A Fleeting Glance – How the island hole came to JC…be. Part 2.

Part Two: Creation

I love the sound of chainsaws in the morning.

Especially when the trees being felled were those concealing a view of the island upon which the 17th green at JCB Golf & Country Club was to be built.

It had taken two years to get to this point, but by November 2014, we were well underway with the clearing and bulk shaping and had reached the 17th hole. Within the space of a few hours, the narrow tree belt through which I had first glimpsed the waters of South Lake was gone and we could, for the first time, stand at the top of the hill and behold the full panorama. What we saw confirmed our initial findings. It was going to be a spectacular outlook, but we had a lot of grading work to do to create the perfect view.

Above: November 12 2014: From the future back tee we could see the central part of the island, but very little of the lake in front.

Above: November 12, 2014: From the lower tee site a clear view of the entire island was possible. The remaining trees between the tee and the island would soon be felled.

Work continued through the winter months to clear away the undergrowth from the hillside and the island. This brought to prominence the fine specimen trees retained to frame the new green. They had been swamped by towering laurel bushes, but now stood clear and proud, especially a lovely oak and a shapely, pyramidal Dawn Redwood.

Above: March 10 2015: The big willow tree in the middle of the island is down and looking to the north along the thin axis we can now see the lovely outline of the oak which will become a feature tree to the left of the green. Notice how the green centre staking pole is at the back edge of the island, indicating there would be plenty of filling into the lake behind it. The line of play is from the left to right.

With the undergrowth cleared, the opportunity came to try a first golf shot. It was a thrill to finally hit the shot I’d first imagined more than 2 years previously. I succeeded in putting one on the island, but never saw the ball again, as there was still no way of getting over there!

Above: June 25 2016: First shot to the island.

We lowered the water level in South Lake and built a wide stone causeway to get machinery to the work site. The lake was still full of fish, so we could only take the water down so far. With the undergrowth removed and topsoil stored, we began the process of building the island extension. Truck after truck of hard, angular aggregate was laid in thin layers, before being compacted. This process continued until a stable base layer was achieved, upon which the subsoil shaping could proceed, without fear of settlement.

Above: August 12 2015: Unloading aggregate into the lake for the island extension. Marker posts in the lake demarked the extent of the fill.

Above: September 4 2015: Showing the access causeway and subsoil shaping on top of the rocky island extension. The much-lowered water level is very evident.

The benefit of detailed design preparation meant we were very confident the earth shaping design would create the perfect view we required. It was with a sense of great anticipation that the machines moved in to start re-contouring the hillside for the tees. Our design plans had been converted to three dimensional GPS files, which were loaded into the onboard computers on both the dozers and JCB excavators. The in cab visual display showed the operator the current ground level alongside the required design level and they pushed, dug and filled until the basic design sprang magically from the ground.

Above: September 4 2015: Early in the process of shaping the 17th tees.

Whilst the bulk shaping was done with the guidance of GPS, the artistic final shaping was led by our vastly experienced Canadian dozer shaper, Bob Harrington, along with JCB excavator shapers, Mark (Stan) Awbery and Mik Wells. These guys took the basic subsoil shape and gave it character. As we neared the end of 2015 and prepared to bed the project down for the winter break, we could observe the subsoil skeleton of the hole, with everything in place to have it grassed the following year.

Above: October 20 2015: Bob and Stan have put in the fine subsoil shaping on the greens and Mik has fine tuned the tees, ready for the drainage and irrigation. That is Course Manager Euan Grant in the orange and shaper Stan Awbery in the yellow far below on the island. The red stakes below the tees denote the line of the main power cable supplying the JCB factory. This curtailed our plans for the forward tee.

Above: January 28 2016: Deep midwinter and South Lake is full to the brim. The island is cut off until the springtime. I thought it looked alarmingly small as I took this photograph, but this is how I had hoped we could keep it, without an umbilical connection to the mainland. It would never look like this again. The fisherman couldn’t care less…

With its position in the shop window, close to the main road to the factory, the project team decided to accelerate the final preparations for the 17th and get it grassed first. By early August 2016, all of the materials were in place, the irrigation was primed and the Riptide Creeping Bent grass sown. Within a few days in the summer heat, the first tinges of green started to show and we could see the contrasting colours and tones emerge which would define the island.

Above: August 15 2016: The grass seed just starting to pop.

Now we had to commit to a permanent means of accessing the island. We’d all got used to the causeway, so I suggested raising its level to a metre above the maximum water level and leave a bridged gap to allow the water to circulate. I found a photo of the lovely Island Line Trail in Vermont and proposed we did the same, growing trees and shrubs along the banks.

Above: The Island Line Trail in Vermont. We considerd building a scaled down version of this.

