The 2011 European Tour Players Awards

The European Tour Players Awards which took place on Tuesday night before this week’s BMW PGA Championship gave a real indication of just how much European Tour Members are beginning to dominate the professional game. Not only was the entire winning European Ryder Cup team present, together with their Captain and all but one of the vice-captains, but so were all four current Major championship winners. Perhaps most impressively was the fact that amongst this group were six of the world’s top seven players and seven of the top ten. Here was the evidence of a sea change in the top echelons of the sport. European golf was again dominating the professional game.

It’s almost twenty years since European players last featured so prominently in the World Golf Rankings. At the end of May 1991 the top three in the rankings were Woosnam, Olazábal and Faldo with Seve and Langer both ensconced inside the top 10. However, outside that first division it was a different story, with only five other European players inside the top 50, Ronan Rafferty being the highest of them at 25. The remaining places were dominated by players from the US, with 27 Americans in the top 50 and 13 from the ‘Rest of the World’. While the leading Europeans might have been dominating the world stage there was clearly a lack of strength in depth.

Compare that to today. The most recent world rankings show Lee Westwood leading the way, just ahead of Martin Kaymer and Luke Donald. McIlroy, McDowell and Casey are also in the top ten. Below them? Well things are looking better with twelve other Europeans in the top 50. In fact it is interesting to note that both the US and Europe have eighteen players each within that fifty, and that seven of those in the ranking from the ‘Rest of the World’ are members of the European Tour.

Obviously there are various reasons for this leveling of the world order. The European Tour is more lucrative than twenty years ago and opportunities for their members to play in the US and all the major championships are much better so playing standards have improved. But there is more to this than just improvement in performance. It’s not difficult to detect a new sense of self confidence amongst the European players and a real belief that, on their day, any of them could be the best in the world. This attitude, of course linked to hard work and natural talent, is helping to drive each of them on to greater achievements.

During his interview at the awards on Tuesday, Martin Kaymer pointed out that what spurred him on to victory at the USPGA last year was watching Padraig Harrington win The Open Championship in 2007 and then two more majors in 2008. “It gave the Europeans the belief that we could win Majors as well. It wasn’t just the Americans like Tiger Woods.”

“Then Graeme won the US Open. All these things gave me the motivation to work harder. All the putts Padraig holed inspired me to practise harder and it showed at the US PGA Championship, and when I made that putt on the 72nd hole it paid off. I have Padraig Harrington to thank for that inspiration. Now I have to continue and keep working hard.”

That feeling of confidence certainly pervaded the room on Tuesday night as the great and the good in the golf world gathered to pay tribute to what George O’Grady, Chief Executive of the European Tour, called “…the greatest year in the history of The European Tour”. Most left feeling that, although we may be in troubled times, the state of the professional game is strong and this can only be good for the future development of the game.

With young stars like Rory McIlroy and Matteo Manassero already establishing themselves as winners the future of European golf looks in safe hands and, this time, unlike in 1991, the progress will surely be sustained.

Golf Course Design – The Price of Progress

If you transported a footballer from 1880 to 2011 he’d recognise his sport as essentially unchanged in the last 130 years. The same sized muddy pitches, goal posts and nets. He might marvel at the light-weight Jabulani ball (which is more than can be said for the players during the last World Cup) and be scornful of the latest kangaroo skin boots, but in all other respects he’d be quite familiar with the sport. And if W.G. Grace walked out to the crease at Lords this summer he’d be hard pushed to see any changes at all to cricket. He might huff and puff about sponsors logos and helmets and he probably wouldn’t see eye to eye with Hawkeye or understand why they’re referring decisions to a third umpire, but the game as it is played today is pretty much the same. I suppose in tennis Fred Perry might struggle today with his wooden racket and long trousers but, like football and cricket and almost every other sport you could mention, at least the dimensions of the playing area have remained pretty much the same.

But in golf it’s different. The equipment manufacturers spend millions working out ways that we can hit the ball further and that’s creating a bit of a problem. In 1980 Dan Pohl led the US Tour driving averages with a measly 275 yards. In 2010 Bubba Watson topped the list with a much more impressive 315 yards. If we assume that the best players are hitting their iron shots at least 10% further as well then it’s no wonder par 4’s are creeping over 500 yards.

