Yas Island – the location of a multi-billion dollar project by Aldar, Abu Dhabi’s foremost property, investment and management company – occupies an area of around 6,000 acres in the Arabian Gulf and it’s the site of a number of world class attractions that include a Formula 1 Grand Prix racing track, the Ferrari World theme park and, of course, the Yas Links golf course, which opened in 2010.
The golf facility extends to an 18-hole layout, a 9-hole academy course and floodlit practice area. It’s the first project that architect Kyle Phillips has worked on in the Middle East and he was involved right from the outset when it was decided to shape nearly two miles of coastline (during the construction phase of an access route to the marina) and use almost 2 million cubic metres of dredged sand to cap the golf course.
Extending to 7,450 yards with five tee positions at every hole, Yas Links was over three years in construction and it lies across the highway from the Yas Marina car racing circuit with eight of the holes – including three of the four short holes on the card at 8, 13 and 17 – located right against the coastline.
Many think the “Cape” hole at the 9th is the best of the par fours because the tee shot has to carry water on the right and the more length that’s gained from the tee, the shorter the approach is to a green that falls away at the back.The 18th is a fine finishing hole where the shoreline snakes along the left hand side of the fairway, threatening shots all the way from tee to green. The safest option is to play away from the water, avoiding first a central fairway bunker off the tee then a long waste bunker down the left side of the narrow green.
Yas Links is another wonderful addition to Kyle Philip’s global portfolio. The shaping team did a magnificent job taking a flat desert in Abu Dhabi (UAE) and created wonderful undulation, hollows, humps and bumps.
After a gentle opener, the course grows some teeth with enjoyable changes in direction and a commendable variety in how the holes are configured. I felt that the course really stepped up a few notches from the par 5 7th hole onward. A large mound dominates the landscape down the 7th fairway setting up a blind second shot into a par 5. Once again, Kyle entices to hit a heroic shot on a reachable par 5. The par 3 8th hole brings you to the sparkling body of water surrounding much of the Yas Links course, and presents a wonderfully shaped green with many dangerous pin positions near the water’s edge. The water runs all the way up the par 4 9th which has superbly positioned fairway bunkers. It’s a very tough hole to close out the opening loop.
Much of the praise for Yas Links comes from the strength of the holes on the back nine, especially playing along and over the crystal blue body of water that is an integral part of the course. The shaping is highly commendable from fairway to green-apron and the course asks a lot of you to hit heroic carries over water. Stand out shot includes the tee shot on the par 3 17th over water into a very well protected green followed the 18th hole which I would describe as a ‘double cape hole’. For those courageous enough, both the drive and the second shot on this massive par 5 are over huge bodies of water. Standing on the 18th tee will give you shivers (if such a thing is possible in 42 C degrees of heat) looking out at where you’re supposed to hit the ball.
The closing five holes at Yas Links are an absolute monster challenge and it’s no surprise at all that both professionals and amateurs rank this as #1 in the Middle East by a country mile. Kyle provided very intelligent teeing ground options to ensure the course is playable and the forced carries are in line with player’s abilities. Given that you’re in the desert, the architect also made a commendable effort to make this feel like a links course with careful discrete placement of buggy paths, well thought out tee box presentation close to the previous greens and wonderful positioned pot bunkers integrated with superbly shaped mounds/bluffs.
There is a lot of construction going on all around the golf course which in places can be unattractive, but such is life in this part of the world where hundreds of cranes are part of the ever growing skyline. There is so much to love about this golf course and the way that Kyle Philips created a crescendo of challenge and excitement throughout this incredible piece of land.
I and my wife played here twice during our week break in Abu Dhabi, without any question this course is spectacular. The 1st days play we had the Shamal wind was blowing strongly which meant 16, 17 & 18 were playing right into the wind - Wow what a set of closing holes; really world class. We really did not expect the course to be so good, we're from Scotland and have played Kingsbarns and members at Carnoustie - this course stand tall with these and the other great links courses - and better than many!
The 2nd day we played the wind had dropped and softened the course, but this did not detract from the course.
Would we return? Yes absolutely; 100%. Our thanks go out to the green keeping staff who have managed to keep the course in top condition.