Merion – 2013 US Open

How refreshing will it be to see a major golf tournament being played on a course under 7000 yards? Personally, I think it is and the USGA should be applauded for it!

It’s been 32 years since the USGA took their national championship to the famed Merion GC, so the course will be a bit of mystery to most. The plot of land is small at 127 acres and the spectator experience will be akin to an Open Championship at the Old Course St Andrews, but this tournament is the US Open, so you know the test is going to be tough!

The course is renowned for being ‘tricky’ and with the only two par 5’s coming in the first four holes, birdies will need to be made early and scores held onto for the remaining fourteen. Setup would have undoubtedly been firm and fast, but the heavy rain over the past week has unfortunately put an end to that. On the flip side however, the rough will be now be even more brutal than usual and the fairways will in all probability be even narrower than their usual ‘pencil thin’, but hopefully not too narrow that the bunkers seem detached. With the course playing soft, the famous wicker basket pins will most definitely be hidden away to protect the course and likely threat of low scores. (Click on link to the USGA website for a fantastic fly through of each hole) http://www.usopen.com/en_US/course/index.html

From a course design point of view it’s going to be a fascinating watch to see how the best players in the world approach the challenge and strategise their way round. Will Tiger employ a similar strategy to the one which won him the Open Championship at Hoylake in 2006, where he took an iron from nearly every tee? On paper, it must offer up the best chance of a first major success to some of the game’s shorter hitters like Luke Donald, Matteo Mannaserro & Matt Kuchar? Perhaps it will be the year for the Steve Stricker!! But as a man who likes the odd flutter, Graeme McDowell must have a great chance!

Nonetheless, whoever the champion come Sunday, I can’t wait to see how the course stands up…..could this become the new template for championship golf??

Canadian Golf

I am back in the office after a great holiday driving from Calgary to Vancouver. Whilst there I was lucky enough to play a couple of Stanley Thompsons finest golf courses. Born in Toronto in 1893 he was one of 4 brothers and 5 sisters, all the boys became good players (two were professionals) after learning the game whilst caddying at Toronto Golf Club.

Thompson then began a career in course design. After starting a family design and construction company and working on many courses he designed Banff Springs in 1928, Canada Pacific funded the project and it is rumoured to be North America’s first million dollar build. It was a course that I had known of for many years and it didn’t let me down. Every hole was framed by spectacular scenery and the bunkers were incredible, apparently, like many other designers of his era, Thompson like a drink or two, I think you can see that in some of his work; the 15th tee is something else! There are many great features that I hope to use in designs of my own in the future.

Once in Vancouver I managed to organise a game at Capilano Golf and Country Club with the assistant superintendant Michael Newton. This was another great example of Thompson’s work and the course has on the whole stayed true to the original design, recent renovations have also reverted back to original features where aspects had changed slightly. The course was as good as I have played anywhere and was in immaculate condition, although we had some rain and it was pretty cloudy the photos are still an explosion of colour! I think it’s a great reflection of the work that is done there. My golf was pretty ropey so I look forward to getting back there one day and playing a little better, thanks for the thrashing Mike!

Whilst in Whistler I was also fortunate to play at Big Sky designed by Bob Cupp. Again the course was great and the scenery unbelievable. Sustainable golf development is a hot topic at the moment in Europe, this was a great example of a course fitting seamlessly with its surroundings; just ask the bears that we saw on the 4th tee!

That’s enough from me but all that is left to say is that the golf I played in Canada was as good as any country I’ve played in, that’s before you take into account the wildlife, rivers and 9000ft mountains that surround you! I must also thank Steve Young at Banff, Chris Wallace at Big Sky and Brad Burgart at Capilano for organising the golf, I definitely owe them all (and some others) a few drinks when they are next in the UK.
You can find out more about Thompson and his design principles at www.stanleythompson.com

Above: The 14th hole playing towards the Banff Springs Hotel

Above: The approach to 13 at Capilano

Above: The 4th at Big Sky with Bears approaching!

Above: A Black bear on the roadside near Whistler

7 of the best for European Golf Design

With over 50 projects completed it would be hardly surprising that some of our courses are selected to host the occasional tournament. We, however, are proud of the fact that almost without exception at least one, if not more, of our courses are selected to host high profile tournaments each year and with seven set host events this year, 2013 is no exception!

