ABU DHABI // Rory McIlroy, dressed entirely in black, paid his sartorial respects to golf legend Gary Player at the Saadiyat Beach Classic yesterday, but it was his deferential assessment of the nine-time major winner's newest course that will please organisers of the Abu Dhabi Championship. Saadiyat Beach Golf Club, which opened its door to the public for the first time yesterday, is being tipped as a future venue for the UAE capital's annual European Tour event.
The tournament - won last week by the German, Martin Kaymer - has been played for the past five years on Abu Dhabi Golf Club's National Course. Player, who has designed more than 300 courses worldwide, said at the launch of Saadiyat that the Championship-standard layout is "one of my best" and McIlroy, whose four-ball clinched the inaugural Beach Classic title, is adamant the 7,800-yard course exceeds the criteria required.
"It's brilliant," said the 20-year-old Northern Irishman. "It still needs a bit of time to bed in and mature, but the layout is great. Obviously there is talk of the Abu Dhabi Championship coming here in a couple of years and it is definitely good enough to hold an event like that. "I mean, we didn't even play off the back tees and it was still really, really tough - especially if you get a wind."
With the crystal clear cobalt waters of the Arabian Gulf prominently positioned throughout the par-72, organisers are already hoping Saadiyat can become one of the most photographed courses in the world. McIlroy says he can understand why. "There are some really beautiful holes out there: five, six, 16 and, my favourite, 17," said the reigning Dubai Desert Classic winner. "It's like Kingsbarns Links [near St Andrews, Scotland] because it's at the sea, but at the same time you can tell it is man made.
"It's not quite a links course, but it's trying to be - which is a good thing. It's a little like a new style links course back home; the ball runs quite a lot and the greens are very undulating," McIlroy's compatriot Darren Clarke also competed in yesterday's charity fundraising Pro-Am and was equally impressed with Player's design. "It's challenging," he said. "You have to think, you have to work the ball in a bit. It's really very good.
"Compared to other links courses, it's slightly different grass, but obviously that is something Gary is trying to recreate and I think the course is absolutely brilliant. I think it would be brilliant for the Abu Dhabi Championship to come here." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org