The newly appointed general manager of The Els Club Desaru Coast on a life well-lived on and around golf’s green, green courses.
Options: What kick-started your passion for golf?
Steven Allan Thielke: I used to caddy for pocket money while at boarding school.
And when did you realise you wanted to make a career out of golf?
I was originally in the hotel business, working in Sun City, South Africa. One of my roles there was to open The Lost City Golf Course at Sun City, famous for the crocodiles on Hole 13. I decided there and then to make golf and the club business my career.
What has been your most memorable game so far, then?
It has to be playing at ‘the home of golf’, at the Old Course at St Andrews, Scotland. Golf has been played there since the 1400s and the history, traditions and the relationship between the course and the town of St Andrews are very special. One unusual thing about the Old Course is that it is closed nearly every Sunday to let it rest, meaning that, on most Sundays, the course turns into a park for all the townspeople to come out and stroll, picnic on and generally enjoy the grounds.
How have you settled down in Desaru Coast?
Desaru Coast, for me, is like a haven, a refuge from the hectic, busy city life. I just love the open spaces and fresh breeze. If you are adventurous and willing to explore, you will find there is quite a lot to do as well!
Tell us about some of the highlights of playing at The Els Club Desaru Coast.
You can experience 45 holes of golf designed by two World Golf Hall of Famers — the 27-hole Ocean Course by four-time major champion Ernie Els; and the 18-hole Valley Course by three-time major champion Vijay Singh — all the while surrounded by nature unlike anywhere else in Malaysia. There are uninterrupted views with a soft breeze off the ocean on beautifully manicured courses surrounded by hundreds of species of birds. Playing here is an experience that goes beyond just golf.
What would you recommend to first-timers spending a day there?
Having three nine-holes on the Ocean Course offers unique variability, as each layout has its own character and personal touches by Els. He took inspiration from famous links courses across the UK, with large, rolling greens and firm run-off areas designed to place a premium on a sharp, short game. We have many golfers who play all three courses in a single day and I would recommend doing the same.
So, what is Ernie Els like personally?
I have met my fellow countryman a few times, as a matter of fact. I have enormous respect for him, not only as a world-class golfer or golf course designer but also for his work developing golf for the disadvantaged via The Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation and, of course, his and his wife Liezel’s incredible work with Els for Autism.
What are some of the après-golf highlights in the area?
What is most fun for me is enjoying sundowners at one of the magnificent hotels in Desaru Coast’s beach clubs. Besides that, I enjoy walks with good company on the stunning beaches and routes on the golf courses.
Where’s a good place to eat and drink?
At The Els Club Desaru Coast, you have three great F&B outlets to choose from. There’s the Big Easy Bar & Grill, the 261 Restaurant and the Lembah Restaurant. You must try the signature Ernie Burger as well as the local specialty — fish head curry. While here, don’t miss sampling Ernie Els’ wines. Ernie has his own brand of South African wines sold under the Big Easy by Ernie Els label.
And, not least, would you share your handicap with us?
I am currently struggling off an 11 handicap but am also going through a mini transformation in my swing. The incredibly professional team at the Els Club Academy have been so helpful. Now, I just need to find the time to practise and find my groove.
This article first appeared on May 31, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.