Euan and Steve Dewhirst then came up with the clever idea of using pre-cast concrete box culverts, lined up on the levelled foundation of the submerged causeway, to form a multi-spanned rectangular bridge. It would require no more filling material and could be bolted together in a matter of days. Initially, I was a bit reticent, as it seemed a utilitarian solution, but came around once I’d seen the mock up set out on the shore. The bridge went in during the winter months and was clad with timber, giving it an oriental character. It looked very smart.

Above: February 24 2017: The new bridge created a permanent link to the island. The roof of JCB Headquarters is just visible in the background.

Above: March 3 2017: Euan’s drone shot of the completed hole highlights the width of the lake and the 70-metre long bridge.

The bridge was the last piece of the jigsaw. The 17th was finished. Well, nearly… One final flourish was the design of the drop zone tee, which we decided to make out of Huxley All-Weather Artifical Turf, so that everybody facing the pitch onto the green would have a perfect lie. We expected it to be well used!

Above: July 27 2017: The all-weather drop zone tee down by the lake shore. Just over 110-yards from here, but a tricky approach angle over the bunker.

It doesn’t matter how green or manicured a new course looks; it is only complete once you put in the flagsticks. During the summer of 2017, we were excited to stand up on the high tees and look down upon the island, with a flag fluttering in the breeze. The task was over. The island hole was born and ready for play. It was a very proud moment.

Above: July 27 2017: Looking down upon the green with the hole cut for the first time. Now it’s a golf hole!

I knew 17 would be a controversial golf hole. You don’t build a green in the middle of a lake without expecting some kickback from those who proclaim that forced water carries are beyond the capabilities of novice golfers. It’s true. You need to have a reasonable level of competency to attempt the hole. To have made it playable for all would have been impossible without destroying the essence of what makes it unique. It was the right hole to build for the project and for the client. It’s a tremendously fun hole to play, even if you come second in the contest and the potential commercial value of the hole to JCB is immense.

Like its numerical cousin at TPC Sawgrass, the 17th is this mighty challenge that has to be overcome before the round is complete. You know its coming, but aren’t even afforded a glimpse until it explodes into view as you step onto the tee. The anticipation rollercoaster has been slowly ratchetting to the top of the incline and now you experience the visceral plunge of the big, fast drop.

Happily, guests are playing the 17th with the same spirit of fun and adventure with which it was created. They’ll often chuck a ball down on the 255-yard back tee and see if they can possibly pull off the shot of a lifetime, before heading down to their tee of the day to play the game ball. They may not conquer it, but they will never forget it and want to keep coming back for another go. Smiles, laughter, selfies and happy banter have become synonymous with playing the hole.

These two blogs have told the story of the hole from my perspective here at European Golf Design, but everybody who had a hand in the project owns a percentage of the credit. It would never have happened without the vision of Lord Bamford and his project management team at JCB, or the hugely talented team of construction experts and JCB greens staff who put in the hard yards out on site. The story of the 17th hole at JCB Golf & Country Club is a microcosm of what makes the golf architecture profession so rewarding. From the seed of an idea born on a cold, grey Staffordshire hillside in November 2012, we had the opportunity, willpower and collective talents to nurture this bold thought through the complex processes of design and construction until it became the physical reality we see today. We all believed in the concept and have delivered on our promise to build JCB a unique and iconic golf hole. We lived out our best daydream. Life doesn’t get better than that.

Robin Hiseman
September 12 2019

A Fleeting Glance – How the island hole came to JC…be. Part 1.

I hate it. Absolutely detest it. The term ‘signature hole’. The suggestion of one hole above all others. And yet, for the JCB golf course, we designed a par 3 17th hole, which could serve as the definition of the term. Understanding it would be the ‘signature hole’ actually helped with the design of the other holes, as it was essential the 17th sat comfortably within a strong, thematic composition, rather than being encountered as a maverick, aesthetic freak. It’s the hole everyone talks about and looks forward to playing, but there are plenty of engaging and strategic golf holes to enjoy before reaching this spectacular finale.

This is the story of how the 17th hole at the JCB Golf & Country Club was discovered, designed and built and how a fleeting glance led to the creation of a unique and extraordinary golf hole.

Part One: Discovery

The late 1960’s was a period of rapid growth for JCB. Since 1950, when founder, J C Bamford set up premises in an old cheese factory, in Rocester, the company HQ had expanded massively to accommodate flourishing production lines. Mr. Bamford also bought up the land surrounding the factory and created a series of large ornamental lakes, around which landscaped pathways were routed, where employees could relax during their lunch breaks. In the middle of South Lake, he created an island, upon which ornamental tree saplings were planted, including Weeping Willow, English Oak, Norway Spruce and an exquisite Dawn Redwood. For decade upon decade this island sat quietly, with the trees slowing maturing and adding beauty to the landscape. Birds nested on the peaceful islet and fishermen gazed idly upon it, but for the most part, nobody gave it much thought.

