Kyle Phillips brings a taste of Scotland to Yas Island

“What makes yas links so intriguing,” designer Kyle Phillips tells Golf Digest, “is how traditional it is. Because if you think about it, in golf terms there’s currently nothing in the UAE that’s even remotely traditional.”

For a country that revels in glitz and extravagance, the idea of recreating an ancient throwback of a golf course and placing it directly opposite the gargantuan structures of the extra-terrestrial styled Ferrari World and the Yas Marina Circuit, seems peculiar. On one side of the road is more technological know-how than you’d find at the headquarters of NASA, and on the other is a golf course that’s decidedly minimalist, from the sparing use of cart paths to the windswept features that are so joyously informal and unkempt.

And the best possible tribute we could pay designer Kyle Phillips as we stood on the tee of the par 3 8th hole, is that were it not for the backdrop of Ferrari World, looming like an enormous red UFO, not to mention the 25 degree warmth of the sun, we might easily have been in Scotland.

The rugged landscape on the Yas Links appears natural, but as Phillips explains, it is anything but. “Our aim was to build a course that had a links feel, but the biggest challenge in doing that was actually creating the landforms on a very nondescript site. It was a massive undertaking, because we had to dredge, shape it, let it dry out and then reshape it before we could add a sand cap,” he explains.

The skeptic may wonder how it’s possible to create a links-like experience in a climate that differs so vastly from the temperate countries they typically occupy.But by using a particularly fine strain of Paspallum grass, Phillips and his team have been able to recreate the kind of tight playing surfaces found on Irish and Scottish links courses that use native fescue grass. “This type of Paspallum has been getting some rave reviews and from what we can tell it looks like it will perform very well,” says Phillips. “What makes a links experience so unique is the ability to blend tightly mown areas into the greens, which gives a player the opportunity to use the contours of the land for all manner of approach shots, so hopefully we’ve achieved that at Yas.”

Turning unexceptional sites into dramatic linksland is nothing new to Kyle Phillips. He has twice performed the feat in Scotland, winning widespread acclaim for his work at Kingsbarns and Dundonald. And if those courses have succeeded in gaining entry into the fiercely exclusive club occupied by many of the great age-old Scottish trophy courses, there is no reason why he cannot deliver a ‘mustplay’ links course in the UAE.

The American designer has eschewed the use of riveted pot bunkers in favour of a ‘blow-out’ style more in keeping with the grand scale of the environment. “This project has been similar to those we did at Kingsbarns and Dundonald, but of course there are differences too. The bunkers have been done in a fairly unkempt style, where sometimes the grass comes down and creates a formal edge, but often the bunkers form a partition between the Paspallum and the longer, native grasses.”

With eight holes flanking the shoreline, Yas Links will be a daunting test when the wind is up. You’d expect nothing less from a true links, really.
January 2010


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