Grassing commenced at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in Saudi Arabia

So, after a project commencement date sometime in late 2007, I am pleased & excited to say that on almost the 8th anniversary of our King Abdullah Economic City project in Saudi Arabia, I finally witnessed the first grass sprigs getting planted at the Royal Greens Golf Club.

Back in 2009, following the shaping works of almost 16 holes, the recession hit, and works ground to halt. Six years on, and late last year, works re-commenced and the dozer machines were once again put to task.

The project has had a few hiccups along the way since then, most notably importation and custom issues, dewatering of the four sea water lakes and the installation of the storm drainage systems from the neighbouring residential areas; but we are now finally full steam ahead! Four holes are already fully grassed, and fingers crossed, the whole front nine should be showing a beautiful tinge of green come the end of the year. In the accompanying aerial image, holes 2 & 3, which play around lake, had just been grassed, while the par 5 4th & par 4 5th (top right of the image) were grassed just over a month back. During this week’s site visit, further grassing approval should be given for holes 6 thru 8 (The 8th is the short par 3 in the bottom right)

Its been a long and tough road to get to the stage, but the finishing post, which should be sometime mid next year, is not too far off now. For regular project updates, follow us on twitter @eurogolfdesign, @RoyalGreensGC

Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in Saudi Arabia

Aerial view of front nine holes at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in Saudi Arabia during grassing.

Schloss Wilkendorf Revisited

Having turned fifty last year (I know, it’s almost impossible to believe!) I have found that the last 12 months has been a fairly hectic time with numerous parties and reunions of old friends celebrating the same milestone. Another particularly memorable reunion was a recent celebration with university friends marking 30 years since we started as students and it was amazing how we all seemed to gel together again, as if we had only been apart for a few weeks rather than for over twenty five years. Of course the one thing that we all agreed on was the fact that none of us had changed a bit!

I had similar thoughts a few days later when I was invited to visit a golf course I had not seen for the best part of twenty years.

One of the great joys of being a golf course architect is to be able to return to a course which you have designed years after it was first opened. Our official involvement with most projects ends on the day the golf course opens for play, although often you are invited back if there is a special event or you need to check on the golf course set up.

At EGD we normally maintain a close relationship with our clients and often return to our courses over the years, sometimes even with our clubs! However, inevitably clients and personnel change, and like an old friend you sometimes begin to lose touch. Add to that the remoteness of some projects and it is easy for both sides to find themselves ‘moving on’.

So it was with a mixture of surprise and delight that I received an invitation to join in the 20th birthday celebrations of Schloss Wilkendorf Golf Club in Germany, near Strausburg, about an hour’s drive east of Berlin.

Schloss Wilkendorf was a large project we designed in the early 90’s with 36 holes and extensive practice facilities, including a three hole academy course. The championship course was designed in association with Sandy Lyle.

I well remember my first visit to Schloss Wilkendorf in 1992, only three years after Germany’s reunification, and driving seemingly miles along cobbled streets to get to the site. I thought it quite unlikely that golf would be considered as a serious sport in this part of the world. Yet how wrong could I be? Before construction even started a short course was mown out in a meadow alongside our course and it was soon filled with children going around with borrowed clubs, quickly reaching a very good standard.

Returning to Schloss Wilkendorf I was delighted to see that, like my friends from college, the golf courses had hardly changed, and one other thing had not changed at all. I was amazed to find that the head greenkeeper was still Gordon Smith, the man who had grown in the golf course for the contractors, Southern Golf, all those years before. Gordon has matured and developed the course without losing any of its character and I thoroughly enjoyed our day as we toured every hole.

Schloss Wilkendorf is a lovely, secluded place, with both golf courses totally enclosed by woodland. The region is well worth a visit and it now boasts some fine golf courses. Not far away is Sporting Club Berlin at Scharmützelsee which boasts two EGD courses created by our former colleague Stan Eby, including the Faldo Course, which he designed in association with Nick Faldo, and the Eby Course, named in Stan’s honour.
Inevitably, at the end of all the reunions and 50th birthday celebrations we all make promises to meet up again soon and to not leave it so long the next time. Similarly I resolve to visit Schloss Wilkendorf again before I’m invited to their next 20 year anniversary. Certainly I want to make that visit before I am doing the rounds of 70th birthday celebrations!

