You are perhaps the most critically-acclaimed modern-day course designer. After creating such gems like the Kingsbarns, Dundonald and The Grove, where does Yas Link stand in comparison?
A golf course designer is no different than a chef, or a painter. Once the chef puts out his food on the table and the artiste hangs it on the wall, his opinion about it no longer counts.
It’s the same way with us. Once the course is designed, it is up to the players. It is always great fun to listen to different reactions about your creations. Two players in the same fourball can have completely opposite views of any given hole. Then again, you can have guys hating a course the first time they play it, and then fall in life-long love with them after playing a couple of rounds. Actually, those holes which draw the maximum reaction are the ones which are most memorable.
How did you end up finding a piece of Scotland in the desert landscape of the UAE?
I wish it was that simple! Three meters up from the water, it was dead flat all the way to the marina on the other side. It was great fun to come and create all this landforms and make something that people who have played links golf will appreciate. I think they will actually find it hard to believe that something like this exists over here.
What were the challenges of building Yas Links?
The good part about the site was that we had sand, and links courses are built on sand. The biggest challenge was, as I said earlier, we had a very flat land and all the landform had to created on which the holes could be laid out. The second big challenge was to define the shoreline, and then use the material as raw material for all the dunes that we needed to create.
Another challenge for us was to zero in on the grass we were using. The Paspalum suited us well. It can withstand the kind of heat you can get it Abu Dhabi, and since we used it on both the fairways and greens, it kind of gave a uniform colour to the golf course like a links course, and not defined fairways and greens as the American courses have because of use of separate grass. We also had to spend some time to decide on the native grass used in the rough area.
I know you’d hate answering this one, but which is your favourite hole at Yas Links and why?
Gosh…that’s a real tough one. If you really have to push me, I will have to settle for either the par-5 18th, which is a fantastic finishing hole with a double carry over water. Coming down the final round of a championship, you can play aggressively and either make a three there, or a seven if you make the slightest of errors. It’s a hole which can accentuate the drama.
I also like the short par-3 13th. It’s just 150 odd yards from the back tee, but you need to absolutely accurate off the tee. If you miss the green, you will be in trouble as the shoreline protects the front, back and right sides and there are bunkers down the left.
Given that most golf courses in the UAE are designed by player-cum-architects, were you surprised that Aldar actually decided to ask you to design Yas Links?
I guess what Aldar were looking for when they approached me was to do something different, something fresh, something that was a complete novelty in the region.
I firmly believe that golf at the highest level is really about the product – the golf course – and not its architect. One thing that I have told all my clients is that if the best thing you can say about your golf course is who designed it, then you have probably under-achieved.