Following on from the last blog, we were delighted to be included in Golf Inc Magazine’s list of the Top 10 Golf Architects in the World for 2017, published in their January/February issue out this month. We don’t do what we do to simply get recognition by others, but it’s incredibly gratifying when it does happen! To be associated with so many talented colleagues in the industry is more than humbling. The support of both of our parent companies, The European Tour and IMG, has been unwavering over the years, but without the faith that our clients place in us to carry out their dreams and aspirations, and to deliver great courses, none of this would be possible so, to each of you, thank you for the confidence and trust you have given us. It’s been a true pleasure to work with so many of you.
Everyone is entitled to an opinion and most of us are quite happy to share the benefit of our own infinite wisdom with anyone that will listen (a case in point…this blog!). So it’s hardly surprising that one of the more regular features in the media is lists of the ‘Top 10 this’ and the ‘Top 100 that’. Many of these lists are so subjective and arbitrary as to be meaningless. However, some of the better ones are put together by Chris Bertram and his colleagues at Golf World UK. Among the requirements for inclusion in their list is the obligation that the members of the panel actually have to have visited the course in question, which is a surprisingly rare necessity in many of the other lists.
With that in mind, we were especially pleased to see how some of our courses had fared in two recent lists published by Golf World. Their list of the Top 100 Golf Resorts in the UK and Ireland features no less than ten courses designed, co-designed or renovated by us, including seven in the top 50. And in the Top 100 Courses in Continental Europe rankings, we have been involved as designer or co-designer at five courses, with another two featuring where we have been involved in renovations.
We don’t do what we do to get included in lists, but can’t help admitting that it is reassuring when our work is recognised by others as having some quality.
Construction work continues on projects stretching from the Caribbean to the Middle East. Our organically maintained course in St Kitts nears completion. One of the many interesting features of this will be the ‘edible’ rough – the areas that one would normally expect to be far-rough (ie that unmaintained stuff into which balls disappear but rarely emerge) will instead be farmed, with the crops produced used in the restaurants within the resort. Work has just started at the JCB project in the UK, as is the case in St Petersburg in Russia. Having just completed and opened one course in Marrakech, our involvement in Morocco continues with the Plages des Nations project near Rabat. Further afield, work is now well underway in the UAE at Dubai Hills and is just about to start again at King Abdullah Economic City in Saudi Arabia.
While all that goes on, we’ve design work at various stages of completion in Turkey, UK, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Cyprus, India and France. With the Ryder Cup just around the corner, Matt is busy finalising site plans for Gleneagles (these are the plans you’ll see in all the public areas and programmes showing the facilities, spectator routes and so on around the course). It’ll be interesting to see whether this Ryder Cup is the first major sporting event to be hosted in the newly independent Scotland!
We’re currently working, on a geographical basis, from the Caribbean to India. The construction work at Kittitian Hill in St Kitts is nearing completion – Gary was on site last week and with the help of near-legendary shaper/project manager Bob Harrington and the unlimited passion and involvement of developer, Val Kempadoo, it’s shaping up to be a quite beautiful course. For more information on Val’s philosophy and approach to the project, take a look at the project web site, which is inspirational: www.kittitianhill.com. Gary is finishing up the project in Marrakech which opens next month and is also involved in the new project in Dubai for Emaar at their Dubai Hills development. It’s fair to say this has been a fast-track project – design didn’t start until September while machines rolled on to site early in January to start the bulk earthworks.
As well as his work at the JCB project in the UK and Plages des Nations in Morocco, Rob is currently working on master planning with Vatika Group and U+A Studios on a beach site near Puducherry in southeastern India which will feature golf, a limited number of villas (most of which will have sea views) and a boutique hotel. It’s not often one is presented with 80Ha of beachfront property to work with – even less often when the property is absolutely untouched by previous development of any kind. He’s also involved with a project in North Cyprus for an Istanbul based development group.
Dave is spending most of this time on the 36 holes planned for Bodrum in Turkey. Dogus Grubu, one of the largest companies in Turkey, has bought an existing course, with additional land already zoned for development. Our brief is to deliver a resort-friendly course and a longer, more challenging tournament venue, effectively starting from scratch. IMG will be developing a sports academy on site, in addition to the ubiquitous residential and hotel elements which are being designed by WATG. When he’s not concentrating on that, Dave’s working on our long-standing project at King Abdullah Economic City in Saudi Arabia which, after a hiatus of several years, has recommenced with construction due to start again in the very near future.
From the middle east, we move to Russia and, more specifically, the city of White Nights – St Petersburg – where Ross (between meetings for his project in Manchester) is putting the finishing touches to the detailed design package for a course on the southeastern edge of the city. If you’ve never been, it is a beautiful city but suffers from horrendous traffic problems (as does Moscow) which means getting from A to B can take an inordinate amount of time, but once you’re there… The site is relatively flat, but possesses a magic ingredient in that the soils are a wonderfully pure sand. As the client wants to develop a family friendly project with many different leisure facilities, we (along with WATG who are working on this one too) are creating a lake with a total area of around 50Ha (not far short of the size of an average golf course) which will be used for boating, swimming and so on in the summer, and skating in the winter. All of the excavated material is being used to raise the remainder of the site out of the flood plain. Everyone’s a winner.