Above: South Lake and the island being built in the late 1960’s. The trackbed, buildings and goods yard of the disused Rocester railway station still evident in front of the expanding JCB factory. No trace of the railway remains today.

It was the briefest of glances. No more than that. It was November 2012 and I was at JCB to check out the routing plan for EGD’s new and at that time, highly secret golf course proposal. Standing on the proposed 18th tee, I glanced to the left and noticed a tiny sliver of water through the autumnal foliage. I took a photograph, thinking it would be nice to lift the canopy and give golfers a view of the lake. Wandering over, I peered through the branches to take a closer look. Beyond the trees was a steeply descending grass bank, overlooking South Lake far below. In the middle of the lake, perfectly lined up with my viewpoint, was a wide, shallow island, covered in mature trees and laurel bushes. This demanded closer inspection. I climbed over the fence, ducked under the branches and took in the full, unobstructed view. Instantly, the thought popped into my head, ‘I reckon I could hit one onto that island’. An instant later, ‘that would be an amazing golf hole’. Right before me was the raw material for one of the World’s most spectacular par 3’s and I was the first person to ever see it in this light.

Above: November 2012: The intended tee view for the 18th hole, which would have played to the end of the distant field.

Above: And this is the sliver of lake I saw through the trees…

Above: November 2012: That first view of the island.

There was a problem. The island was beyond the project boundary. JCB would have to be persuaded to let us expand the development site. Fortunately, we were dealing with people in the factory who had the vision of creating a world class golf course with which to boost JCB’s global profile. Presented with some sketches and a bit of blarney, they appreciated how the stars had aligned to offer us this island in the perfect location and the perfect point in the round (the 17th), to create an iconic, unique hole. They signed off on the concept and we were up and running.

Above: An early sketch, which helped us get the concept approved.

I asked to visit the island. With the golf project being top-secret, I adopted the identity of an ecologist doing a tree inventory, just in case our boatman, Mick, asked as to why he was ferrying me over. Half way across the lake, the boat engine cut out and we started to drift away from the island on the breeze. We had an oar for such an emergency, but Mick, who is a big, strong unit, wasn’t going to let a puny little engine get the better of him. For minute after minute he thrashed away at the pull cord, boat rocking and sweat flying off his ham pink brow. This was furious, 2-stroke CPR and Mick was going to resuscitate it, or die trying. Finally, almost miraculously, it spluttered back into life. Mick sat back down, his long exhalations misting the cool, winter air and wordlessly steered us back on course. The oar remained stowed.

The island itself was physically unremarkable, but there was an undeniable aura about it. Its time in the sun was coming. I ‘surveyed’ the trees for 10-15 minutes and we got back on the boat. Mick got it started immediately, much to our relief. We motored slowly around the island for me to take photographs and then set off for the mainland. Half way back, the engine cut out…

Above: February 25 2013: Mick backs the boat into the water before our memorable first visit to the island. Steve Dewhirst (in on the secret) looks on.

Above: February 25 2013: Approaching the landing stage, beside the sprawling Goat Willow tree that grew exactly where the green would later be built.

Above: February 25 2013: Looking back from the island towards the gap in the trees where I first stood and where the tees would be built. I still have no idea why this gap in the woods existed, but if it hadn’t…

With the island hole cemented into the routing, we had the opportunity to improve other aspects of the back nine, most noticeably the addition of the 18th tee to the south end of the island. Golfers would have to play off the island, as well as onto it. This idea transformed the closing hole into a 462-yard, uphill, monster par 4. With two holes now located where previously there was just one, we therefore needed one less hole elsewhere. This directly created the space for the colossal, 627-yard, 13th hole. The positive domino effect of the 17th brought the back nine to life and gave us a layout with character and stature.

We had to consider how to get to the island. My preference was for a ferry, like the one that drifts serenely across the river on the 18th at Brocket Hall, or takes golfers out to the floating green at Coeur d’Alene. I wanted to retain the island’s purity and physical detachment. Conceptual designs were commissioned, which would have involved two boats going back and forth in unison on a looped chain. The concept was defeated by a combination of costs and logistics, but not before I had designed Hole 17b, as a backup for when the ferry was out of action. This alternative par 3 played down the first part of the originally designed 18th hole, from a tee at the very top of the hill, which also, intentionally, lined up with the island green. When the ferry scheme was abandoned, we had no need for the alternative green, but we still built the tees, which is why the 17th measures 255-yards from the tips.

