'Bigger and better' Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship to provide 'wonderful test' at Yas Links

DP World Tour event, now in 18th year, takes place this week on Yas Island for second successive year

Yas Links Golf Course will host the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for a second year in 2023. Getty Images
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Organisers of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship are expecting a “bigger and better” tournament this week to its inaugural run at Yas Links.

The event, now in its 18th year, takes place on Yas Island for the second successive edition having moved 12 months ago from its traditional home at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Beginning on Thursday, Belgian Thomas Pieters returns to defend the title he won last year by a solitary stroke.

The tournament, one of the five elevated Rolex Series events on the DP World Tour, will boast improvements to both the course and the surrounding infrastructure, with this week’s purse increased by $1 million from last year to $9m.

“We’re really excited for this week,” Tom Phillips, head of Middle East for the DP World Tour, told The National. “It’s an event with so much history. It’s one of our standout popular events, not just on our schedule here in the UAE, but on our global schedule.

“When you move to a new venue, you’re always taking learnings, on the golf course but off the course as well. There’s lots of areas where we’ve made small changes or improvements; we’re always looking to make things bigger and better. So, excited to be back for a second time at Yas Links.”

Phillips said improvements include an upgrade to the “already spectacular championship village" – it will showcase a different theme each tournament day – and changes to the flow of how spectators move around the course to offer a better viewing experience.

Sustainability is of particular focus, too – a beach clean will take place on Wednesday, in partnership with Miral, while reusable water bottles will be provided to help eradicate plastic – with the tournament reducing its carbon footprint to offset its unavoidable emissions.

Meanwhile, for the second successive year, general admission to the event is free.

“This is about not just promoting the tournament and promoting Abu Dhabi, it’s about promoting the game of golf,” Phillips said. “We want to make golf in Abu Dhabi and in the UAE accessible to everyone. So, making it free general access was a big part of that; we now do that back-to-back across both Rolex Series events, here and in Dubai [next week’s Hero Dubai Desert Classic].

“That’s important. We’re looking forward to welcoming even more people along, maybe some who haven’t watched a golf tournament before, who are interested to come along and watch the golf but also enjoy all the extra activations we’ve got outside the ropes. And that’s all part of growing the game here in Abu Dhabi and the UAE.”

Phillips said the tournament is broadcast to more than 600 million households around the world in approximately 125 countries.

“One of the big things that Yas Links offers is the way it promotes Yas Island and Abu Dhabi as a destination to a global audience,” he said.

“You can imagine all these people around the world watching the best players in the world, and the course itself is one of the very best in the world, but there’s also the backdrop, the views you have.

“Ultimately that’s what we want to do: promote Abu Dhabi as a world-class destination to the world. And there’s no better way than doing it with Yas Links as your backdrop.”

Miguel Vidaor, tournament director since the event’s inception in 2006, said the Kyle Phillips-designed course is in even better shape than its debut run.

“Last year, Corey Finn, the superintendent who’s been here a number of years, only had about five months since the tournament was announced quite late in the year, and he delivered world-class playing surfaces." he said.

“But what he has achieved this year is simply out of this world. And I’m not exaggerating; I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and this has to be perhaps the best-conditioned golf course I’ve ever seen.

“It’s just absolutely pristine. Fairways, tees, approaches: they’re tight, they’re running fast, they’re firm. Which is what we want.”

Last year, some players were less than enamoured with the course set-up. Tyrrell Hatton, the defending champion who captured the Falcon Trophy the final year at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, made public his dislike of the 664-yard, par-5 18th. Hatton double-bogeyed the closing hole in Round 2 and posted a nine there the following day. Eventually, he concluded the tournament on 7-under par, three shots behind Pieters.

Asked about player feedback from last year, Vidaor said: “We played 16 years at Abu Dhabi Golf Club; it’s an iconic venue and change is difficult. Obviously, there were some comments last year about the course. A professional golfer is an individual person; everybody has their own opinion.

“But I believe the more we play Yas Links, the more the guys are going to get used to it and the more they’re going to enjoy it. Because what Kyle Phillips has produced here is just an outstanding venue.

“You get tested in all parts of your game: there’s a wonderful variety of long par-4s, short par-4s, long par-3s, short par-3s, long-5s, short-5s. it’s just perfect. It’s such a good design. And with the firm and fast surfaces, it’s going to be super again.”

Last year’s second round was impacted significantly by 30mph winds that threatened the day’s play, with only nine of the 131 players in the field breaking par 72. This week, winds are expected to reach around 18mph between Thursday and Sunday.

“I’m sure a golf course like this is going to deliver a great winner, no matter who that is,” Vidaor said. “Because they’re going to have to play some great golf to beat this very, very strong field in these conditions. It’s going to be a super tournament. Everything is set to be a wonderful week.”

Thomas Pieters wins 2022 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Updated: January 17, 2023, 11:43 AM