Craig Vance was the big winner at Golf Digest Middle East’s Play & Stay on Yas Island. Ahmed Abdelwahab / Motivate Media Group

Iconic courses, great company and a memorable weekend experience — the second Golf Digest Middle East Play & Stay had it all on Yas Island last Friday and Saturday. Golfers from all over the UAE, from Ras Al Khaimah to Dubai and Al Ain, gathered in the nation’s capital for a sensational tournament over 27 holes at Yas Acres Golf and Country Club and Yas Links Abu Dhabi — we even had a birthday party!

From their arrival at Crowne Plaza Abu Dhabi – Yas Island on Friday afternoon, the multinational mix of contenders were treated to a slice of luxury, many with partners and family along for the ride.

Once everyone was checked in, we were off to the newest arrival on the UAE Golf scene, Yas Acres. With the vast majority of the mixed-ability competitors having never played the nine-hole course, it helped level the playing field.

“The fairways are a bit different to what we are used to down at Tower Links and a bit tighter and scarier,” said first-timer Richard Abson-Bennett as he closed out his round. “But it is beautiful out here. It is stunning and a really impressive venue.”

Fellow Acres rookie Adam Griffiths also hailed the course and set-up. “Really enjoyable, it is a really nice course and it suits the needs of all levels,” he said. “Can be quite forgiving and also rewards good shots. We have been well looked after and this has been well put together.”

With nine-holes under their belts, it was back to Crowne Plaza to be wined and dined at an evening brunch at Stills Restaurant & Bar, allowing the guests — with families who enjoyed the facilities at Crowne Plaza including kids, wives and one very-soon-mum-to-be joining the fun — to chill and get to know one another ahead of Saturday’s etch-in-the-memory afternoon. The following morning we were off to the iconic Yas Links — home of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship — a course that would test golfers of all abilities.

And so it proved with some playing the best round of their lives (see: one of the husband-and-wife duo Dennis and Karen, but we won’t say which), while others were struggling with the demands of the true links-style course.

“The courses have been amazing and how it has all been put together was amazing,” said birthday boy James Dean at Yas Links’ famous 17th hole. “We had a great time with a great bunch of lads last night and we are looking forward to the next one.”

Playing partner James Finnigan added: “It was two tremendous venues. Acres — which most of us were playing for the first time — was superb and here [Yas Links] is just sensational. A delight to be here.”

Dan Coad was quite succinct as he said: “Thanks to Golf Digest for organising. This must be an annual event from now.”

Thankfully, everyone was still friends and ready to relax at Hickory’s in the Yas Links clubhouse for the prize-giving ceremony.

Overall winner Craig Vance was relishing his 2024 Dubai Desert Classic pro-am spot, and even earmarked his dream playing partners.

“It was my first experience at Acres and it is a great golf course. I will be back to play it again. It is challenging enough for all. The overall experience was tremendous and even the wife is happy so everyone is happy.”

After claiming top prize of a spot in the 2024 Dubai Desert Classic Pro-Am as gross stableford winner on 53 points, Vance admitted there was still room for improvement “I am very glad to win, he said. “It was a top day on Yas Links and a top weekend overall. My score should have been better as I hit two sprinkler heads on the greens but it was a brilliant weekend and can’t wait to play the Pro-Am. My dream partner would be Rory McIlroy or Jon Rahm, but regardless I am thrilled to be here and to be there.”

Winners list and prizes

Day 1
Nearest the pin: Dan Coad (two-ball at Yas Acres)
Longest drive: Dan Nicholson (two-ball at Yas Acres)
Day 2
Nearest the pin: Colin Davies (two-ball at Yas Links)
Longest drive: Dan Nicolson (two-ball at Yas Links)
Division B (HCP 15-28): Colin Davies (VIP Saturday hospitality for two at 2024 Dubai Desert Classic)
Division A (HCP 0-14): James Finnigan (VIP Sunday hospitality for two at 2024 Dubai Desert Classic)
Gross winner: Craig Vance — 53 points (spot in the 2024 Dubai Desert Classic Pro-Am

Golf Digest Middle East would like to thank Crowne Plaza Abu Dhabi – Yas Island, Yas Acres Golf & Country Club, Yas Links Abu Dhabi and Viya Golf for their partnership to make the weekend a success.