Twenty years ago if a client asked how much land he’d need for a tournament standard golf course we’d confidently say about 150 acres, and that would include room for a decent practice area, a clubhouse, a course of about 7,000 yards, a maintenance building and plenty of room for the club president to park his Bentley. Nowadays that figure is probably closer to 200 acres and often more. And guess what – bigger sites and longer courses cost more money and I’m not just talking about the purchase of the land. It’s been estimated that each additional 100 yards on the length of a golf course costs an extra 2% to maintain and longer courses need more irrigation, more fertilizer and more chemicals, at a time when we are trying to improve sustainability and environmental awareness.

What’s more, while we all might be hitting the ball further more often we are not necessarily hitting it any straighter. With larger sweet spots it is possible to hit the ball considerable distances even when the strike is not out of the centre of the club. Consequently the safety margins golf course architects are using are increasing and again that means more land is needed. I am sure that many golf clubs around the country are familiar with increasing litigation from adjoining home owners as those living next to courses find their peace being shattered by errant golf shots.

So what can golf course architects do? Should we try to reign back the length of courses by taking the driver out of the golfers hands and putting more premium on accuracy? Or should we make them more strategic, perhaps with trickier greens and more bunkers? Well it seems to me that we should be designing courses that test every facet of a players game. So yes, I want to see golfers of all standards given the opportunity to use their driver, but there needs to be a suitable penalty if they don’t use it correctly. And courses need to be more strategic; we would all benefit from having to think about our game a bit more and being rewarded for the correct placement of our golf shots. However, we also need to recognise that even courses built to hold tournaments must be playable for average golfers 99.9% of the time, so we can’t go over-board with hundreds of deep bunkers and wildly sloping greens. And length should play its part. If par 4’s need to be in excess of 500 yards so that a pro has to use a long iron for his second shot, then so be it, but let’s put in enough forward tees to make it enjoyable for everyone else.

While advances in technology do make the game easier and more fun for most of us, the real shame is that many of our great courses will soon be unable to hold major championships as they simply run out of room for expansion. On the Old Course at St Andrews they are now placing tees outside the golf course boundary, as we saw on the 17th hole this year. Can that continue? We shouldn’t be surprised if Open Championships on the Old Course become a distant memory, just like those at Prestwick and Musselburgh Links. I suppose it’s what they call “the price of progress”.

An edited version of this blog first appeared in Today’s Golfer.

2010 Ryder Cup Blog

So that’s that. The 2010 Ryder Cup matches have been and gone. The Twenty Ten Course may have been 10 years in the making but it still took an extra day to get the right result – a European win and in bright sunshine! The weather gods may have done their worst but the golf course, spectators and Colin Montgomerie’s team came up smiling, as did all of us at European Golf Design who were privilidged to be there to watch the exciting finish to the worlds greatest golf event at The Celtic Manor Resort. In more ways than one the last week has been totally draining!

The weather aside this was one of the greatest Ryder Cup’s, coming down to the last match out, on the 17th hole, before the result was determined. The atmosphere on the closing holes was phenomenal, with tens of thousands of spectators lining the fairways and finally breaking through the ropes on the 17th green to join the European team in celebration. Even the mud didn’t seem to dampen the fans enthusiasm. As one spectator said, “It was just like Glastonbury, but with better singing!”

Congratulations to Sir Terry Matthews, the Celtic Manor Resort and all the organisers responsible for staging such a great event in such difficult circumstances. It will be a tough act to follow.

It's easy designing a golf course isn’t it?

Every member of every golf club probably thinks they could be a decent golf course architect.

Here’s what you do. Sketch out a few holes on the back of an envelope. Make sure that the par 3s run in different directions. Design four par 3s, four par 5s and make the remainder par 4s. Try and bring the first nine holes back to the clubhouse and make sure the 18th hole is a stonker, finishing under the clubhouse window, perhaps with a do or die element to it.

Keep water to a minimum, likewise soil movement because that costs money, and don’t overdo the bunkering. And off you go. Bob’s your uncle. James Braid, not a man to linger unnecessarily, once caught a mid-morning train from London to King’s Lynn and was on the mid-afternoon train back having designed a nine-hole course – and having had lunch.

Well, actually, it’s not quite like that. Just ask European Golf Design, one of the largest golf such firms in Europe, nine of whose courses were used by the European Tour in 2009. To be more precise, ask Ross McMurray, 46, who has designed 25 courses in nine different countries yet will forever be remembered for one: the Twenty Ten at Celtic Manor, near Newport, Wales, venue of the 38th Ryder Cup.

