10 Questions for Ernie Els

Ernie Els has made a name for himself, not just as a professional golfer but as a golf course designer — especially in Africa and the Middle East. Since 2005, when Greg Letsche joined as the senior designer associate, the firm has designed 12 courses that are open, and 10 others that are in various stages of development.

They include The Els Club in Dubai and the Els Club Copperleaf in his native South Africa.

While he continues to play professionally, Els’ design practice is taking off with projects around the globe. Golf Inc. contacted him right before The Masters to ask about development opportunities in Africa and the Middle East. 

1. A number of your designs are in your native South Africa. Obviously, you must have a deep connection to them. Tell us a little about these projects and what they mean to you? 

We now have four courses open for play in South Africa — Oubaai, The Els Club Copperleaf, Nondela and Highland Gate. 

Oubaai was the first Ernie Els Design project in my homeland, so that’s always going to have a special place in our hearts. It’s a wonderful golf course, with beautiful views over Herolds Bay, where we also have a house.

Nondela is also very beautiful, flowing through a lush green valley in the Drakensberg mountain range. So too is Highland Gate, located in the Steenkampsberg mountain range near Dullstroom. There is a grandeur to that landscape that reminds me a little of the Scottish Highlands; the views seem to go on forever. With the elevation changes and the fact that you’re playing at altitude, it means your golf ball looks like it flies forever, too.

Then there’s Copperleaf; that’s very special, too. It’s our first Els Club in South Africa and is built on land once owned by my grandfather, Ernie Vermaak. He was a wonderful man who lived to the grand old age of 97. He got the Els family into golf so obviously we have a lot to thank him for.

Find out Els' answer to nine other questions in the free digitial issue of Golf Inc. Magazine here.  

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