Yas Links course is teeing up for a successful drive

From scrubland to being among top 100 courses in the world, the Abu Dhabi venue is shaping up for more distinctions in just over an year of its existence.
The Yas Links course was rated highly on parameters such as the condition of greens and fairways, challenge levels to players and facilities, and is a result of gallons of water being fed on the piece of wasteland every day.
The Yas Links course was rated highly on parameters such as the condition of greens and fairways, challenge levels to players and facilities, and is a result of gallons of water being fed on the piece of wasteland every day.

Golf fans love statistics, and it is difficult to know which of the following is more remarkable.

That Abu Dhabi's Yas Links, just past its first birthday, has been voted into the world's top 100 courses by Golf World magazine, or that it takes one and a half million gallons of water a day during the summer months to maintain it.

"Water is the main issue here, the crux of the matter if you like," said Mike Clarke, the head greenkeeper at Yas Links and a man who has been building golf courses for more than 20 years.

"We use 12 to 15 gallons a square foot in the summer. I have a staff of 33 [and] we're kept pretty busy."

When you build an 18-hole links course in the middle of scrubland in a desert country that only knows scorching heat during much of the year, you know it is going to take more than a few guys, some forklifts and a lawnmower.

Especially when you are building a course with the intent of making it one of the top golf destinations in the world.

The Pine Valley Golf Club in New Jersey tops the Golf World list, which also includes classics such as St Andrews, Augusta National and Pebble Beach. Most every course on the list has been around considerably longer than Yas, which only opened all 18 holes last July.

Yas Links was rated No 95 by a panel of players and journalists.

"It is an amazing achievement. It's breathtaking, as a matter of fact. We have only been open for a year, so to be voted into the top 100 is something I don't think any of us expected," Tom Rourke, the golf operations manager, said. "It shows what a great job Kyle Philips [the designer] has done with the golf course. It's an incredible layout."

Chris Jones, the editor of Golf World, said some voters on the panel were surprised by the quality of the course. "It is a truly exceptional course and a very worthy new entry to our rankings," he said.

Courses were judged on the condition of greens and fairways, the challenge to players at all levels, and how it looks. The club's staff and facilities, such as the club house, putting green and driving range, were also considered.

Rourke expects the course to get better. "All new courses take time to settle. The heavy traffic takes a lot out of the greens and fairways and there are always things to tweak.

"So it's going to get better. We are 95th best in the world right now and, you would hope, we can only go in one direction from here."

Clarke has worked in Switzerland, France, Karachi and in the Middle East, but he never thought a links course would emerge in the desert.

"We're used to the idea now, but if you stop and think for a moment, it was pretty brave decision," he said. "We had some trials and tribulations during construction, and there were times I did wonder where was this going. So it's been amazing and a real privilege to watch how this place has evolved."

When Yas Links was built, the aim was to construct the first genuine links course in the Middle East, using the wasteland that was already there and some 1.8 million cubic metres of dredged material on which many of the 18 holes were built.

"I started on the project in May 2008 after being at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club but work didn't really begin until late in that year," said Clarke, a New Zealander who has worked in the region since 1991.

"The silt from the water was used for dredge material and I don't think there is another course in the world where the coastline is shaped to go in line with the golf course, it is usually the other way around."

The first nine holes opened in March 2010, and the full 18 were available that July. "It's been pretty quick," Green said.

"The challenge for Kyle and all of us involved was to get this to play like a links course, and not just to look like one. The way we have cut around the greens gives the player a chance to experience proper links golf by playing proper links shots.

"When you get into some of these holes, you could be anywhere in the world - as long as you ignore Ferrari World in the background. There is a very links look and feel to it."

Now that Yas Links has won its way into the top 100 list, Rourke is aware that with that sort of distinction comes responsibility. Any player, be it a professional or a hacker, expects the best from one of the world's premier courses.

"The course has improved so much in just a year," he said.

"I remember when I first played it and it was quite soft, but now it's firmed up, there are fast fairways, bumps and runs," he said.

"Anywhere else in the region, when a player misses a green they immediately look for a lob wedge. But here, you could go for a seven-iron, nine-iron, even a putter, so you've got a lot of options, a lot of variation, which is what playing a traditional British links course is all about."

On January 17 this year, Yas Links hosted an invitational tournament that included some of the world's best players, and they liked what they saw. "Yas Links is a must play," tweeted Lee Westwood immediately after his first round.

High praise from a man who once said that St Andrews was not even in the top 100 courses in Scotland.

Graeme McDowell, then the reigning US Open champion, said the Yas course was "fantastic" and Retief Goosen, who shot a 64 on his first visit to the course, never misses an opportunity to talk up the place.

"We have a lot of former footballers who come here," Rourke said. "Dwight Yorke [the ex-Manchester United striker] told us that if he was ever doing any work in Dubai, he would always jump in a taxi to make sure he got to play here."

So where can the venue go from here? Clarke hopes to lure big-time golf to Yas Island.

"I reckon they should be pushing to hold a President's Cup [ the biennial competitions between USA and a Rest of the World team less Europe] over the next five, six or seven years," he said.

"I think, with the way we are building up and improving things here, we could hold the Abu Dhabi Championship here within the next three years. We have enough space for grandstands and a tented village.

"You would need a bit of time to gear up for it, but we could do that."

ncameron@thenational.ae


Follow The National Sport on @SprtNationalUAE & Neil Cameron on @NeilCameron5


Published: August 24, 2011 04:00 AM

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