Literature advertising the Twenty Ten contains the following lines: “This is the Twenty Ten. Tailor Made To Challenge The Best. This Is The First Course In History Built To Host The Ryder Cup.” In between those words came five more, set in much larger typeface, screaming their message: “This Is Where Dragons Play.” No pressure on McMurray then to make sure that his work lived up to those extravagant words.

Rare is the course that is the same when it opens as it was when it was first conceived on the architect’s drawing board. Much more common are the courses that undergo changes, followed by modifications, followed by alterations, followed by tweaks. In this regard, the Twenty Ten is no different. Since he first started work at Celtic Manor ten years ago McMurray, a lead designer with European Golf Design, made nearly 200 site visits and worked on 20 significant design changes.

Parts of the course that will be the venue for the biennial match between Europe and the US were once part of a course known as Wentwood Hills, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jnr. It quickly became obvious that the Wentwood Hills course as it then was had too much slope on it for it to be considered for a Ryder Cup. That was the start of the modifications that would end up with the course that now sprawls mostly across the bottom of a valley.

In broad terms, McMurray has added another nine holes, a few at the start of the course and a few at the finish, and the course has been renamed The Twenty Ten. It looked benevolent as it simmered beneath the sun at the Celtic Manor Wales Open last June but at nearly 7,400 yards it was a monster. It has one hole that measures 610 yards and three others that are each more than 560 yards.

“It has been a pleasure and a privilege working on it. There is no doubt of that”, McMurray said. “But it is easily the most difficult project I have ever worked on. There were very unusual ecological, archaeological and engineering issues that had to be considered.

“As far as the ecology is concerned we had to limit the course’s impact on otters, dormice, badgers and bats which were all present on the site. New archaeological challenges kept being thrown up because there were archaeologists working alongside us on the site and they kept on making new discoveries. Roman times Caerleon was a very important pottery site and there are kiln workings we had to respect, for example. And it was for archaeological reasons that we completely redesigned the last three holes at the 11th hour.”

As if that wasn’t enough, there were drainage issues that had to be resolved, too. That is no surprise. The course covers several hundred acres in a valley and the river Usk runs nearby. “We had to resolve issues concerning storm drains, high water tables and even the fact that at high tide the nearby river Usk was liable to flood.”

McMurray pointed out that for European Golf Design and for himself, a project such as this was worth any number of difficulties. How many designers can say, hand on heart, they have designed a course for a Ryder Cup?

“Every project has its problems” McMurray said philosophically. “You have to take a deep breath, step back and start again while muttering to yourself here we go again. Actually, I don’t feel sorry for myself. I feel sorry for the production guys. They think they’ve finished and you have to go to them and say “sorry guys. We have got to go again”.

No-one doubts ‘though’ that all the work, the designs, the redesigns, the tweaking and changing have been worth it. There are a number of risk and reward holes, which are the very bones of a matchplay competition. And the spectator facilities, particularly those along the last few holes, should create a memorable atmosphere. The 38th Ryder Cup will be staged on a course worthy of the men who will challenge it.

By John Hopkins.


Ross McMurray – It has been a pleasure and a privilege working on the Twenty Ten Course

Light and Shade – Trees on the Golf Course

One of the perks of this job is being able to return to a golf course we’ve designed and see how it has grown and matured over the years. I recently had the pleasure of returning to Woburn Golf Club to look at the Marquess Course which we designed in 1998. Opened on 4th June 2000, The Marquess made an immediate impact on the golfing world by hosting the 2001 and 2002 British Masters and receiving rave reviews from the tournament professionals. Since then the course has gained a reputation as one of the top 18 hole tracks in England.

Returning to The Marquess for the first time in three or four years I was struck immediately by the fine condition of the course. The greens in particular have really come on and despite it being only mid-April the putting surfaces were firm, fast and true. The fairways were also in great shape and the winter had seen a programme of restoration on the bunkers. I have no doubt that, come the 10th anniversary celebrations in June, The Marquess will be in its finest condition yet.

An important part of the golf course maintenance programme on The Marquess is the tree management programme. Like Woburn’s other courses, The Dukes and The Duchess, The Marquess is laid out within mature woodland of pine, oak and sweet chestnut, with every hole lined by tall trees. While the trees add so much to the setting and strategy of the course, they do require a specialised management regime both to maintain the health of the woodland and also the condition of the turf, so there is a continual process of felling and removal of dead or diseased trees, planting of new trees and general tree surgery.