Beyond that, Matt is hugely busy with tournament planning for the European Tour’s staging team, in addition to the web site work he does for various players, and his production responsibilities for us. Alex is keeping the production work on schedule, as well as being a house-dad this month to his two young boys – he did suggest after the first couple of days that he couldn’t see what all the fuss about child care was all about…he’s been less vocal as the month has continued! Shara takes care of everything else – she’s been through our annual financial audit, helping me prepare for Board meetings with our shareholders, preparing month-end accounts and generally keeping the office ticking over with her normal (extraordinary) level of efficiency. And I’ve been out and about talking with new and existing clients. Without wishing to tempt fate, it seems that things have picked up across many regions and confidence has returned sufficiently that legitimate people are moving ahead with legitimate projects – if there has been anything good to come out of the past five years, it is that it’s acted as the biggest ‘idiot filter’ in living memory: the time-wasters have disappeared from the marketplace and long may that continue!
Heads are surprisingly un-fuzzy today at EGD given that yesterday was our Christmas party which, for some of us (but not me), ended way after midnight. While the evening ended in a local pub which served very good food and very alcoholic alcohol, the afternoon started with the first ever EGD Clay Pigeon Shooting Championships, held at the National Clay Pigeon Shooting Centre in Bisley, which is about ten miles from our office in Sunningdale. Only one of us, Michael King (known as ‘Queenie’ to all) has ever shot before and the thought of the rest of us having access to guns should be a cause for great concern. Given the lack of experience, we actually all did quite well and a significant proportion of the ‘pigeons’ were blown to kingdom come during flight. Queenie was so good that he was told that once he’d hit the clay with his first shot, he should then shoot the largest remaining piece of it with his second shot, which he managed to do repeatedly. Shara started a round by missing several before hitting about six in a row. What changed? “I got cross” she said. Colleagues, consultants, clients – be afraid of this woman…do not ever make her cross.
The afternoon ended with a head-to-head shootout between the teams, with the final shootout between Queenie and Matt. As we knew how good he was, those of us on Queenie’s team relaxed knowing victory was soon to be ours. How wrong – like some gunslinger from the American west, Matt smoked him 2-1. “You’ve got to dig deep.” was all Wy-matt Earp had to say as the smoke cleared as we moved off for dinner.
Above: Shara on the rampage.
Throughout our daily lives, we are bombarded with banal ‘noise’. At every turn, and in every medium, we are faced with advertising, branding, and comment. Increasingly, everyone has an opinion on everything, regardless of their knowledge or understanding of the actual issue. When was the last time you heard a member of the public admit that they had no opinion on a subject when a microphone was thrust into their face by some over-eager newshound from a local/regional/national news agency, even as it became obvious that that was the case?
So, with this saturation of banality, when one does come across a moment of real insight, or at least something that is thought-provoking, it is more than refreshing. I was in Dubai a week or so ago and came across this phrase credited to His Excellency Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Vice-President of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai:
‘The path towards excellence does not stop – on the contrary, success acts as an incentive to greater success’.
As a philosophy, this seems to me to be right on the money. It’s to the point, it’s ambitious and it’s limitless. As a rallying cry for a nation reinventing itself in the modern world (and, arguably, helping to define that world), it is inspirational to the generations building that nation now (even if, for many, Dubai is an adopted home), and for those to come.
I’ve said before on this blog that one of the great joys of my job is that I have never once heard any one of my colleagues at EGD say anything like “that’s good enough” – there is a constant drive to improve what we do and the way we do it. To that end, Sheikh Mohammed’s quotation resonated strongly with me.
The other thing I read last week that also resonated was this:
‘Save the Planet. It’s the only one with beer.’
The past few weeks have been something of a blur here with so much going on around Europe on some of our courses. Firstly, Princes GC in Kent played host, with Royal Cinque Ports, to the strokeplay stages of the British Amateur Championships, eventually won by Garrick Porteous of England. The course, which has gone through an extensive renovation project over the past few years under the guidance of Gary Johnston, was in magnificent condition for the players, many of whom knew the course from past visits and commented on its much improved strategy, playability and conditioning.
From the seaside links of Princes, we moved to Russia where, just north of Moscow, the ‘inland links’ at Zavidovo PGA National Russia formally opened on the 23rd June. It was in magnificent condition for the weekend, enjoyed by more than one hundred members and guests – our thanks go to Course Manager Paul Avison from Braemar Golf for that. The day was organised perfectly by Phil Jones and Mike Braidwood also of Braemar Golf. The course, designed by Dave Sampson, is a real delight – from a player’s perspective, it is full of choices, which means that it can play differently every time you tee up there.
Linna Golf in Hameenlina, Finland, hosted the Finnish PGA Championships last week. Again the course was in fine shape and clearly challenged the field, with Joonas Granberg winning with a score of -2. It’s always hugely gratifying to visit a course years after it’s opening (Linna Golf opened in 2005) to see how it has matured. And it has matured beautifully – it sits within the landscape so well it appears decades older than it really is.
