Yas Links should provide one of the most testing Abu Dhabi HSBC Championships in history, according to the DP World Tour's tournament director.
The Rolex Series event, now in its 17th year, has relocated to Yas Island from its former base at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, with world No 2 and current Race to Dubai champion Collin Morikawa, and four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, headline another strong field. The action begins Thursday.
The Kyle Phillips-designed Yas Links, recently ranked 48th in Golf Digest's Top 100 courses worldwide, has never previously hosted a DP World Tour event. Running along the Arabian Gulf, it measures 7,425 yards.
“It’s one of the best golf courses in the world,” said Miguel Viador, who has been the tour’s tournament director since its inaugural staging in 2006. “Kyle Phillips is personally one of my favourite course architects. It has everything; you get the variety: the long par-4s, short par-4s, long par-3s, short par-3s.
“It’s going to be asking everything out of the players in terms of using every club in the bag. They’re going to need to think a lot how to play each shot, especially in the afternoon wind. With the firmness and everything, it’s going to be a nice but real challenge. A tough test of golf - that’s what we’re aiming for.
Until now played on the National Course, the tournament's average winning score is 18-under par, with three-time winner Martin Kaymer setting the event record at 24-under, in 2011. Last year, Tyrrell Hatton prevailed on 18-under.
"I believe it’ll play tougher than Abu Dhabi Golf Club, which was a wonderful venue, an iconic venue," Viador said. "That’s my feeling, but this is Year 1.”
Viador said the key to this week was getting the course firm enough to bring into to play the run-off areas around the greens. He said the fairways have not been narrowed so it remains generous off the tee, and that tees will be moved throughout the week to offer a different test to the players - such as making hole 14 a reachable par-4, or on 18, to allow the closing par-5 to be reached in two shots.
“Off the back sticks the course is a monster," Viador said. "It’s very, very long. And you always get that north-westerly wind in the afternoon, especially being by the sea, being more exposed - it’s going to be more noticeable this year. We just want to see how it plays Year 1 and then we take it from there.”
Viador said the greatest challenge in getting the tournament ready was accommodating the hospitality areas and grandstands that a tournament of Abu Dhabi’s stature requires, while also being cognisant of providing optimum vantage points to spectators on site. The latter is made easier, he said, given Yas Links' natural mounds.
"This place is going to look incredible on television, absolutely stunning,” Viador said. “For the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, as promotors, it’s great to be able to showcase another golf course in the Emirates, which people at home are going to see and say, ‘Wow, I want to play there’.
"Because it’s going to look incredible with the sea and the lush, green golf course, in the sun, and you have Ferrari World and everything surrounding it. And that will do a huge amount of good for Abu Dhabi as a golfing destination. It’s just fabulous.”
Viador described the recent change of weekends in the UAE to Saturday-Sunday as a “great move for the tournament” since it should allow for larger crowds during the final round. He said he expects a bigger-than-ever attendance on Sunday given also that, for the first time in history, general admission to the tournament is free.
Asked what would make the inaugural run at Yas Links a success, Viador said: “When you have a course like this and when you have a field like this, then surely the cream is going to come to the top. I’ll be very happy if we have an event free of any issues, weather delays, etc.
"Because the rest of it is just there. The players are there - amazing players, the best in the world - and the most magnificent golf course. It’s just right there for them to take.”