Above: This extract from the original hand-drawn Masterplan shows the ferry concept, Hole 17b and the 18th tee on the island. Note how the top two tees on 17 could be played to either hole.

17 is not an island green, it’s a green on an island. The former suggests something created artificially and specifically, whereas this is a found hole, exploiting an existing landscape feature. Many island green par 3’s are played from close to the same level between tee and green, but this hole descends 50-90 feet to the green, depending on which tee you play from and from a distance between 183-255 yards. Only the drop zone tee is at water level. Such a large difference in elevation offered the potential for an exceptional view, provided the contouring of the tees was correct. Often you get a great view from the front of a drop shot tee, but take a few steps backwards and all you can see is the sky. I set a minimum requirement of being able to see at least half the width of lake in front of the island and at least some of the water behind the green from any point on every tee. It was crucial to the aesthetic and the design psychology that the island looked like an island. We achieved our aim through the trial and error of many sketch plans and cross sections. These generated a well-conceived shaping and elevation plan for the tees and enlargement of the island, which would be lengthened from 22 to 60 metres deep. This was allocated entirely to the rear of the island, so retaining the full width of the lake and an undisturbed shoreline facing the tees. This ensured the maximum amount of water could be seen.

The island design features three bunkers, each of which emerge directly from the lake. I wanted the bunkers to imitate natural sandy shorelines, without the formality and artificiality of a narrow grassy strip or wall defining the water line.

The green design originally had a ‘velodrome’ style backstop to contain an overhit shot, but this blotted out a view of the lake behind from the lower tees. Instead, the green cambers markedly from back to front and is split into two halves by a spine ridge. An unnerving infinity line demarks the back of the green, with the beach bunker lying hidden beyond.

JCB commissioned model maker, Jeff Shuttleworth, to create an accurate scale model of the course, based on EGD’s detailed plans. It was made in time for a public exhibition, at which the project would be announced to the locals. It is an extraordinary piece of work, which served to show the public the concept scheme in a three-dimensional, tactile way. The main talking point was the island hole. Nobody could quite believe a hole like this was being built in rural Staffordshire. There was amazement at the ambition of the scheme and excitement it was happening in the neighbourhood. The model now takes pride of place in the clubhouse.

Above: Low level lighting highlights the brilliance of Jeff Shuttleworth’s clay model.

With the scheme announced and planning permission achieved, we were ready to turn this exciting idea into reality.

To be continued…

The Big Dig…

Creating the 1st hole at JCB Golf & Country Club

The 1st hole at EGD’s new JCB Golf & Country Club, is one of the most dramatic opening holes in golf. It has been likened to an inland version of the iconic 1st at Machrihanish, with its tee shot across an Atlantic beach, except here you play across the deep, still waters of Woodseat Lake. It is a tranquil and seemingly permanent vista. The truth is somewhat different. JCB guests, poised over their opening drives, could never imagine the radical transformation that took place to create this hole. Thanks to the photographs I took throughout construction, we present a time lapse of its evolution, from the first site visit in 2012 through to its full opening in 2018. So, let’s begin with what we first encountered…

Above: November 6, 2012

Looking down the hole from behind the future tee. This already had the feeling of a golf hole thanks to the mown, lawn grasses in the field. The meadow sloped steeply downhill from the road to a rare, remaining section of the disused Uttoxeter canal. The road signs highlight the ‘JCB Arena’, which was a machinery demonstration area sited in a deep cutting, complete with air-conditioned grandstand. You can see how domed the field was, by how little you can see of the distant trees, in front of which the green will be sited. Our task was to make this green site visible from here. Woodseat Hall, the envisaged future clubhouse, sits amongst the stately trees to the right. It’s location here had a significant influence on the hole’s design.

Above: From above – 2012

Long ago, residents of Woodseat Hall were able to gaze out of their front windows over the steeply descending meadow to the canal at the foot of the hill. After the hall fell into ruin and JCB bought the estate, this meadow was infilled with spoil excavated from ‘The Arena’ and a wide road, suitable for heavy goods vehicles, built on top. The view from the ruined hall was no longer important to anyone. With the prospect of reusing the hall as a clubhouse, our client, JCB’s Chairman, Lord Bamford, felt, quite reasonably, that it would be nice to restore a view of the water for clubhouse guests. This was no small design task, given the terrain, but we did cross-sections to figure out what would be involved. I felt that seeing a thin sliver of distant canal would not be suitably impressive, so proposed creating a broad bay between the tee and fairway, which lined up nicely with the main viewing axis from the clubhouse. The cross sections helped generate a plan, which involved relocating the Arena access road, dropping the ground level by up to 10 metres and creating a wide, deep lake. We calculated an excavation of 90,000m³ in this one small area alone. We also had a golf hole to design, which as the future 1st, would need to serve as an inspiring introduction to the course. Detailed design work commenced in 2013 in readiness for the planning application in January 2014. Site work started in August 2014.

