Renowned as one of the finest golfing destinations in the Middle East, the unique experience of The Els Club is one that creates everlasting memories and should be on every golfer’s must-play list. Impressive, but there’s also a lot more going on at The Els Club, which has made it incredibly popular with families and those who don’t know their birdies from their eagles. To gain more insight, Education UAE spoke to General Manager Tom Rourke, who discussed everything from his beginnings in golf and how he juggles family and work-life through to the ever-expanding facilities at The Els Club, his dream of playing Tiger Woods, and one of his other big passions, Newcastle United.
EDUAE: What is your background in golf?
Tom Rourke: I started playing golf at the age of 13 and my first handicap was 14 at the age of 14. I completed my work experience placement at my local golf course in Birmingham and realised how much I enjoyed being around golf and working in the hospitality industry. I joined The Belfry at the age of 18, turned professional and completed the PGA qualification before leaving Birmingham in 2005 to work in the Middle East. I thoroughly enjoy working in the golf industry and feel very fortunate to have worked in golf all of my life.
EDUAE: When did you join The Els Club?
Tom: I joined The Els Club in July 2020. I always appreciated The Els Club, the incredible playing conditions, the spectacular clubhouse, and its reputation as one of the very best golf courses in the UAE. It was designed by the legendary Ernie Els and is one of the International Flagship properties for Troon Golf International. After meeting with the owner and senior management our vision for The Els Club aligned and it was an immediate yes from me to join the very talented team at The Els Club and Dubai Sports City.
EDUAE: Is it important for a club like The Els Club to be more than ‘just’ a golf club?
Tom: We at The Els Club prioritise members and we must continue to keep our members at the top of the agenda to enhance the club for their enjoyment and benefit. We are seeing members spending more time at the golf club playing golf, having meetings, and socialising than ever before. We continue to develop the offering with this in mind, giving multiple options for dining, meetings, relaxation and entertainment. We are also at the centre of the Victory Heights residential community and are embracing and engaging with family-friendly initiatives to make the club accessible for all.
EDUAE: With so much happening at The Els Club over the past few months, what are the latest updates?
Tom: We’ve been developing The Els Club as a destination with some fantastic additions, which include padel courts, new artificial surfaces and shading at our practice facilities, new golf carts, a Wellputt Studio at our CH3 Academy, spa facilities, ladies salon, barbers shop, and Country Club facilities, incorporating a resort swimming pool, restaurant, gym and studio. We are working closely with fitness professionals VITA, developing personal training sessions, group exercise classes, boot camps and transformations that have been very successful and well-received.
EDUAE: Tell me more about the Country Club?
Tom: The Country Club has been a fantastic addition to The Els Club and a huge enhancement to the members’ offering. The state-of-the-art facility is the best in class, creating a family-friendly, safe environment for all of our members and guests to enjoy the club beyond the golf course. We have received great support from the surrounding communities with non-golfers choosing to join The Country Club to train and relax. The membership has been fast-growing and this has helped generate considerably more new golf membership sales on the basis of having The Country Club facilities included as part of the golf membership.
EDUAE: What can golfers expect now when they play The Els Club Dubai?
Tom: The Covid-19 pandemic meant the golf course did not undergo its normal annual summer maintenance in 2020. Due to this, we have been catching up, removing thatch and compaction from the golf course and feel that it is now in its best condition and health for a very long time. The greens are rolling incredibly well and we are bringing back the inland links conditions with the golf course playing firmer and faster. We feel the golf course is tournament-ready on a daily basis and we pride ourselves on the quality and consistency of the playing surfaces, utilising Troon Golf agronomic best practices.
EDUAE: How do you juggle family and managing a top golf resort such as The Els Club?
Tom: It’s all about teamwork at home and at work! We have an incredibly talented team at The Els Club, from the front of house associates to the supervisors and managers, supported by Troon Golf International all working in the same direction to create extraordinary guest and member experiences through personalised service, consistency, and uncompromising attention to detail. Having a very supportive wife and the joy that our two boys Oliver and William bring help to keep everything in perspective.
Both of my sons enjoy practising on the driving range and learning golf. The facilities at The Els Club are superb and it’s very accessible to all. The team at the practice facilities are always very welcoming and there are clubs available for guests to hire to allow them to get into golf. We have the Claude Harmon III Performance Golf Academy at The Els Club which caters to all levels of golfer and the team does an incredible job with the junior golfers. I would highly recommend anyone looking to get into golf or to improve their ability to reach out to the Claude Harmon III team and take a golf lesson.
EdUAE: If you could play just one world-class golfer, purely for the experience, who would it be and where would you play (not including The Els Club)?
Tom: I would love to play a round with Tiger Woods and to play Augusta National together.
My passion for golf came a lot from watching Tiger Woods on TV and the highlight was watching The Masters tournament with the incredible layout and scenery.
EdUAE: One of your other passions is Newcastle United – it’s been an interesting year?
Tom: It has been a roller coaster of a season for Newcastle, having a horrendous start to the season and being in a state of limbo, with the takeover of the club dragging out for over a year. It seemed destined the team would be relegated. Fortunately, the takeover went through midseason, a new manager and backroom team were assembled and a positive environment was created on and off the field. I am looking forward to the summer, with Newcastle bringing in new players and improving the foundation and infrastructure of the club. Next season we should be challenging to be in the top six places in the Premier League and hopefully have a good run in the cup competitions. My family are all looking forward to next season and hope to attend some of the matches with travel now getting back to normal.
EdUAE: Finally, back in Dubai, what do our readers have to look forward to at The Els Club in the near future?
Tom: We’re extremely excited to be opening the first two hotel rooms at The Els Club and with that our first Stay & Play packages. We will also be conducting restaurant upgrades and refurbishments at 261 along with updated menus and multiple social events open to everyone.
We have some great daily offerings to try, with my personal favourite being our Saturday Carvery at The Big Easy Bar & Grill from 12 – 4 pm.
Check out the website and socials to always stay updated on the latest offerings. And if you’d like to bring the family to experience The Country Club and be a member for a day.