ABU DHABI // Kyle Phillips has completed a whistle-stop visit to the Emirates from his California base to give a thumbs up to what could well become one of the most attractive destinations for golf enthusiasts the world over. Phillips, a renowned golf course architect, has created the region's first true links course - a 7,450-yard masterpiece on Yas Island that makes maximum use of the mangrove-filled coastline.
The course, commissioned by property developers Aldar on a site close to the Formula One racetrack, is due to open early next year. Phillips, whose design work has been displayed in more than 20 countries, notably the United Kingdom where Kingsbarns in Scotland and The Grove, London are his most famous efforts, is confident this is among his best courses. "I am not going to say that this is the greatest golf course in the world," he said.
"I am going to let others decide that. I am going to hang the painting on the wall, stand back and watch to see if everybody likes it. "But I will go as far to say that I think it is a world class facility that is about to provide a world class golf experience. "People will come to the UAE and think that they have got to bring their clubs with them and play this course because it does provide them with a unique experience."
It has been suggested that the "unique experience" will also be provided at the Gary Player- designed course which is at a similar stage of near-completion on Saadiyat Island. Phillips maintained that the equally exciting addition to the Abu Dhabi landscape cannot be described as a true links course. "I went for a visit there when we were well into our own product," he said. "Stylistically they are calling themselves a beach course. I am not speaking for them but I assume that they recognise it is not a true links course. It is by the water which is very nice but ours is a completely different kind of animal."
Eight of the Yas holes follow the shoreline and all 18 have a sea view. Those who play it for the first time would be forgiven for thinking that they are venturing on to the terrain of any of a cluster of British Open venues. The par-72 course looks a certainty to become a stage for important professional events just like Player's beach course which has been promised hosting rights for the European Tour's Abu Dhabi Championship within the next two years.
Phillips stressed that it is never his intention to build a course that will accommodate the world's leading professionals. "When we built Kingsbarns [which opened in 2000] it wasn't with the intention of hosting a tournament," said Phillips shortly after the annual Dunhill Links tournament had taken place there. "Similarly at the Grove. They didn't expect to get the top 50 in the world competing there [in the 2006 World Golf Championship]. What you strive to do as a course designer is provide something that will provide a serious test for the professionals but something that the 15-25 handicappers will be able to navigate their way round. Offering five different lengths from the various tee boxes has enabled us to do that."
With 144 bunkers scattered around the par 72 course and the obvious natural hazards it will take some negotiating by those higher handicappers but Phillips believes that they will all have fun. "When you have so many holes bordering the sea, they are bound to be holes that people will enjoy playing," he said. "Thirteen and 14 are fun because they are short holes - a par three and a par four. The 14th is potentially driveable if you move the tee forward a bit. I think it is good to have one of them in the mix."
Phillips was evasive when pushed to nominate a "signature" hole on the course. "I deal with that question with the response 'they all are'," he said. "But No 9 is a stunning hole and I reckon we have our own version of Amen Corner [the daunting stretch around the turn at Augusta National] with or last three holes. That sequence of holes will make for a fantastic finish." email@example.com