Above: May 22, 2015

This photograph shows the early part of the excavation process. The cut area was so deep that it had to be excavated using a terraced, strip-mining technique for safety reasons. The height of the hillside can be gauged by how the slope dwarves the big trucks at the top.

Above: June 18, 2015

The fairway sub-grade level has been reached and the new road is in place. The JCB excavators are starting to dig out the lake. In the distance, you can see the tall staking poles for both the fairway turning point and the green. All the spoil was taken through the gap in the trees in the background to shape up holes 2 to 4.

Above: June 24, 2015

One week later and the outline of the bay is taking shape, with the safety ledge being cut in. At this time, I was thinking it looked an awfully long way to reach the fairway from this, the daily play tee.

Above: July 10, 2015: 13:45

The conclusion of the lake excavation and it’s a properly deep hole now. The inland edge of the lake is 10 metres (33 feet) below the original ground level. The canal is perched about 3 metres above the level of the lake basin. They knew how to build a watertight canal back in the 18th Century; the embankment never leaked. Aquatic plants, taken from the canal edge are piled up, ready for planting on the new lake shore.

Above: July 10, 2015: 17:32

Later the same day and a landmark moment for the project, as we breach the canal embankment and start to fill the lake. Notice that we didn’t artificially line the lake. The subsoil around here is a heavy clay and we were confident it would hold water. Once we were certain it would, we excavated the rest of the canal embankment. Shaping is underway to build the fairway bunkering and green complex.

Above: August 24, 2016 – We were right. The lake didn’t leak!

After a flurry of activity in 2015, the 1st took a back seat whilst we cracked on with other aspects of the project. Here we see the topsoil returned, with a light fairway sand topping to follow. Irrigation and drainage are installed and the lake edges have been hydroseeded for stabilisation. The aquatic plants moved a year previously are starting to grow and our resident ducks are settling in. The lake is also full of huge carp, which lived in the canal and were fished by the local club. The fairway and green shaping is showing up well and I was delighted that the entire green and surrounds bunkering were fully visible from the tee. Doing those pencil-drawn cross sections proved to be wholly worthwhile.

Above: July 19, 2018

The finished, 368-yard 1st hole, framed with a fescue flourish. I wanted the shaping to be complimentary to the tranquillity of the setting, so the philosophy was for long, soft slopes and few lumps. The central fairway bunker has a magnetic attraction and is placed exactly where you want to aim. The best driving line is to the left of the bunker, where the ground is fair and flat, but with Woodseat Lake close by. Playing safely to the right is the cautious choice for the opening shot, but the ball will come to rest on a side-slope and with more water to deal with, both in front of and to the left of the green, this awkward side camber shot may see you aiming too far to the right, bringing the large approach bunkers into play. It’s an action packed first hole, which sets the tone for an exciting round to follow. With all that went into its creation, this may be the JCB hole design I am most proud of. It is a lovely spot to linger and take in the scenery. It may be entirely created by man, but we’d like to think you cannot tell.

Above: May 26, 2017 – From Above

In comparison with the original masterplan, you can see we remained faithful to the concept. We dropped a couple of forward tees, but everything else is much as envisaged. The machine demonstration arena has now been decommissioned, so we have the widest cart path ever built! If you’ll indulge me a moment more, I want to share the before and after view from our 1st medal tee. Originally, I thought we would play everyone from the daily play tee, but it became apparent that strong golfers would likely tee off the 1st with an iron, which I thought was a false start for a supposed championship standard course. The problem was, there was nowhere to go back on line which would make it long enough for a driver. So, I took a look on the other side of the canal, where the old railway line used to run and thought, ‘this might just be possible, but it’s an immense carry first up’. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, we set about it and…it’s gone down a storm. You’re advised to hone your driving skills on the lovely practice range before you head down there. Otherwise, you’ll be swimming with the ducks!

Above: November 12, 2014

After the initial tree clearance, you get a real sense of the bulk of the hill we had to remove. Dane, from JC Balls, the earth moving contractors, stands on the far bank, wondering what on earth I’m contemplating!

July 19, 2018

The view from the 424 Yards Black Tee. It’s between 170 and 245 yards to carry the water, depending on the aim point. The fairway bunker is 285 yards away. It’s definitely given the experts something to think about, but it’s achievable. For us mortals, it’s a thrill to tee off down here and a real buzz to get a good one away. This hole flies in the face of the accepted wisdom of starting the round with a gentle introduction, but is consistent with the philosophy of making the best of the opportunities presented by a site. Sometimes, the two principles conflict, but I’m glad to have had the courage of conviction to favour the latter and sleep easy knowing we did justice to the project and for the client, JCB.

