Since Chris DiMarco won the first Abu Dhabi Golf Championship in 1996, the tournament has grown steadily in size – now eight of the world’s top 20 are here, as is the lion share of the world’s golfing press. The growth of the event seems to mirror the increasing viability of Abu Dhabi as a destination that will attract serious golfers from around the globe.
Opposite my hotel room on Yas Island lies a new Kyle Phillips design course. Due to open later this year, Yas Island links sits adjacent to Abu Dhabi’s billion dollar Formula 1 track. Even from my distant and lofty position I can see the signature mounding and whispey brown rough that are so prominent at Phillips’ Kingsbarns layout. I’m informed that they have similar high hopes for this place.
Fifteen minutes drive from Yas Island is the Gary Player-designed Saadiyat Beach. It was here on Tuesday, standing on the 5th tee where Ryder Cupper Soren Hansen explained to me the keys behind his free-flowing swing. As he hit a series of shots into the 236-yard par 3 that plays across the sort of white sand beach you’d expect to see on a Sandals holiday, it was clear to see that this place has the potential to be a European Tour venue of the future. We’ll see.
With Robert Trent Jones also designing a course nearby, Abu Dhabi appears to be preparing itself in style for the world’s travelling golfers. And with Dubai just an hour’s drive away, it is perhaps more apparent than ever why the Middle East is so crucial to the health of the European Tour.