17th hole at Schloss Wilkendorf

17th hole at Schloss Wilkendorf

Head Greenkeeper Gordon Smith

Head Greenkeeper Gordon Smith

EIGCA AGM and Conference

By Alex Hay.

Last week Gary, Ross, Dave and myself attended the annual EIGCA conference and AGM at the Marine Hotel in North Berwick. It was a great trip that involved golf at North Berwick West Links and Gullane no. 2, courses that attracted golf architects and industry specialists from all over the world. Along with golf and the AGM, a conference day featured guest speakers covering a wide range of topics including ‘Growing the Game’, Flat v’s Undulating Greens’ and ‘Rating GB&I’s Top 100 Courses’.

For many reasons it’s probably best I don’t go into details about the golf, congratulations to Paul Kimber and Niall Glen though who picked up first and second prize in the President’s Cup respectively. The prizes were awarded at the President’s dinner which also saw Peter Fjällman hand over to Tom Mackenzie.

Thank you to all at the EIGCA for organising the event, their industry partners who make it all possible and North Berwick and Gullane Golf Club for making us most welcome. We are looking forward to next year already!

North Berwick West Links

North Berwick West Links

From Gullane to Berwick Law

From Gullane to Berwick Law

From Berwick Law to the West Links and beyond1

From Berwick Law to the West Links and beyond

 

 

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.

Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club

Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club
The 17th Hole is the first of two of the finest consecutive finishing holes you will find anywhere in the world.
Dubai Creek – Golf World Corporate Golf, Summer 2010

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

A return to the Evian Championship

I returned to Evian for the first time since the inaugural Evian Championship in September 2013 (formerly the Evian Masters), and was glad to see how much the course had improved over the past year.
Conditions during both construction and last year’s tournament were unseasonably extreme, with excessive snow being encountered through the winter build, and torrential rain during the tournament causing the championship to be reduced to 54 holes.

A year on, and the course has come on significantly. After the previous year’s travails, drainage improvements have been carried out in-house over the past year, and these have further assisted with the overall improved turf quality, course setup and presentation throughout.

In terms of a ‘major’ tournament experience, the golf club have made great strides on this front. The purchasing of a narrow strip of land above the right side of the short par 3 16th has provided the event with improved spectator & hospitality platforms around the newly termed, Evian ‘Puzzle’ (Holes, 5, 15, 16 & 18) . Also improved is the seating amphitheatre behind 18 green which has been steepened slightly to improve viewing down over the green complex.

The Golf Club is extremely proactive and forward thinking, with further additions and improvements planned for next year, most notably, a full length cart path system. On the course front, drainage improvements will be ongoing and minor amendments to a couple of greens may also be carried out.

Finally, this year’s tournament, played in much more favourable sunny and firm conditions, was won by the 19 year old South Korean, Hjo Joo Kim. Her winning score of 273 (11 under par), amazingly contained a record low score for a major of 61 (10 under) on day one. Many congratulations to her and everyone else who made this year’s championship such a success.

Above: The 16th Hole at Evian

Golf Tour in St Andrews

A few weeks back, seven friends and I made a golfing pilgrimage to the home of golf. For some in the group, this was their first experience of St Andrews and the main aim was securing two tee times in the Old Course ballot.

For most, this annual golfing competition is one the highlights of the year. Four rounds of golf, three nights of party…..a pretty decent recipe for a good time!

Onto the golf, the first round took place over the Balcomie Links at Crail. Once a squally shower passed through just minutes before our tee times, we were treated to a gloriously sunny afternoon. In general, the golf was pretty decent, and the course was in good condition. In terms of the holes themselves, there are some really good holes, most notably the par 4 5th, which wraps its way around a bay. Unfortunately, there are a few too many average holes, however, the setting is fantastic, which more than makes up.