European Institute of Golf Course Architects

It’s been a big week for EGD’s involvement with the European Institute of Golf Course Architects (EIGCA). In addition to Ross becoming President, we would also like to recognise Dave Sampson, Rob Hiseman and Gary Johnston on their promotion to Senior Members of the EIGCA and to Alex Hay on becoming an Associate Member.

These promotions are the result of years of great work, skill and dedication. We are very proud of each of them and offer our congratulations on this achievement.

Above: Robin Hiseman (right) is congratulated by outgoing President Tom Mackenzie (left).

Above: Dave Sampson (right) is congratulated by outgoing President Tom Mackenzie (left).

A Picture Paints…

By Robin Hiseman

Nothing quite explains the transformative process of golf course design as well as a before and after photograph. It was looking at such images in the World Atlas of Golf as a 10 year-old that first sparked my interest in golf architecture.

At the ‘before’ stage we concoct the ‘after’ image in our minds eye and then set about the task of making this mental image a physical reality.

Here are a selection of my favourites from the projects I’ve worked on for EGD. It would take more than a thousand words to do justice to the processes, personalities and pitfalls encountered to bring each to fruition, but I’ll leave that to your imagination.

Figure 1: The future 12th hole at Casa Serena, Czech Republic on a cold, wet day in November 2004. My first day of work for EGD.

Figure 1: The future 12th hole at Casa Serena, Czech Republic on a cold, wet day in November 2004. My first day of work for EGD.

Figure 2: The same view in September 2008.

Figure 2: The same view in September 2008.

Figure 3: From atop a high bluff looking out over the Bahraini desert in July 2006.

Figure 3: From atop a high bluff looking out over the Bahraini desert in July 2006.

Figure 4: Less than 3 years later and the same scene has become the 3rd (right) and 8th (left) holes of the Royal Golf Club, part of the huge Riffa Views development. Photo taken in 2009.

Figure 4: Less than 3 years later and the same scene has become the 3rd (right) and 8th (left) holes of the Royal Golf Club, part of the huge Riffa Views development. Photo taken in 2009.

Figure 5: Back in 2013 the view from Tee 15 of Plage des Nations looked like this, with the most enormous pile of foundation spoil sitting on top of the fairway.

Figure 5: Back in 2013 the view from Tee 15 of Plage des Nations looked like this, with the most enormous pile of foundation spoil sitting on top of the fairway.

Figure 6: In February 2016 it looks like this. The large hill to the right is formed in 9 metres of cut! The course is still growing in.

Figure 6: In February 2016 it looks like this. The large hill to the right is formed in 9 metres of cut! The course is still growing in.

Figure 7: November 2012 and the view down the future 16th hole at JCB Woodseat Hall.

Figure 7: November 2012 and the view down the future 16th hole at JCB Woodseat Hall.

Figure 8: October 2015. More of a 'during' than an 'after' but the basic shape of the hole is formed.

Figure 8: October 2015. More of a ‘during’ than an ‘after’ but the basic shape of the hole is formed.

JCB Course Progress November 2014

As the first earthworks phase comes to a close for the winter break, we are moving into the tree clearance programme. The first two areas completed have revealed the exciting prospects in store for the 1st and 17th holes of the Woodseat Hall Golf Course.

We’ve cleared some of the bushes and trees for the Medal tee on Hole 1, which has revealed the challenging diagonal tee shot across Woodseat Lake. This is only the start of the story, for the lake is going to be substantially enlarged between the tee and the dogleg to make this view even more dramatic.

Elsewhere, we’ve cleared the trees away to display the full panorama for the tee shot on our already iconic 17th hole. I’ve been looking forward to finally seeing this view in its full glory and am entirely satisfied that we’re on the right track to create a hole to do justice to this wonderful setting.


Below:From the 200-yard tee down to the island that will become the 17th green.
From the 200-yard tee down to the island that will become the 17th green.

Below:From the Medal tee on Hole 1.
From the Medal tee on Hole 1.

Hitting The Ground Running

The favourable weather conditions during September have helped the JCB Woodseat Hall construction project get off to a good start. The tender for the bulk muck shift contract was competed for during July, and the appropriately named JC Balls & Sons, out of Ambergate, in Derbyshire, were the successful bidders. Their main task is to strip and store the topsoil and to shape the subsoil in six of the eleven work sectors that the golf course site is divided into. Balls has also staked out the golf course with enormous staking poles (4 metres high) and will be tackling some of the tree and hedgerow clearance.

