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!


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.

Robin Hiseman

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

The Twilight Saga

Ranking right up there with equivalent rarities such as witnessing a solar eclipse, the aurora borealis, or an England penalty shoot out victory, the staff of EGD, or myself, Ross and Gary to be precise, managed to all be in the same place at the same time and with the required spousal permission to convene for a twilight golf match. Having been spurned by a well-to-do, hilly heathland course, who decreed that our £140 was of no value to them on a quiet Monday evening, we plumped instead for the welcoming embrace of the lovely North Hants Golf Club, in Fleet, Hampshire. If I had a home club, this would be it, as I live just a couple of miles away. Unfortunately, such inconveniences as joining fees, membership subscriptions and parental duties come between me and my rightful place strolling the turf of this beautiful heathland course.

North Hants is the real ‘sleeper’ amongst the Heathland belt courses, but it has a high caliber design pedigree with Braid, Colt and Simpson all having significant hands in its development. In more recent times, Donald Steel’s office designed some new holes, including the excellent par 5 3rd, which plays over a lake that was previously hidden within the undergrowth. Over the past few years, the club has been undertaking an extensive tree removal and heather regeneration programme, which combined with a bunker remodelling scheme meant that the course was presented to us in tip-top condition. It’s the course where Justin Rose honed his game as a boy and where he was still a junior member when he had his unforgettable run at the Open Championship at Birkdale. It’s well worth a look, with strategically placed bunkering and large, undulating greens. Ross said that it was definitely the best course he has played this year. High praise indeed from our Ryder Cup designer, only marginally diminished when he confessed that it was also the only course he has played this year!

And so to the golf. High stakes Skins was the order of the day. They say you should only play for what you can afford to lose, so it was 25p per player per hole for the first six, 50p for the second six and a whopping £1 a hole for the final six. All told, one could stand to lose up to £10.50 if everything went against you. Now, one of the vagaries of the Skins format is that it is often the case that the best player doesn’t win and so it proved as Gary came out as the victor…well, if you can’t be good, be lucky they say. Both Ross and I grinned through gritted teeth as Gary tramlined a putt of fully 60 feet across the 18th green (our 9th) to take the pot. To be fair, the boy played good, as this was also his first round of the year. He’d be dangerous if he played a bit more. For the record, Gary scooped 10 skins and £21.75. I came second with 4 skins and £6.75 and Ross third with 4 skins and £3. With the light fading and the money exchanged, Gary drove off into the twilight with heavy pockets and the certain knowledge that his loving fiancé had his dinner on the table when he got home. Ross and I left with a lighter load and the equal certainty that our spouses would not be catering for us this evening. It is for such times that the chip shop comes into its own.

Above: 8th Hole – North Hants Golf Club.

Lost Hole at Sitwell Park

Robin Hiseman pays a visit to Sitwell Park in Yorkshire, England, and
seeks out Alister MacKenzie’s famous lost green

Article first appeared in Golf Course Architecture magazine issue 27 (Jan2012) by editor Adam Lawrence.

Alister MacKenzie’s extraordinary par three twelfth at Sitwell Park, near Rotherham, South Yorkshire is arguably the most iconic ‘lost hole’. Except this is a lost hole with a difference. It is still there, sort of! It remains 140 yards long, just as MacKenzie planned, but MacKenzie’s extravagant green is long gone, replaced by a humble design that gives no hint that this was once a green of such repute and controversy, that it influenced the evolution of golf course architecture.

MacKenzie’s work for Sitwell Park was completed in 1913, early in his design career. The site was notable for a very steep, wooded hillside upon which the clubhouse was to be built. MacKenzie’s routing required that two greens, the twelfth and eighteenth, be sited adjacently, high upon this hillside and approached from below. The accepted wisdom would have been to form a basic cut and fill green terrace. MacKenzie knew that to do this would result in each green being sited high above the eye line, with a tremendously steep embankment fronting each green. The putting surfaces would certainly be hidden and this was not acceptable. Instead, he built a pair of wildly undulating, eccentric greens that tumbled down the hillside close to the existing gradient. Each green contained numerous small cut and fill terraces to create flatter areas, but woe betide the golfer who left their approach shot above the hole location! We’ll focus on the twelfth hole, as this is the green made famous by the iconic photograph, but the eighteenth was so similar in form that ever since it has been mistaken for its nearby twin.

MacKenzie’s twelfth green was an artistic triumph. He executed a construction that allowed the golfer a clear view of the putting surface and which amply rewarded an accurate approach shot. It looked magnificent and fitted seamlessly into the precipitous hillside. It was also a functional disaster, as for anything other than a precise approach, the fierce contours would repel the ball to points from which the club golfer would have a miserable time recovering. Golfers were embarrassed. And they hated it.

