x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

How the home of golf inspired Yas

Kyle Phillips caught the links bug on his first visit to St Andrews in Scotland, the "home of golf".

Phillips was given the chance to go on a guided tour of the hallowed terrain of St Andrews.
Phillips was given the chance to go on a guided tour of the hallowed terrain of St Andrews.

ABU DHABI // Kyle Phillips caught the links bug on his first visit to St Andrews in Scotland, the "home of golf". "When people make the pilgrimage to the proper links courses in the British Isles they are awestruck," said the American who has nearly 30 years of experience in the field of golf course design. "And so was I. I thought I would never get back to the States because I loved it so much. "

Phillips was given the chance by Michael Bonallack, the leading amateur player who went on to become secretary and captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, the official administrators of the sport, to go on a guided tour of the hallowed terrain. "I was bowled over by the place and all its history," he said. "I hit three tee shots out of bounds on the first and the guys were just about to escort me off the course when my playing partner told them that I could actually play this game.

"It was just a question of getting used to the hire clubs. They had moving parts on the heads so I had an excuse but the sheer nerves of having to hit a ball in front of the R&A clubhouse got to me. "It was a case of really understanding that there was a lot more to golf than what we see in America." The experience was the inspiration for Phillips to design the highly-regarded Kingsbarns course adjoining St Andrews and others in more than 20 countries around the world, culminating with the superb Yas Island links course in Abu Dhabi.

"I would think Kingsbarns was my defining moment as a golfing architect and it has made me better equipped to do what I have done here," he said. "The opportunity came immediately after I launched my own design company. I had not done any links courses at that stage. It was a fantastic start for me. It's hard to believe that 12 years have passed by since I started that project." Phillips said the Kingsbarns experience and others like it left him at ease when the Yas plan was put to him. "At first, all the land was relatively undefined," he said.

"There was a nice mangrove area so we kept that and then started defining the coastline. If you didn't know the whole story you would say: 'Wow, where did you find this type of ground.' There has been a nice integration in terms of what you see. "The people at Aldar said they would like to do a links course. I responded: 'OK, you have water and sand so now I have to stylistically make it look like a links course.' You try to harness what things you have at your disposal to create something that looks and feels natural.

"At a lot of the sites we get today we can build courses in links style at venues that are not really by the sea. I really think that something that has plain characteristics like this one has a genuine right to call itself a links course." wjohnson@thenational.ae