By Will Pearson, europeantour.com
in Abu Dhabi
Ahead of the first event in this year’s ‘Desert Swing’, the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, europeantour.com goes inside the ever-present host venue Abu Dhabi Golf Club with the help of three-time champion and all-round Gulf expert Martin Kaymer.
The former World Number One triumphed here in 2008, 2010 and 2011 and starting the year in the shadow of the famous falcon clubhouse – and often with a bang – has become the norm for the German.
Spread over 162 hectares of land, an oasis of verdant green carved out of the Abu Dhabi desert, the course is gently undulating and features many indigenous plants and shrubs plus seven saltwater lakes.
Designed by Peter Harradine, who also sculpted Doha Golf Club, home to next week’s Commercialbank Qatar Masters, the course opened in 2000 and will this week play at 7,583 yards and to a par of 72.
“This week it is all about hitting fairways,” said Kaymer, who as well as his past success in Abu Dhabi has also claimed top ten finishes at the Commercialbank Qatar Masters the last two seasons plus three previous finishes inside the top four at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic – making him well qualified to discuss the unique challenges that desert golf presents.
“It’s not so much about hitting it really long because once you are in the rough you won’t get to the green really. These are the most difficult conditions I have seen here.
“The winning scores in previous years have been very low but I think if you have a successful score of around 11 or 12 under par then I believe that is a good test of golf for this level.”
“The greens are somewhat different than in previous years because I think it has rained a little bit more in the build-up so they are not quite as quick. But, because of that, there is a little bit more grain this year. There are not too many ridges on the greens and so not many times where you have to be very conscious of where you are placing the ball. They are fairly straightforward and especially with them playing a little softer this year – because of the rain – you can be a bit more aggressive. But apart from that I’m not going to tell you my secrets for how to putt on these greens!”
“The biggest change this year is the rough. It's not only higher but they now grow the rough from the green back towards the tee so that if you miss the fairway you are always hitting into the grain. If you are in the deep rough you can’t get really far. Today, I missed a few fairways and I could only chip out around 50 or 60 yards. So you get really penalised for not hitting good tee shots.”
The Key Holes
The Fifth – 468-yard par four
“Quite a difficult hole normally because it usually plays into the wind. If you don’t hit the fairway here you won’t be able to make the green. And if you don’t make the green then it’s sometimes hard to make the up and down so it’s a very easy hole to make bogey or worse on.”
The 14th – 490-yard par four
“Another long par four which doglegs around to the left. I have seen a lot of players take driver here but even if you find the middle of the fairway you can easily bounce right into the fairway bunker and be left with a four iron into the green. A very tough hole.”
The 18th – 562-yard par five
“A lot can happen on this hole. When Paul Casey won here the second time he was three shots ahead coming down the 18th. I was able to make my eagle putt and he, unfortunately for me, still managed to get a ten or 12 foot birdie putt but there is still trouble out there so it makes for a very interesting close to the round and tournament.”
How it played last time out
As Kaymer attests, things have gotten a little trickier around Abu Dhabi Golf Club in the last two years. When the German won his three titles here – in 2008, 2010 and 2011 – he triumphed with aggregate totals of 15, 21 and 24 under par respectively, but things haven’t been quite as straightforward for the last two winners Jamie Donaldson and Robert Rock, who both prevailed at 13 under par.
One thing immediately clear when examining the hole averages from the 2013 edition of the Desert Swing’s opening segment is the rarity of eagles at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. Only five were made in the entirety of the tournament 12 months ago, four of which came on the 600-yard par five second, and the other at the long tenth.
Interestingly, Kaymer chose both the most and least scoreable holes – statistically – in 2013. The long par four 14th ranked most difficult at an average of 4.2, yielding just 36 birdies all week while claiming 96 bogeys and 11 double bogeys or worse.
Conversely, the par five 18th might not have been conquered eagle-wise in 2013 but it did give away 117 birdies at an average of 4.77.