Finally, we made the short trip to Evian Resort in France for the opening of the Evian Resort Golf Club (formerly known as Evian Masters Golf Club). For the past two winters, we have been involved in the total redesign and reconstruction of the golf course. All eighteen greens, tees and bunkers have been redesigned, along with new irrigation and drainage systems. Working over a winter in the foothills of mountains was never going to be easy, and the past winter has been anything but easy. Thanks to the dedication of the entire project team the project opened on time last Saturday for invited guests and for the members today, Monday 1 July. Dave Sampson has done a stunning job to design the course for the Evian Championships in September when the course hosts the newest Major Championship in world golf.
Above: Zavidovo PGA National in Russia
Above: Linna Golf in Hameenlina, Finland
Above: Bunker sand going in at Evian Resort Golf Club
It’s time for one of those slightly generic ‘where have we been lately’ blogs.
It’s been a pretty busy few weeks for us all. Matt and Alex have been holding things together in the office, working on new web sites, tournament staging plans for the European Tour and production plans for a new layout in Slovakia as well as one in the UK. Shara has been going through the year-end audit process as well as completing all of the projections for the coming financial year, in addition to all of the normal tasks like invoicing, collection, expenses, timesheets and drinking hippy tea.
Mac the dog continues to come in most days with Alex. He doesn’t, in truth, contribute much to the overall profitability of the company, but adds greatly to everyone’s general well-being. Riley the dog also makes an appearance every now and then when Gary is actually here.
On the design side, we’ve recently made trips to St Kitts with Ian Woosnam to see the work we’re doing with him at Kittitian Hills, we’ve been to Manchester, Istanbul, Evian, the Cotswolds, Casablanca, Marrakech, the Midlands, Madrid, Antalya and South Africa. In the next couple of weeks, we’ve also got visits to Azerbaijan, Croatia and Holland planned. There’s some very exciting news resulting from at least two of those that we hope to be able to announce in the next couple of weeks. The year has started well for the projects we’re already involved with and seems to be highly encouraging in terms of the number of new enquiries coming in.
Here’s what’s happening at EGD today:
Gary is in St Kitts, inspecting the construction underway for Kittitian Hills. It’s a tough job, going to the Caribbean, but he bravely volunteered for the duty.
Ross is in the office, catching up on the work generated from his trip to Nevis last week. The programme is to submit for planning at the end of the summer, so it’ll be pretty much full-on until then. And he’s trying to do some planning for our project north of Athens.
Rob is working on the final touches to the golf element of a planning application for our project in Anif, Austria. This has been moving slowly but surely for several years, but after months of negotiations with the many varied stakeholders, it looks like progress is being made.
Matt is helping Rob with the production for Anif, as well as doing some graphics and planning for the Irish Open.
Shara is working on money – getting it and spending it (admittedly more of the former than the latter). And getting her glasses fixed.
Dave is getting ready to go to Evian for meetings later in the week with representatives of the Resort and the LPGA to discuss the second phase of work leading up to the Evian Masters 2013 when the event will be elevated to Major status on the ladies tour.
I’ve got things to do from my trip to Turkey last week. Saw two potential projects in Anatolia and in Izmir which now need some attention.
Alex is enjoying the sunshine somewhere as he’s on holidays this week.
We’ve not posted a blog for a while so, for those of you that regularly check in to read the latest brilliance from the brains of EGD, our apologies for the lack of anything brilliant. But, we’ve been busy, which is a good thing, and while it would be too early to suggest that the European economy is picking up, at the very least we can safely say things are not getting worse.
In the past couple of months, we’ve made several trips to Turkey – the economic climate there does seem to be relatively strong – to look at various projects. We can’t say too much at this stage, but we’ve picked up a very interesting project there that could, ultimately, be 36 holes with an Academy and training facilities. We’ve also just won a job in Greece on a beautiful piece of land outside Athens. Working with a local project management team and international master planners, we’re going through various land use options at the moment with a view to submitting a final plan mid-Summer. We’ve been awarded a project outside Rabat in Morocco for Prestigia, the same group with whom we’re working in Marrakech, and have also started some strategic planning for an existing course in Slovakia, in the foothills of the Tatra mountains to the north of the country – it may be hellish cold there in the spring, but with snow-capped peaks and bright blue skies, it is a very pretty place to be.
On top of all that, the work at Evian Masters Golf Club has continued through the winter. Phase one of the work is now complete and the second phase will start as soon as the Evian Masters tournament is over this summer, to ensure perfect conditions for the event in the summer of 2013, which will be the first year the event is a Major tournament on the Ladies schedule. Construction has also kept going in Marrakech where we’re working with Colin Montgomerie, and in St Kitts with Ian Woosnam. Planning and design work has kept us busy on projects in the UK, Russia, France, Turkey, Ireland and Spain.
Oh, and Alex became a dad, Gary got engaged, Dave ran the London Marathon, Matt spent every waking hour outside of work in the gym, Rob had a knee operation, Shara stepped up her levels of organisation to previously unimagined heights (and her standards were already high), Ross seems to spend his time on-line shopping judging by the number of packages coming his way and I fell down the stairs. Other than that, we’ve been sitting back!