However, while at Woburn the need to carefully manage trees seems obvious almost all other golf courses would benefit from having a similar tree management programme. Many courses start out with relatively few trees, but over the years begin to plant trees usually for aesthetic reasons as part of a beautification process, but sometimes for practical reasons to screen or protect certain areas. Often it is ornamental trees or exotics which are planted rather than native species, and sometimes there is little thought given to the impact of tree planting on the golf course in the long term. A golf course can very easily become overplanted with consequent negative impacts on turf, playability, strategy and views.

Not long ago I visited a golf course where the committee wanted to re-bunker the golf course as the original bunkers were “out of play”. Well they were right, most of the bunkering was out of play because it was hidden in the trees. About 20 years previously the club had instigated a tree planting programme of which they were clearly very proud. To give them their due they had used native species, but they appeared to have forgotten what the impact would be when the trees grew. Consequently the bunkers which had previously been on the side of the fairways were now surrounded by trees, the fairways were all about fifteen metres wide and the quality of the turf on the fairways was getting progressively worse as the light became more restricted and the tree roots sucked the moisture out of the soil. What the course actually needed was a policy of tree removal but it appeared that every tree on the course was now sacred! So the club went on with their re-bunkering plans and consigned themselves to poorer turf quality, higher maintenance costs and reduced playability.

Nearly all courses with trees would benefit from having a proper review of their planted areas to assess the following criteria;

1 – The health and life expectancy of each tree, including any potential safety issues.
2 – The potential size and form of each tree.
3 – The suitability of tree species.
4 – The impact on turf health, including an analysis of shade at different times of the day and year, the effects on air circulation and root system types.
5 – The impact on golf course playability and strategy.
6 – The impact on golf traffic and wear.
7 – The impact on aesthetics of the golf course and also the broader landscape.
8 – The impact on views, both within and outside the course.

Obviously, the most direct impact of trees is on the condition of the course. Grass needs sun, air and moisture and if trees block any or all of these elements then turf is really going to struggle to stay healthy. And the problem will only get worse where grass is closely mown and gets more wear, such as on greens. However, while most people are aware of these problems, and indeed are familiar with them in their own gardens, it often seems that golf committees are slow to understand the impacts on their course.

A good tree management programme will identify trees which are to be cleared as part of a selective thinning operation. Often removing a number of trees improves the growing conditions for those which remain while alleviating shade and air circulation problems at the same time. But it’s not all about tree removal. The programme should also give advice on the locations and varieties of any new planting, taking into account the impact on turf quality and strategy, as well as the need to replace individual specimen trees.

As at Woburn, trees on a golf course can provide a majestic backdrop. They have many environmental benefits, they help to divide playing areas and provide definition and, if properly planned, play an important role in the enhancement of both the golf course and local landscape. Ultimately however, trees and tree planting need to be managed so that they don’t inhibit the growth of the healthy turf on which the game is played and relies, especially at a time when sustainability is such an important part of the future of golf.


The signature 7th hole on The Marquess Course at Woburn Golf & Country Club

Bentley, Bugatti, Braid or Bust!

Some excitement for the car enthusiasts amongst us on Friday as a fleet of vintage cars passed by the office. Over 50 pre 1941 sports cars including Bentleys, Lagondas, Bugattis, Aston Martins, Jaguars and Mercedes trailed past on the first stage of the Flying Scotsman Endurance Rally 2010. Starting from just down the road at the famous Brooklands race track, home of the world’s oldest motor-racing circuit, the cars spent the weekend racing along remote country roads on a three-day charge to Scotland, stopping for time trials along a route which took in Henley on Thames, Stowe, Rutland, the Humber Bridge and the Yorkshire Moors.

Interestingly not only was the start of the race very familiar to us. The finish line was at Marriott Dalmahoy Hotel & Country Club near Edinburgh where we carried out major renovation work to the James Braid designed East Course in 2005 in order to develop and enhance the reputation of Dalmahoy as a popular golfing destination and to create a golf course that will once again be able to host international golf tournaments.

Winners of the Flying Scotsman 2010 were a Vauxhall 30/98 in the pre-1925 class and a Bentley Derby 4¼ in the pre-1941 class.