The first new hole has emerged from the ground in its roughed out state (the par 3 14th) and is looking good. We’ve started on the least promising part of the site, upon which the most dramatic shaping is proposed. The large excavation of the irrigation lake on 13 is generating the subsoil which will shape this hole, the 14th and the practice ground. It’ll be a while until we see how this shapes out. Nearly one-third of the entire earth moving balance is being generated by this one hole alone. Work will break off for the winter months if the anticipated rainfall arrives, before we hit it hard in the springtime. Hopefully, by this time next year, the fully shaped golf course will be with us.

Above: Excavations in progress on Hole 13

Above: Green 1 staking pole

Return of the Bolton Wonder

We have received many admiring comments about the clay model made of the new course we’re designing for JCB…and rightly so. It is a wonderful piece of craftsmanship. The man responsible for the model is Jeff Shuttleworth, from Bolton and he deserves all of the plaudits.

The idea for the model came from JCB Chairman Lord Bamford. He’s not a fan of computer generated imagery and prefers the tactile, three dimensional qualities of a good model. He felt that the golf course proposal could be more amply appreciated and understood if people were able to get up close to and walk around a large scale site model. He was proved to be right.

EGD was asked to suggest a model maker and I immediately recalled this chap who had made a fantastic single-hole model for us back in the days when I used to work for Hawtree. This was nearly twenty years ago though and both his name and company details had long since escaped me. I turned to the one person who I thought may just remember him, my former design colleague, Mike Cox. Remarkably, Mike not only remembered him, but had done some work with him in recent years. The only problem was, as Mike told me, that Jeff had retired from professional model making several years ago. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, so I gave Jeff a call and left a message on his answer phone, explaining what we had in mind.

Later that day, Jeff called back, sounding somewhat surprised and said that he’d be very keen to look at the job, but that he’d thrown away his model making tools, thinking he’d never be needing them again! Things move quickly and efficiently when you deal with JCB and shortly thereafter, Jeff was engaged to produce the model in time for a public exhibition and press launch in January 2014. This gave Jeff two months to complete a task that needed three! It also forced us to accelerate our design schedule, as Jeff’s model is scaled to our detailed 1:1000 plans, which weren’t due to be completed until Christmas 2013.

Necessity is the mother of invention and to cut a long story short, we pumped out the design plans in double quick time and Jeff exceeded all expectations of him and delivered the completed model in good time, working 18-20 hours a day, all through December and the Christmas holidays.

There was a palpable sense of excitement when the model was unveiled and it was, for me, immensely rewarding to see the design of our course so accurately portrayed. Jeff is very particular about how the model should be lit to accentuate the shadows and contours. Keep the lighting at a low angle and from one position only. In these conditions, the model springs to life, highlighting every bump and hollow. Jeff’s attention to detail is incredible and you can spend hours gazing over the model. It is quite mesmerising.

It’s been a thrill to see the model take shape under Jeff’s skilled hand. He’s lost none of the magic and if there is any justice, he should find himself with a few more to do in the future. JCB are thrilled with his work and so are we. Photographs of the model have formed the centrepiece of the worldwide press coverage, explaining what the course will look like better than any computer rendering or sketch can do.

The model sits for now in the JCB executive offices, but in time it is envisaged that it will reside in the foyer of the new clubhouse at Woodseat Hall. Hopefully, you might get to see it there, but for now, here are a few photos of Jeff’s fantastic work.

Carne Golf Links New 9 Holes – Duneland Golf On An Epic Scale

In these harsh economic times it is nice to be able to report on a golf course opening, even if it is one with which we have not had a design involvement. Such is the case with the unveiling of the new Kilmore 9 holes at Carne Golf Links in Belmullet, County Mayo, Ireland.

I must declare a personal interest in the course, as I am an overseas life member of Belmullet Golf Club. One of the key incentives for me joining was the prospect of this new 9 holes being developed through the most incredible dunes I have ever seen. I was shown a draft plan back in 2006, which had been prepared by one time EGD designer, Jim Engh. The course that has finally emerged some seven years later is much revised from this initial sketch and has, in the later stages of development, been spearheaded by a good friend of EGD, Mr. Ally McIntosh.

Whilst Ally has fronted the design of the new course, it only exists because of the willpower and dedication of one man, Carne’s Eamon Mangan. Eamon was the inspiration and the driving force behind developing the new holes, despite Ireland’s crushing recession. The holes have been built on the tightest of shoestring budgets, reportedly just €140,000. Work could only be carried out when there was money in the kitty to allow it, which meant that for long periods the fledgling links lay deserted. On more than one occasion I looked out over the new course and doubted that it would ever be finished, but with Eamon’s dedication and Ally’s design eye, the course was finally unveiled for play on Tuesday July 23 2013.

