Home to the Commercialbank Qatar Masters presented by Dolphin Energy since its inception in 1998, the Championship Course at Doha Golf Club, Qatar, is renowned as a testing, long and windswept layout, and is playing this week at 7,412 yards to a par of 72.
Unveiled in 1997, the layout was the brainchild of celebrated golf architect Peter Harradine, who has designed over 160 courses around the world, and features eight strategically positioned lakes, 65 giant cacti and a number of striking limestone rock formations that contrast with the verdant fairways and pale desert beyond.
Ahead of the start tomorrow, europeantour.com has been speaking to two men responsible for setup of the course this week, The European Tour’s Tournament Director David Probyn, and Referee Paul Carrigill, to get the inside track on what the professionals will be tackling this week.
“The par threes are very tough and the greens are firm and exposed to the wind so with some of them being quite driveable downwind and down grain they could be quite slippery,” said Probyn.
“It’s pretty long but doesn’t play that long unless the wind really blows which it looks like doing on Friday.”
First hole – 591-yard par five
Carrigill said: “A long straightforward hole that should be downwind and reachable in two. There are no great problems on it at all so eagle is a possibility but the green is quite hard and runs away from you so it’s not that easy to get near the pin in two.
Second hole – 433-yard par four
“Played downwind it plays very short because you drive over a hill so it’s just a drive and a wedge. But into the wind as it was today it is quite a stiff hit up there and you could be 40 yards short of the ridge probably leaving a mid-iron to a fairly open green.
Third hole – 235-yard par three
“Tough hole in any conditions really; the green runs away from you a bit and there is a big waste area on the right ten or 12 feet below the level of the green, so by no means an easy par three.
Fourth hole – 413-yard par four
“The fourth has a new tee this year so it’ll be a different challenge for the players this week as they won’t be able to cut the dogleg as much as they have done in the past. And as the forecast is into the wind so I think it’ll be quite a stiff hole this year.
Fifth hole – 452-yard par four
“Tough hole again, straight into the prevailing wind as it’s forecast to be this week and always proves to be one of the hardest holes on the course. It was off a forward tee last year due to the wind as it might be again this year. It’s a long hole and the second shot is uphill all the way to a pretty blind green with a lot of slope from left to right.
Sixth hole – 488-yard par four
“A good hole and a good test. A back tee was added a few years ago to defend it a bit more and it could be downwind this week, but still to a tricky green with two or three different levels.
Seventh hole – 391-yard par four
“Forecast to be playing into the wind, it’s a reasonably short hole but playing uphill for the second shot to pretty much a blind green again with a fair bit of slope on the front right side.
Eighth hole – 185-yard par three
“Tough par three with water all the way down the left. It’ll be on a left to right wind so any pins near the left will be very difficult to get near to. The front half of the green slopes left to right running you away from any left pins.
Ninth hole – 639-yard par five
“This hole does what it says on the tin. It’ll be into a cross-wind but – other than [Alvaro] Quiros who I think got up one year in two – it’s two good hits and a pitch to a green that’s close to the water on the right on a back right pin that comes into play. It’s the length that makes the difference. If you get out of position from the tee you’ll be going in with a long shot for your third.
Tenth hole – 548-yard par five
“A straight drive then depending on the wind you can reach it in two to an elevated, very quick green that runs away from you to the back right. A good birdie or eagle opportunity, depending on the wind conditions.
11th hole – 474-yard par four
“A good hole off the back tees, dog-leg to the left, should be into the wind from the right which might force a tee change if it’s really strong and into a fairly open green.
12th hole – 429-yard par four
“A good hole there again which is a dog-leg to the right. You need a good straight drive so you can see the green which is defended at the front by a depression six or eight foot down. It’ll be short pins mainly there because it’s a slopey green so anything up and right on the green is very difficult.
13th hole – 203-yard par three
“All of the par threes are good on this course, as is this one, and not easy at all. Will play straight into the wind most of the week so could even be a three wood from the tee.
14th hole – 410-yard par four
“Today it has been a drive and a little chip but into the wind it’s a long way because it’s uphill, the tee shot lands on the upslope then the second shot goes uphill as well to a half-hidden green, so it’s a long way into the wind.