It was inevitable that such freakishly contoured greens would be criticised and a commentator from the Sheffield Telegraph printed comments that summed up what seem to have been widely held opinions. He wrote that these were greens which “all golfers of knowledge and experience will look upon with amazement, and which many will unhesitatingly condemn”. Further: “A number of undulations have been traced in the greens, which are, in many cases, far too deep, so deep in fact, that the ball putted from any direction will be found to reach the centre. The committee will be well advised not to pursue this policy of violence and severity in the contours and gradients of their greens.” And, he concluded: “Three putts will be the rule, and not the exception.”

MacKenzie was infuriated by this criticism and fired off a vigorous and eloquent defence of his design. “I have got accustomed to measuring the ultimate popularity of a hole or course by the amount of criticism it gives rise to in the first instance,” he wrote. “It is only natural that players who have been spoon fed on insipid, flat uninteresting golf should view with a considerable amount of suspicion anything which is undoubtedly out of the ordinary.

“Criticisms have been made that at Sitwell the putting is going to cost you more. The exact opposite is the case: the putting is going to cost less. It is inaccurate approaching that is going to cost you more. A man who has approached with great accuracy is helped towards the hole, and will frequently be down in one putt. I would ask my critics in what other way would it have been possible to utilise the terrific slope on which these greens are situated and yet to have given the same natural appearance? Unless the hollows were made large enough and deep enough it would be impossible for anyone putting from the top of the green to remain anywhere near the hole when placed in a hollow at the bottom, and in a green of this kind it is only intended that the hole should be placed in a hollow or on the flat.”

One cannot contradict MacKenzie’s opinion that accurate approach play deserves reward. However, in my view, MacKenzie was guilty of perfecting the form at the expense of the function. Even with greens mown with primitive technology, balls were running out of control. MacKenzie defied his doubters, but he couldn’t defy gravity and the twelfth green was doomed from the outset.

The Sheffield Telegraph critic responded with a fatefully accurate riposte: “I contend that the Sitwell Park committee will be obliged to change the shape of their greens almost as soon as they begin to settle down and become hard. In about three years time we shall know who is correct in his forecast. If I am proved wrong, and the greens meanwhile have not been altered, I shall apologise and confess I made a mistake. In the meantime, I stick to my guns, and contend that the work at Sitwell is a caricature of the legitimate efforts of modern course architects.”

History shows that this gentleman didn’t need to issue an apology. Apparently, the course was subsequently played by a number of prominent professionals, who roundly criticised the greens as unfair. The club committee capitulated and MacKenzie’s incredible greens were radically flattened and contracted. What emerged were the simple platforms that MacKenzie so strenuously avoided. MacKenzie’s pride was wounded and he later delivered a stinging rebuke to the club committee for making the course ‘dull and insipid’.

And that was that. They were gone. Consigned to history, but not forgotten, thanks to the photographer who took the historic snapshot. Initially printed in MacKenzie’s book Golf Architecture, this photograph has been the staple diet of golf design books ever since and continues to amaze to this day. Some have tried to replicate the green, perhaps most notably in modern times, Tom Doak and Brian Schneider, with their ‘Sitwell’ green at Barnbougle Dunes. One would be a fool to attempt an accurate replication, as modern green speeds would preclude you from finding even one sensible hole location on a green like this.

Many have wondered what became of the green, but few have made the trip to see. I did, once, on a bitingly cold January day. I knew it had been modified, but not the extent. It was shocking to see what it had become, but it was still possible to see remnants of MacKenzie’s old contouring. I recently got my brother, who lives nearby, to take a photo from as close as possible to the original location. His photograph clearly shows that much of MacKenzie’s original putting surface contouring still exists, albeit shrouded under a cloak of long, rough grass. It is a tantalising prospect to mow out the old green and recreate this old photograph, if even just for one special occasion. Sitwell Park celebrates its centenary in 2013. What a fitting tribute it would be to its original creator. GCA

Robin Hiseman is a golf course architect with European Golf Design, and responsible for the design of the Royal Golf Club, Bahrain, in association with Colin Montgomerie, Casa Serena in the Czech Republic and the future Club de Campo Tres Cantos, which was Spain’s proposed venue for the 2018 Ryder Cup.

Above:The short lived green is still the most spectacular putting surface ever built.

Above: Many of MacKenzie’s ridges and terraces are still apparent in Sept 2011.