The day before the trip we found out that only one of the four balls had been successful in the Old Course ballot for the second days’ golf, with three of the successful four having played the course before. Unfortunately however, the ‘three’ were permitted from swapping places with the Old Course ‘virgins’. Nonetheless, the unfortunate four ball decided to queue up early the next morning and chance their arms (resulting in a relatively ‘quiet’ first night). Little did they know that they would be attempting on what turned out to be the course’s busiest day of the year! Arriving at 5:45am, they were 43-46 in the queue (no 1 arrived at 11:30pm the night before…so much was the demand!) At 7:30am, they threw in the towels and headed for a round on the New Course.

With four of us on the Old and four on the New, we decided that day two could not count towards the ‘Cup’. Being one of the fortunate four on the Old, I was grateful for another opportunity to play and further examine / study / experience the Old Course. It definitely does helps when you play well, but as per my last and only other game, I once again walked off thinking, ‘This place is great’!!!

After two days of calm, we awoke to a stiff morning breeze on Day 3. The breakfast banter was all about embracing the conditions and looking forward to the challenge….some were even ‘glad’ they would now get the ‘proper’ links experience. Needless to say, after just a few holes on the Jubilee, not many of us were as ‘embracing’, with one of the ‘links’ course novices exclaiming….’I just don’t get how people can love links golf?!’ (he wasn’t saying that after 38 points on day 1 though) Stableford scores plummeted and the high points from day 1 were now a distant memory. So, with golfing egos out the window and tails between respective legs, we headed off the ‘Jigger’ to drink away our golfing blues.

As morning broke on the final day, the day / night before had clearly taken some casualties… (I being the worst hit – for which I was duly awarded the MVP prize!) But this was ‘pay day’….a year’s worth of bragging rights – a year of being called ‘Champ’!!

Our final examination was set for the New Course, with the same stiff breeze from day 3, further adding to the challenge. Scoring was once again difficult (i.e. poor) and coming down the final few holes we had a feeling that the scores were going to be close….and so it turned out! Over three rounds of stableford competition, first to last were covered by a mere 6 points….with the winner being a fine gentleman called Greg Betz.

(On a personal note, the head unfortunately only seemed to ‘clear’ on the 9th tee, with the first 8 holes being relegated to a mere blur! Not even a late back nine rally and a birdie on the 18th could propel me to the top of the leaderboard…..but everyone had similar tales of woe!)

A truly memorable few days up in St Andrews was had by all – Great golf in a great place with good friends = Good times!

A "work experience" at European Golf Design

Spending time at a golf design company has been a great experience, learning how the course for which the game I love to play is created has opened my eyes to a new dimension of golf. The process of design is far more complicated than the average golfer could ever imagine, but the guys at EGD explained it all; enabling me to have a good go at it whilst not feeling that I was shooting blind. After spending several days shifting around hole shapes on a site map, trying to get my head around what would work and what wouldn’t.

After coming up with an eighteen-hole plan I assumed that the drawing of fairways and greens would be straightforward. In fact it was challenging to get them to work with the space available and to fit with the contours of the site. Learning how to grade the land and attempt to flatten some areas while considering drainage was a painstaking process which involved much trial and error; but the result was very satisfactory when right.

Spending time in a place with such a warm and welcoming atmosphere has been a great experience. I learned a lot about golf course design, as well as not to put a sausage roll anywhere near a dog again. It was a pleasure working there, and getting to know everyone at EGD.

Dan Steele.

European Golf Design – Update

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!

Jeremy.

Out on the Course

“Do you get to play the courses you’ve designed?” It’s a question I’m often asked by people when they hear what I do for a living, and the answer is “yes, but not as often as you might think”. Although we might visit a new golf course thirty or more times during construction and establishment the opportunities to play the course are actually few and far between. We might get a small window of opportunity to play the course, or more usually a few holes, before opening day, and then perhaps once or twice more when we make our final site visits, but thereafter the chance to take on our own design are fairly infrequent. Even when you do visit the course over subsequent months and years, we’re normally too busy looking at it professionally to have time to play it leisurely.

