Designer explains thinking behind Yas Links

ABU DHABI INVITATIONAL – KYLE PHILLIPS

Kyle Phillips graduated from Kansas State University in 1981 with a Bachelor’s in Landscape Architecture. He began his career at Robert Trent Jones II Golf Course Design in 1981 and worked as a Design Associate and then Vice President until 1997. It was in 1997 that he began his own firm, Kyle Phillips Golf Course Design.

Kyle’s 30+ years of experience include designing courses in more than 30 countries on five continents and for more than 60 clients. He believes in developing creative and unique design solutions for each individual golf course since each has its variety of environmental and planning issues. Kyle is a firm believer in using a site’s existing natural features, location, and history so that each golf course has its own distinct personality and character.

 

  1. We’re here at Yas Links Abu Dhabi, your renowned design in the Emirate. From what you set out to achieve, can you tell us how proud you are with it? 

What makes the course so intriguing is how traditional it is. Nothing like this had ever been done before in the UAE before we created Yas Links.

There are a lot of very good golf courses in the UAE, but until Yas Links, there wasn’t anything that would feature on a connoisseur’s ‘must play’ list,  I suppose that was our aim at Yas, to produce a different course that is complex and varied enough to appeal to the most passionate of golf enthusiasts.

I am incredibly proud of the final result and the comments we hear from those playing the course.

My favourite hole here is the par 5, 18th, a true crescendo as one can attempt to cut the corner and reach the green in two. This is one of the most dramatic finishing holes I have designed.

  1. What inspired you with your design?  

Unlike the American style of courses, where everything is in front of you and you can just point and shoot and make a score, links golf is more like discovering new things about the golf course every time you play.

The expectations were high when we started and it is exciting to see what we have achieved to date.

  1. Yas Links Abu Dhabi has been the host of the Abu Dhabi Invitational for a few years. Do you think Yas Links should be used more often for this type of leading golf event? 

Yas Links launched in 2010 and it is really exciting every time I visit Abu Dhabi, especially when I see the Abu Dhabi Invitational back at the course again.

The outstanding course recognition is supported by the field in the Abu Dhabi Invitational; we’ve collected some of golf’s great names there raising funds for worthwhile causes, proving just what an attraction the course, the emirate and the tournament has become. It would be great to see more events of this nature played at Yas Links.

  1. When designing a course in the UAE, are there any design factors you need to take into consideration that are unique to the area?

The land here is very different. With Yas Links for example, the site was dead flat all the way to the marina on the other side of the island and only two to three metres above sea level. It required an additional level of creativity to design all of the links landforms into a course that people who have played authentic links golf would appreciate.

The course is built along the sea, on sand and in every way designed in a links style of architecture. It just happens to be in a warm climate, thus we planted paspalum grass so that a firm, fast playing surface can be retained throughout the year. We were able to significantly enhance and expand the existing shoreline and use the dredged sand to build an interesting variety of dune formations.

  1. How do you feel about the course being ranked 46th in the world by Golf Digest?

It has always been an honour and privilege to be involved with Yas Links. After it opened in 2010 it was immediately accepted by the connoisseurs of links Golf.

Yas Links is consistently recognised as the #1 course in the UAE as well as being included in many Top 100 standings. To now be placed amongst the Golf Digest top fifty is an honour, it’s rightfully deserved for the club to move up the rankings. We had high expectations in the creation of the layout and I believe we met and exceeded them, providing the ideal long-term home for many high-profile tournaments here at Yas Links.

In addition, having world-class professionals repeatedly come to the course helps to validate what we have achieved here.

  1. Abu Dhabi has seen an insurgence of International travellers thanks to “Golf in Abu Dhabi”. How much do you feel your design has played a part in this? 

The UAE has made relentless progress as a golfing haven ever since the Majlis Course made its breakthrough in becoming the first Asian venue for a European Tour event – the Dubai Desert Classic in 1989.

Now with six clubs within a 90-minute drive, Abu Dhabi has a wealth of golf offerings – from parkland to beach and links courses – for all types of player, making it an ideal location for anyone interested in golf. The variety and close proximity is almost unbeatable.

  1. What differentiates you from other links course designers?

There are several great links course designers who can create absolutely marvellous golf courses when given a certain quality of land. They can conceptualise holes which run between the dunes and water. The thing that differentiates me is that I like to take a landform from zero and create something. I think Yas Links and Kingsbarns are perfect examples of this.

  1. In your opinion, what does it take to make a great golf course?

When I design a golf course, I want players to be challenged, not defeated. If they are in trouble, they might not pull off a shot, but they know they can play that shot. There will be the uneven lies and awkward shots, but they also know there are several options available to them. Links courses make you think before you hit a shot.

  1. Does your approach to golf course architecture vary depending on the market in which you are working?

I like to design courses that feel as though they belong in their particular landscape. I think it is always important for me to develop a clear vision of the style of architecture with the full understanding and support of my clients in the early stages of the design. I want the owners of my courses to fully understand and embrace each design.

 

  1. You seem to thrive on the artistic elements of golf course architecture. You truly enjoy sculpting a golf hole, don’t you?

Yes, I really enjoy working with the land both at a macro and micro level. Where natural golf landforms exist I strive to utilise them in my design, but where they do not exist I strive to create new landforms that appear to be natural to each particular landscape. From there I spend a considerable amount of time working out the details. I also like replicating different types of landforms.

  1. With the developments to golf technology and tour players hitting it an obscene distance, how do you go about creating a course to be protected for years to come? 

Can a 6,500-yard golf course still hold its own? I think there are a few shorter courses, such as Cypress Point that are so well designed that they continue to present a challenge for the professionals. But clearly the ideal length of a golf course today is 10-12 percent longer than the ideal length as described by architects 75 years ago. If something is not done to control the equipment, then we will indeed see ideal course lengths approaching 8,000 yards by 2080

  1. Your work is laced with old-style architecture. What draws you to that?

It stems from years of playing and designing in Europe. I find that there is a symbiotic relationship of design elements that exists in the old traditional golf courses of Europe that have been lost in contemporary architecture. My goal is to design new courses with the functionality for the modern game, but at the same time providing the synergy of the classic courses. Simply, I am trying to design new courses that feel old.

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