Vauxhall 30/98

Looking forward to 2010

In our last blog we all looked back at our personal highlights of 2009. But for the first blog of the New Year, and as the snow piles up outside, I thought I’d sit back with a warming ‘Chocolat chaud’ and look forward to what 2010 has in store.

And for myself it looks like another busy year with three new courses up and running by the autumn. The first, Rowallan Castle Golf Course in Scotland, had a soft opening last year but should be fully operational this summer. It’s a Colin Montgomerie signature course which winds its way through a historic landscape and past two castles. There are some great views to, across the Clyde estuary to Arran.

Moving to Southern Europe, The Dunes Course at Navarino Dunes Resort in Greece will open for play this spring. Designed in association with Bernhard Langer the golf course is part of a major new, beachside luxury hotel resort in Messinia in the southwest Peloponnese. It is a particularly exciting project as it represents the first of a number of high-end developments in the region which will open under the Costa Navarino umbrella.

The third course I’ll be looking forward to seeing being played this year is the Colin Montgomerie Course at The Dutch, in Holland. 11 holes were completed last year and were growing in strongly by the end of the season. In the spring we’ll be putting the finishing touches to the remaining holes with a view to playing some golf in the late autumn.

And talking of the autumn. October 1st will see the first shots struck in anger at the 2010 Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor Resort, the biennial match between the top golfers in Europe and the US. This will be the 38th time the matches have been played but, excitingly for us, the 1st time on a golf course created by European Golf Design. The event marks 10 years of work for us and we’ll be looking forward to it with a mixture of excitement and trepidation! You never know we might even get a European victory. Now there’s something to warm the cockles of your heart on a cold day in January!

Celtic Manor – Year To Go

Invited by Celtic Manor to attend the Year To Go celebrations at the resort on Monday. The two Ryder Cup captains, Colin Montgomerie and Corey Pavin, played an exhibiton match on The Twenty Ten Course with Radio and TV presenter Chris Evans and Welsh opera singer Bryn Terfel. Played on a beautiful sunny day over 9 of the new holes designed by European Golf Design the match ended on the 18th green with an honourable half. Afterwards at the Gala Dinner the guests were treated to a question and answer session with the captains and entertainment from Bryn Trefel, and singer John Owen James as well as MC Chris Evans.

Thoughts on the day;

1 – The Captains – Both came across impressively during the day. Admittedly it was all pretty light hearted stuff but their mutual respect and competitiveness was  clearly evident.

2 – Chris Evans – Don’t take on Chris Evans in a game of golf , You’ll be beaten. A 15 handicapper going on 5.  Oh, and a superb MC.

3 – That Bryn can sing….Wow. Never been particularly interested in that style of singing before but to hear it live is a real experience.

4 – John Owen Jones… a star in the making. Thought he was the resident comedian…and then he sang! Great performer.

5 – Rhodri Morgan, The First Minister for Wales – A politician and a born entertainer. I laughed ‘till I cried!

6 – Gareth Edwards – You can only admire his passion and pride for Wales hosting the Ryder Cup, and on The Twenty Ten Course where he is Honorary Captain.

7 – The Ryder Cup – It’s difficult for anyone to understand the sheer scale of organization that’s required to host the Ryder Cup and you have to admire those responsible for its coordination.

8 – The Celtic Manor Resort – There’s no denying it will be a superb host for both teams.

9 – Sir Terry Mathews – a man who, if he’s told “it can’t be done”, proves it can!

10 – Sun block – Who’d have thought I would regret not bringing the factor 20 to Wales – in October!

The Sun is Shining at Rowallan Castle

Just back from Rowallan Castle in Scotland where we are putting the finishing touches to a Colin Montgomerie golf course. The weather was glorious and when the sun is shining there will be no better place for a round of golf. The setting is wonderful – the course plays around two of the finest castles in Scotland (the ‘old’ castle built in the 13th century and the ‘new’ in the 19th). There are streams and stone bridges and superb views to the Firth of Clyde and Arran.

Every hole has its own distinct character but I think, as a group, the par 3’s particularly stand out. Having said that my personal favorites are probably the two short par 4’s, the 7th and the 12th. Both are between 280m and 320m but getting a birdie on either will be a real achievement and pars will probably be few and far between!

The course will be open for limited play later this month.

  • The 3rd hole at Rowallan
  • The 9th hole at Rowallan
  • The 18th hole at Rowallan