club members only)
28 September, Mount Edgecombe CC (includes #GameON autism clinic)
20 October, Silver Lakes (includes #GameON autism clinic)
26 October, Ebotse Links
11 November, Steenberg
15-16 November, Grand Final at Highland Gate (includes #GameON autism clinic)

For more information, and enquiries on sponsorship opportunities, please email:

4. Wentworth renovation nears completion ahead of BMW PGA
After an extensive and sympathetic program of renovation led by Ernie Els Design, the multi-million pound revamp of Wentworth’s West Course is nearing completion. The latest phase of works, which began the week after Chris Wood won the 2016 BMW PGA Championship, was led by Ernie Els Design in collaboration with renowned consultants European Golf Design. The two parties also worked closely with an advisory team, which included Thomas Bjørn, Paul McGinley and David Jones, representing the views of the Tour players, and Wentworth’s Director of Golf Courses & Grounds, Kenny Mackay. The comprehensive changes to the famous West Course, home to the BMW PGA Championship since 1984, focused on the greens, greens’ complexes and bunkering.

“The guys have been working flat-out there for the past nine months,” commented Ernie Els, “and the results of this collaborative endeavour are impressive to see. The key objective was significantly improving the putting surfaces. All 18 greens were stripped of the old turf and re-seeded with a new creeping bent, which improves the appearance and playability of the putting surfaces. Many were either rebuilt or partially rebuilt and, crucially, a new sub-air system has been installed on all 18 greens to help make them play firmer and faster. New irrigation and drainage was also introduced.

“In addition, we undertook another review of all the bunkers on the golf course. As a result, all bunkers have been redesigned and reconstructed, with 29 bunkers removed from play. We believe this helps more closely realign the course with Harry Colt’s original vision, whilst also being mindful of the demands of the modern game – always a delicate balancing act. All in all, the completion of this project is great news for Wentworth, for BMW and the European Tour, and obviously for the players and the fans, too.”

Thomas Bjørn also believes the European Tour’s leading players will appreciate the changes when they get the chance to see them for themselves at May’s BMW PGA Championship. “There was certainly a feeling to get this golf course back to where it was,” said the Dane. “It will still be a really tough test, but we’ve taken some of the tough obstacles out which we didn’t think Wentworth was all about. It is an old style course and it had probably been a little over-modernised, so we brought it to where we think it should be and back to the traditions of this golf course. We listened long and hard to the views of the Tour players. You have to when you have such a big event on a traditional golf course with so much history. The BMW PGA Championship is a fantastic event, one of the best in the world, and now there is a golf course here which is really worth playing, and which is right up there with the very high standard of the event.”

Meanwhile, Paul McGinley said: “The players wanted to go back in the direction of the old Harry Colt design. They wanted the contours on the greens to be softened, and the bunkering to be changed. I certainly couldn’t see out of the bunkers before, and not many guys could. So those were the two big things we changed.”

Jeremy Slessor, Managing Director of European Golf Design, added: “The feedback from the Tour players over the last few years was so consistent about what needed to happen. Working with Ernie Els and his design team, and working with the advisory group of Thomas, Paul and David Jones, we were able to come up with a cohesive plan which will give the members and the Tour players a much more honest test of golf.”

To watch a video presentation on the completion of the West Course renovation, please click here:

5. First Els Performance Golf Academy official opens its doors
To celebrate the official opening this week of the first Els Performance Golf Academy, located on the outskirts of Hanoi, Vietnam, Ernie Els discusses the inspiration behind this exciting project and what sets it a class apart from other golf facilities in the region.

1. How did this project first take seed?
“Well, initially we were approached by Chairman Ha, the inspiration behind Ecopark, as he saw us [Ernie Els Design] as the perfect partner. He’s a brilliant man, a visionary, and I believe we share the same ideas about what we want to achieve with The Els Performance Golf Academy. Honestly, this feels like one of those ‘head and heart’ projects and I think that we’re creating something really meaningful and beneficial for the community here in Hanoi, which fits with the legacy ethos of the Ecopark development project. That’s important to us.”

2. How much time have you spent in Vietnam and what do you think of the country?
“Early in the process we met with Chairman Ha, his son Nghia Ha, and the rest of the team at Ecopark. That was actually my first ever trip to Vietnam. We inspected the site and also got out and about in Hanoi to experience the local culture, the wonderful food, and we received an incredibly warm welcome from everyone we met. It was a lot of fun. You can see the passion and enthusiasm that Chairman Ha really has for The Els Performance Golf Academy. That’s pretty infectious. It’s so exciting now that the doors are officially open and people can start enjoying what we’ve created here.” 

3. Will there be more Els Performance Academies to come elsewhere in the world?
“Absolutely. Work is already well advanced on a second Els Performance Golf Academy at The Els Club Malaysia, which should open soon. To me, this is a really exciting concept and it’s going to have a lot of appeal to the average player who typically struggles to find decent practice facilities. What we’re offering here is the best of the best; a ‘Tour Pro for the Day’ type of experience where golfers can come and get great coaching and have access to some Tour standard swing technology and facilities, and also have some fun.” 

4. What would be a satisfying outcome or achievement for you to see from the Hanoi EPGA in the long term?
“Already we’re experiencing exciting times here. The Vietnam National Golf Team has declared the EPGA its official home, which is great news. Our staff, led by Wayne Johnson, will be providing training and support for the Vietnam National Golf Team. We’ll also be engaged in developing the instructional skill-set for potential Vietnamese golf trainers, so it’s a win-win for golf in this region.

“And overall, as I said, the plan is to give golfers of all standards everything they need under one roof and also for The Els Performance Golf Academy to generate a wider enthusiasm for the game and greater participation, not just in Vietnam but ultimately right across Asia. Ecopark stands for investment in the future, and we want to mirror that philosophy with our own activities. If we can get golf into schools and encourage youngsters to take up the game, that’s the ultimate. Golf teaches excellent personal qualities such as discipline, sportsmanship, integrity and camaraderie, and we want the next generation to have these qualities in abundance. We want people here, we want them enjoying what Chairman Ha and the Ernie Els Design team have envisaged.”

5. Does this facility set new standards in the region and what specifically takes it to the next level?
“100 per cent. There’s nothing else like it in the region. As I said, The Els Performance Golf Academy is giving golfers an opportunity to work on their games in an inspiring environment, somewhere they can improve their golf and also have a bit of fun with friends and family. Here at Ecopark we have a great team of PGA qualified Professionals, led by PGA member Wayne Johnson. It’s great to have Wayne on board; I’ve known him for many years and he brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to The Els Performance Golf Academy.”

6. What does Troon bring to the package with its contribution on the management side?
“You can’t under-estimate their contribution. We’ve partnered with Troon many times on other projects within the Ernie Els Design portfolio; they very clearly understand our brand and our goals and what exactly is required in order to achieve those goals. I know a lot of the guys personally and have complete faith in everything they do, so obviously we’re delighted to have them on board again here in Hanoi.”

7. How does the quality of this facility compare to the practice facilities you had access to when you were a young player in South Africa?
“I was actually pretty fortunate in that department, but still, it’s nothing compared to what we’re offering now at The Els Performance Golf Academy. But you have to say part of that is simply down to the way the game has moved on technology-wise in the last 10-15 years. Our philosophy with the whole Els Performance Golf Academy program is to make the most of what’s available to us and utilise the very latest, cutting-edge systems to help people understand their games and get better. It’s all about delivering the best possible experience for all of our visitors.”

For more information on The Els Performance Golf Academy, please contact the Ernie Els Design offices in Florida +1 561-625-8676 or visit the official website:




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