15th hole – 470-yard par four
“One of my favourites on the course, it’ll be downwind and there’s water at the end of the drive so you can’t hit it too far even if it’s downwind. Leaves a mid to short iron into a long, reasonably flat green but pins on the right are difficult.
16th hole – 307-yard par four
“Should be – with the wind forecast – very driveable, three wood off the tee maybe. It plays around 295 to the middle of the green roughly so lots of eagles and birdies there.”
Probyn added: “It’s a feature hole. You have to clear the rock that is in the middle of the fairway there and if you don’t clear it and hits the rock then you’re in trouble.”
17th hole – 155-yard par three
“A nice short par three but played as the hardest hole on the first day last year even though it’s the shortest of the par threes,” said Carrigill. “The green is split with left pins and right pins; the left pins are just in front of a slope off the green so you have to quite accurate and the right ones are over a bunker so it’s dangerous.
18th hole – 589-yard par five
“Again reachable occasionally, there’s water up by the left of the green which pushes them over to the right if they are going for it in two, but if it’s unreachable then it’s just a lay-up and a pitch on to a fairly slopey green with the back pins pretty difficult to get to.”
Probyn said: “The greens are firm compared to what we normally play on and very exposed. So when the wind blows for us we have to monitor the speeds and for them it makes it very tough to putt on as the ball will be moving around a bit in the wind. We’ll keep them fairly slow, perhaps nine on the stimp meter on Thursday and Friday.”
“The fairways are excellent and wide enough to be hit – even in the wind,” said Carrigill. “A lot of players have noticed there is not much rough, which is good with the wind forecast so they’re happy with that. If it’s blowing a gale and the rough is really long then it would be a real grind.”
Key stretch: 16th, 17th, 18th holes
Probyn identified the closing stretch as a potentially tournament-defining finish.
“The last three holes are very exciting, especially coming down the stretch on Sunday,” he observed. “You can see guys shooting a two-two-four finish because they can knock it on the green at 16 and make a putt for eagle, the 17th is very birdieable and 18 is – largely with a north-westerly wind – it’ll be on in two, so if players really want to go for it then it can change things up a great deal by playing those few holes in three or four under par.”
How the course played last year
The winning total last year was set at 14 under par, with the lowest in the last five years set by 2008 champion Adam Scott at 20 under par. In 2011 the field sank 17 eagles, all made on the par fives barring five at the distinctive par four 16th hole.
The par four sixth hole was ranked as the hardest at last year’s tournament, with 114 bogeys made there over the four rounds, while the 429-yard par four 12th claimed the most amount of double bogeys or worst with 18 very unhappy golfers heading to the 13th tee last year.
Meanwhile, the distinctive 16th hole, the shortest par four at 307 yards, was ranked as the easiest in 2011, yielding five eagles and 209 birdies in the 14th staging of the event.
What the players said
Defending champion Thomas Bjorn said: "Last year we had very windy conditions, and it seems that that's going to continue this year. The golf course is quite a bit different this year, there's not as much rough but the greens are a lot firmer than they were last year and maybe a little bit more tricky."
World Number Three Lee Westwood said: “The weather man says it's going to be fairly windy and when it's like that around here, it's a really tough test. So you really need to be in the fairway and have control of the golf ball. The greens are always pretty true and quite firm, so you need to make a few putts. Length also seems to be a deciding factor in the past on this golf course.”
2011 Players Champion KJ Choi said: “It looks very good, a natural golf course and a good design. There’s an even, very strong wind blowing, so it's very important to make the fairway to control the iron shots.”
2010 US PGA Champion Graeme McDowell said: "I heard the news yesterday there wasn't much rough on this golf course, and I was pretty disappointed when I heard that, but if it's going to blow as hard as it's forecast to blow, I think maybe it's a good thing there's not a lot of rough because it would be a pretty long weekend out there. This golf course is always pretty difficult."
Ryder Cup star Hunter Mahan said: “It seems like this is comparable to Miami, Doral, and I’ve faired pretty well on those before, so I'm looking forward to the chance to play because I do feel like my game can travel over here.”