So when we get the chance to return purely for golf we tend to grab it with both hands, and recently we’ve revisited a couple of EGD courses which were originally opened in the late ‘90’s. Ten days ago three of our number took time out to play the course we designed with Ian Woosnam at Dale Hill Hotel & Country Club in East Sussex. The course, which has some wonderful panoramic views of the surrounding “1066” countryside (a reference to nearby Hastings), was in great shape and a delight to play on a wonderful summer’s day.

And then last week I was lucky enough to be invited to the Woburn Classic Golf Day which was played on the Marquess Course, the youngest of three wonderful courses at Woburn Golf & Country Club. It had been some time since I last visited the course and I was eager to see how it looked and played. Well, all I can say is that I was impressed. The conditioning was superb, certainly the best I’ve seen there over the last 15 years, and John Clarke, the Golf Course Manager at Woburn, and Gary Leadbetter, his head greenkeeper on The Marquess, deserve a huge amount of praise.

This has been an exciting time for Woburn, and especially for The Marquess Course which had its 14th birthday in June this year and had two great reasons to celebrate. Earlier this month it was one of four courses around the country to stage the Final Open Championship Qualifying (the other three qualifying courses selected by the R&A were Sunningdale New, Hillside and Gailes Links). Irish amateur Paul Dunne comfortably led the Woburn qualifiers with Oliver Fisher and Celtic Manor touring pro Rhys Enoch (a man who obviously likes EGD courses!) taking the other two places available.

The week after Open Qualifying it was announced that The Marquess will be the venue for the 2016 RICOH Women’s British Open Championship. This is a major coup for Woburn and shows how The Marquess is held in increasingly high regard, particularly when one looks at the current rota for the championship. The venues for the proceeding years leading up to 2016 will have been; The Old Course, St Andrews (2013), Royal Birkdale (2014) and Turnberry Ailsa Course (2015).

The Marquess already has a track record of hosting high quality tournaments, having staged two British Masters soon after it opened in 2001 and 2002 and then the English Amateur Championship in 2011, and it is great news that it will now stage one of women’s golf major championships. In fact 2016 will be an exciting year for EGD as well. With the RICOH Women’s British Open on The Marquess and the Evian Championship at Evian Resort Golf Club, two of that year’s women’s major championships will be played on EGD courses.

Above: 7th Hole on The Marquess

Above: 14th Hole on The Marquess

One of the best 9 hole Courses in the Land?

In December 2011, Golf Monthly ran an article on ‘100 Hidden Gems’. One of these mentioned ‘gems’ was Reigate Heath Golf Club, a 9 hole course situated on the common land just outside the picturesque Surrey town.

On a balmy summers evening last week, Gary, Rob and I headed round the M25 for an evening’s game. Setback from the main road, for those unfamiliar to the area, the course is actually rather well ‘hidden’. But as you make your way along the country road, turning right up the entrance track, you are immediately struck by the view of a most amazing clubhouse and accompanying windmill! (National Golf Links of America aside, we couldn’t think of too many other courses with such a feature). Perched on top of the hill, with fantastic views down over the course and surrounding countryside, this clubhouse was a stopping point for golfers, walkers and runners a like.

After taking in the views for a short while, we made our way down to the first tee. Although only a 9 hole course, each hole has two sets of tees, offering some good variety in terms of playing angles, elevation change and length. Playing over heather and through woodland, the course itself is not overly long, but we were warned by the club pro that we shouldn’t be fooled…. ‘You’ve played well to shoot your handicap’, he said. How right he was….this is a proper test of golf!

The greens themselves offered numerous pin locations, but with some steep and long slopes in places, they were definitely a challenge. As were the well placed riveted bunkers! The front 9 plays to a par of the 34, with three par 3s, five par 4s and the solitary par 5 on the course, coming at the 4th. This hole is played as 450yard par 4 on the back side. There is good mix of hole lengths and the collection of par 3s, which range in length from 120yards to 230yards off the back, was excellent……just like the course conditioning!

A couple weeks back we managed to enjoy the fun and quirkiness of Painswick Golf Club in the Cotswolds. Reigate Heath is just as enjoyable….and as Rob mentioned, ‘If only we lived a little closer, we could be filling in those membership forms!

It may be a 9 hole course, but personally, I haven’t played a better one!