Yas Links is ‘Different’ Class

Mike Galemore walks the course and talks to designer Kyle Phillips who has created something completely different in the Middle East – a traditional-style authentic links course that brings a new experience to the region.

SEEING is believing, they say – and Yas Links is a golf course that has to be seen to be believed. Walking the course last month with designer Kyle Phillips was akin to being transported to the seaside links of St Andrews, Royal Birkdale, or Ballybunion.

I’ve played many of the treasured links of Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales over the past half century and invested in more balls than most in the process but if I could have disregarded the warm sun on my back and the calm aqua-marine ocean I could have been back home battling the elements.

It’s remarkable how Kyle Phillips has created a genuine, traditional links course out of nothing. Where there was once flat desert wasteland there are now rolling wide fairways, deep bunkering, wispy rough and inviting, sloping greens with their traditional heartbreaking run-offs. It’s pure coastal-style links on a par with Kyle’s other links masterpieces, Kingsbarns near St Andrews and Dundonald near Troon in Scotland.

I’d seen the pictures, read the hole descriptions and talked to California-based
designer Kyle, but all that hadn’t prepared me for something completely different by way of a unique golfing experience in the Middle East.

Kyle is understandably proud of his creation, which has come to fruition in a little over three years. “When I first came out to Abu Dhabi in February 2007 to look at the site I was immediately captivated by the challenge of turning a 3,200 metre long strip of flat, sandy shoreline devoid of vegetation into an authentic traditional-style links course,” says Kyle.

“We had to work out where we could find the material to build the landforms necessary to create a true, traditional-style links course. We also needed to define the coastline while at the same time protecting the mangrove plantation.

“Both problems were solved by dredging the mangrove plantation and using the sand for the landforms. Now we have a clearly visible coastline and a channel that enables golfers to sail all the way from Abu Dhabi Marina and moor their boat at the golf club. The view from the edge of the golf course along the coastline, with the blue waters of the Gulf and the mangrove plantation in the background is spectacular.

“Better draining sand for sandcapping the dunes and for the turfgrass, native rough grass and shrubs areas was brought in from further out in the desert. By virtue of this work we were able to expand the shoreline edge to more than 3,700 metres in length.

“Another advantage was that we had the room to create as many as five tee boxes per hole to accommodate golfers of all standards. Although our courses are designed to host professional championships they also have to be flexible to be playable for the 15-25 handicappers for the rest of the year. I’ve always worked on the basis that our golf courses should be designed first and foremost for the pleasure of the players.”

With Kyle’s pedigree it’s not surprising that he has a preference for links courses. “The nice thing about links golf is that players can choose their own route to the pin. The big hitters can take on the challenges of clearing water or bunkers while the high handicappers can take a more canny line. Links golf is more interesting and more fun than target golf.

“Any good golf course has to have a big finish and I believe the closing holes, 16-17-18, are three of the best closing holes of any course I know. Each hole presents its own challenge with the final par-5 hole inviting golfers to take on the green in two.

“When the wind is downwindbirdie or even eagle is achievable. But when it’s facing you it’s a different proposition altogether.” Kyle was also pleased to show us the 9-hole par-3 Academy Course, which is floodlit for use in the evening. “It’s ideal for practising or for beginners. The landforms are similar to the championship course but the greens are smaller and less contoured and the bunkers are less challenging.

“I can’t wait to hear what the golfers think of the Yas Links experience – I’m sure they will find it different to any other course they have played in the region.”

Kyle has every reason to be proud of his creation. Yas Links is different. It really is a true links course and I’m sure it will attract a great many golfers who may never have played coastal golf before and many others who yearn to get back on the links again.

World Wide Golf
By Mike Gallemore

February 2010


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