Capturing the Mystery of the Links

Worldwide Golf talks to KYLE PHILLIPS on how he went about transforming the ‘captivating’ site of Yas Links into an “authentic links style course – and the first true links course in the UAE. It was clearly one of those sites that required turning up the volume and creating bold links-like landforms.”

Q. The setting for the course is spectacular. What were your thoughts when you first visited the site?

A. As you can imagine, I look at a lot of sites, but there was something about this site that captivated me, particularly the prospect of transforming the site into an authentic links style course and the first true links course in the UAE. At that time the site was a 3,200 metre long strip of fiat, sandy, undelined shoreline along the southwestern edge ofYas Island. It was clearly one of those sites that required turning up the volume and creating bold links-like landforms.

Q. Was the transformation of the site similar to the transformation of the famous links courses you designed at Kingsbarns or Dundonald In Scotland?

A. In many ways Yas Links was similar and certainly I drew from my years of experience of making artificial landforms appear virtually undetectable. To achieve the look and feel that I had envisaged during my first visit, it required both artistic and technical ability, as well as an understanding and commitment to the principles of links golf.
I really enjoy working with the land both at a macro and micro level. The first step is to create the larger overall site landforms, which are constructed by the general contractor. From there I spend a considerable amount of time working out the details at a micro level with our shapers on site. However, it is always easier and takes less creativity to work with natural Godgiven ground and to be able to simply uncover
holes that have already been formed within the natural landscape.

Q, How much sand did you have to shift to create this links course?

A. Not as much as one might imagine. As the site was already low to the sea, we could not cut down to generate fill for the landforms. In order to create the landforms for the course over 1,400,000 m3 of sand had to be cut and dredged onto the
93 ha site. An additional 300,OOOrn3 of sand was brought on to the site to provide the upper growing medium for the turfgrass areas, native rough grass and shrubs. In the process, the shoreline edge was defined and expanded to more than 3,700 metres
in length.

Q. How did you solve the issue of irrigation water in such a dry desert climate?

A. The UAE uses water very efficiently and as well as any place in the world in which I have worked. We were able to preserve the fresh water and use reclaimed water from the island for the irrigation of the golfcourse.

Q. What grass have you used on the greens,fairways and rough and why?

A. We used salt tolerant Paspalum TE on all of the turfgrass areas, including the greens and tees. Paspalum TE is a modern day salt tolerant grass which maintains its colour and quality all year round, thus ensuring consistent performance and playability. In the rough areas we planted a variety of native grasses and shrubs.

Q, Was it a difficult task to incorporate five teeing areas per hole? was not long ago that it was novel to have three sets of tees, but now with the ever increasing disparity between beginners and professionals, it is common to set up the course with five sets of tees. However, as an architect, it’s not my job to make the Rules of Golf, but within the rules it is my job to create a playing
ground worthy of champions, that everyone can play.

Q. Was the course designed with a Tour event in mind? What factors in the design are created to challenge professionals? Would these prove too challenging for the amateurs?

A. Many of our courses, including Yas Links, are designed to host professional
championships, Whilst our courses have successfully held some of the top tournaments
in the world, the other 50 weeks of the year they must have the flexibility to be set up for the’ S-2S handicappers, Besides simply varying the length of the
holes, I like to provide players of all abilities options – or alternative lines of play. Links courses are known for having firm fast playing surfaces and irregular contours which adds an exciting dimension to golf that is seldom found on modern American style courses. Strategic design principles using landforms are more forgiving for high handicap players. Links courses often contain diagonal contours
as hazards. Fairways can be 50 yards wide and be friendly for the bogey player, but the par player quickly learns that it is really a 20 yard wide area that provides the best angle of approach into the green. I think that philosophy of design is both fun and fair, allowing players of all abilities to swing freely off the tee, but still retain a real premium on accuracy and shotmaking, rather than purely on length.
The first time one plays Yas links, the general requirements at the hole will be visible from the tee. But as in any great links course, there arc more subtle features within the course that will be learned over time. These are the mysteries of
the links that captivate players of all abilities to the point of travelling to the far corners of the globe to seek out a game on “the links”.

Q. How did you determine the route of the course? What were some of the factors you

A. As you might imagine there are a variety of items to be considered. I wanted players to feel the presence of the sea, but not have it come into play on the opening holes. From an operational perspective, it was desirable to have the ninth green return to the clubhouse and the practice range near the first tee. I also oriented the clubhouse to capture the long views of the golf course and the water as
well as magnificent sunsets from the terrace. i wanted the holes to change direction both in terms of how the winds affect them, but also how the holes would change orientation to the shoreline. The course has eight holes that play along the coastline, with four holes having water on the right and 14 greens within 60
yards of the shoreline. What also excites me is that you can be at the most inland part of the site, but are still Visually connected to the sea. As like any great concert, there needed to be a crescendo at the end of the piece, where competitions could be won or lost. Five of the last six holes, including the last three holes,
play along the shoreline and provide a series of finishing holes that can stand comparison with golf’s best.

Q. How does Vas Links rate with all the other golf courses you’ve produced?

A. My goal is to design new courses with the functionality for the modern game. but at the same time providing the synergy of the classic courses. Simply, Iam trying to design new courses that feel old. I find that there is a symbiotic relationship of design elements that exists in the great old and traditional links courses of Europe that have been lost in the flat fairways and perimeter weighted mounding of modern American style architecture. Certainly Yas Links does that in away that has not been done before in the UAE. and does It as well as any course I have designed. From a
technical perspective it exceeds all the others. However. I believe that courses should always be designed first and foremost for the pleasure of the players. This means that the comments of the players who know golf at its highest level are where the final evaluation of success lies. wind a factor when playing the course and which holes does it most affect?

A. Like any great links course. Yas Links has the excitement of the sea breezes, Whilst it is not considered a windy coast like you might find along the British Isles. the wind can shift 180 degrees from one day to the next. This will change short holes into long holes on a day-by-day basis. Even though technology has encouraged golf today to be played in the air more, links courses are still
famous for providing the option to play shots along the ground, due their firm, fast fairways and open entry greens. It would naturally seem that the eight holes that play immediately adjacent to the coastline would be most influenced by the Wind
However. the holes that play between the dunes can actually be more deceiving, as the
strength of the wind at ground level will often not represent the actual effect of the win once the ball travels above the dunes.

Q. What ecological features have been preserved or used in the design of the

A. The site was flat, open desert sand and void of vegetation. The golfcourse provided the opportunity to create greater bie diversity through a variety of native grasses and shrubs that have been incorporated Into the parameter areas of the golf course. Also, a large area of mangroves that naturally emerge from a tidal island just south and west of the golf course were preserved, providing a focal point from the clubhouse and golf course.

Q. Does the par-3 course follow the same style as the championship course?

A. This lighted course is for beginners or players who wish to hone their short iron skills. The landforms and aesthetics of the course are similar to the championship course, but the greens are smaller and gently contoured. The sand bunkers are also much smaller and far less difficult.

– Kyle Phillips
November 2009


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