The entire Carne development is a good news story. This is a modern links, dating only from the mid 90’s, developed by the community as a tourism incentive. It was the last course to be designed by the great Eddie Hackett, whose light touch has left in place some outlandish fairway contouring that other more heavy handed architects may have flattened in the pursuit of fairness. The story of how the course came to fruition is succinctly captured by Richard Phinney and Scott Whitley in their excellent book, ‘Links of Heaven’. How the locals rallied together at the eleventh hour to purchase the links from seventeen separate landowners, each with a government grant to fence in their strip of duneland with five rows of barbed wire, is a story of devout community spirit and foresight. Their reward is a magnificent course, ranked consistently within the top 50 courses in Great Britain & Ireland. If ever a course was worthy of making a concerted effort to play, Carne is it. Nobody arrives in Belmullet by mistake and this amazing links at the very edge of the continent, makes the long, lonely drive across the dark peat moors of Mayo thoroughly worthwhile.

Carne now has twenty-seven of the most dramatic, natural duneland holes in the World. With such a minimal budget, the necessity was to use the lie of the land wherever possible and it is with great skill that the new 9 wends its way between and over dunes of epic proportions. It is thrilling golf, raw in form and with stern consequences for waywardness. The hand of man is evident only in the location of the few bunkers that punctuate the course and the sporty, turbulent green surfaces, that will be great fun to putt on once they have fully matured. One minute you are playing through narrow clefts between immense sand hills, fully 100-feet high. The next you have ascended to a pulpit tee, seemingly on the roof of the World, with incredible views across the dunes to Blacksod Bay, the Atlantic Ocean and the islands that pepper the horizon. Golf really can be this great. It is a lesson to all of us who design for a living.

The course is still admittedly something of a rough cut. Given some maturity it will become a polished diamond and further cement Carne’s growing global reputation. Eamon, Ally and all at Carne should be immensely proud of their achievements. It is superb.

Above: This giant blow out bunker is the key feature of this drop shot par 3

Above: Second shot on this par 5 is played over giant dune above the flagstick!

Above: Do…Not…Go…Left!

Above: This stunning view is the reward for the steep ascent to the 9th tee

In the Beginning…

This was it. Death…or Glory. The final hole. The final approach shot. All that stood between me and victory was 120 yards of shimmering water, surrounding the pin prick sized island green. With a pounding heart and trembling hands, I made a slow backswing and with the sole thought of “don’t look up” on rapid repeat in my mind, I carefully transitioned into the downswing. Then….I looked up. Rather than striking into the meat of the ball, my club made contact close to the equator. An awful, thin sting reverberated up my arms and in an instant I knew I was doomed. Rather than prescribing a graceful arc against the cobalt blue skies, my ball speared furiously toward the engulfing waters. It smashed hard into the agua, disappearing for ever…or so I thought. So bad was the contact, that the ball was loaded with topspin and it instantly launched itself back into the air. One skim, two skims, three skims and then with one final, improbable salmon leap, the ball jumped up onto the green and ran out towards the flag. A miraculous escape and as I made my way around the lake shore to the green, victory and glory was assured.

At least that is what I saw in my mind’s eye. What any casual observer wandering across the windswept pastures of Rishworth School playing fields, high in the Pennine Hills would have seen is a solitary, mop headed 10-year old kid skulling a greying Penfold Commando across the outfield of a cricket pitch towards the roped off square, with a cut down, hickory shafted 7-iron. All that broke the silence in the lowering gloom was the constant fizz and crackle from the high voltage cables hanging from the twin lines of National Grid pylons that marched across the high moors in a mournful metallic parade and the far away drone of a farmer harvesting silage.

And that is how this career in golf course design started for me back in the late 70’s. Often on my own, or with my elder brother Andy, we would head up to the enormous playing field and make up imaginary golf holes from the bleak expanses. Teeing off we might hit over the rugby posts, before skirting around the (imaginary) fierce rough of the hockey pitch and over the (thankfully literal) sandy hazard of the long jump pit before reaching the eventual target of the cricket pitch roller.

And so it went on with many hours passed blissfully in this picturesque dreamscape. I could never have known then that because of these mindful distractions that a lifetime of…frustrating golfing mediocrity would ensue. I should have been doing what our Andy was concentrating on, which was getting better at golf! But it proved to be the genesis of a career. Something snagged in my brain that making up golf holes would be a fun thing to do, yet without a thought as to how one actually went about it. Besides, at that age I still had more pressing ambitions about being either the next Niki Lauda, Glenn Hoddle, or Ian Botham (depending upon the season).

This has always been the version of events that I have told people when asked, “what made you want to become a golf designer?” But, I’ve come to realise that there was an even more profound influence on me at that tender age and I can even pin it down to a specific date and time. Saturday, the 5th of January, 1980, a short while after 4:45 pm. But this is a story for another time…

Above: Rishworth School playing fields