Firstly three of our courses are hosting European Tour events; The Irish Open on the Montgomerie at Carton House, The Wales Open on the Twenty Ten Course at Celtic Manor and the inaugural Turkish Open on the Montgomerie Maxx Royal Course in Antalya, which is also part of the final series of the Race to Dubai. In August the recently redeveloped Evian Resort in Switzerland is hosting The Evian Championship which will officially become the LPGA’s fifth major from this year. Next up we have Prince’s Golf Club in Kent which is set to co-host the British Amateur Championship. Then finally two of our courses, Ribagolfe 1 in Portugal and the TUI Course at Fleesensee Golf Club in Germany have been selected to host the Qualifying Stages for players hoping to make it on the European Tour.

All in all another busy year for some of EGD’s golf courses.

Above: The Montgomerie at Carton House

Above: Prince’s Golf Club

Above: Fleesensee Golf Club

Studying Golf Course Architecture

For the past couple of years I have been lucky enough to be studying a vocational qualification in Golf Course Design with the European Institute of Golf Course Architects (EIGCA). The course covered a wide range of subjects from the history of the game to the latest design and construction methods and modern sustainability issues, over the 2 years we completed both written assignments and design work covering these topics and more.

The recent EIGCA conference and AGM in Malmö provided the setting for me to present my final design project, this work has received a majority of my attention over the past 6-months (just ask Alaina!). I arrived on the Monday afternoon and after some lunch was able to present my work; after a couple of hours with Ken Moodie and Peter Fjällman I was able to relax with ‘en stor stark’, I am still waiting for my final grades so maybe that was a bit premature!

With the assignment out of the way there was still plenty to learn during the week that followed. Ross, Robin and myself, along with 35 others from the Institute started the ‘Raising the Standard of Sustainable Golf Course Development’ seminars. This is a programme developed by the EIGCA along with the Golf Environment Organisation (GEO) consisting of 33 hours of web based seminars, having just completed a 2 year course what had I let myself in for!? Joking aside, I’m sure it will prove to be beneficial to us all. After completing these seminars, members should have the knowledge and information to complete a case study, if successful our names will be added to the EIGCA Sustainability Register.

Before and after these seminars was some Golf. First up was at the PGA National Links Course. The course is a great example of modern golf development, luckily for me the growing season in Sweden is only a couple of weeks old and the rough was short enough to find the errant tee shots! In the days that followed the Presidents Cup was contested on rounds at Ljunghusens (1932) and Falsterbo (1909) Golf Clubs, these two great courses are set about as far south as you can go in Sweden and need a blog of their own to do them justice, the wind was blowing 3-4 clubs, something told me that this was a calm as it would get! After a couple of days of hitting the ball well tee to green I suspect that Ross’s and I scores were somewhere mid table of the 65 or so golfers, Robin did rather better winning the overall event after an impressive total of 74 stableford points. I think the trophy will be displayed with pride in his office!

The AGM took place on the Thursday, it was an opportunity for important issues to be discussed and new President Peter Fjällman was voted in. He has taken over from Rainer Preissmann who has done an excellent job over the past couple of years. After the AGM it was time for the Industry Partners dinner. It was a great opportunity to meet and catch up with friends; I am really looking forward to working with them all in the future.

The morning after the night before started with a series of presentations on Nordic golf. There were some great speakers and the courses in the area are as good as any in the world and should be on the to-do list for any golfer. The rest of the day was filled with some interesting talks from EIGCA members and other industry experts. Later that evening I returned home but many stayed for the Presidents dinner, I hear from Ross and Robin that it was a great evening and there is a lot of optimism for the future. It was a fantastic week and I’m looking forward to next year’s event already. A big thank you must go to Julia and Sue for all their hard work!

Above: EIGCA President Peter Fjällman (left) & past President Rainer Preissmann

Above: Falsterbo Golf Club

How to construct a revetted bunker

Have you ever wanted to build your own revetted bunker? Well now is your chance, below is a rough guide, if you would like more detailed information, please do not hesitate to contact us!

Working in vicinity of irrigation systems and other services
This is important! Check you are not working near irrigation lines or other services. If you are, mark them with clearly with flags or something similar.

Bunker Locations and Topsoil Stripping
The location and elevations should be clearly marked using stakes and paint. Remove the turf and store it if it is in good enough condition to be reused. After this the topsoil can be stripped and stockpiled.

Shaping and Subgrade
Bunker Complexes include the bunker site and adjacent mounds and hollows. The shaping is normally carried out using a backhoe with swivel bucket or small excavator. The final shaping needs to direct water away from the bunker as erosion and contamination of sand is costly. All bunker subgrade should be properly graded, raked, free from all weeds, compacted and be shaped to a uniform level 100mm below the desired finished grade.

Revetting the bunker
The turf may now be placed around the bunker edge. Start by laying the bottom layer around the base of the bunker. The slabs should be laid one on top of the other (offset like brickwork) until the desired height is reached. As a general guide, greenside bunkers should be at an angle of 135°. To achieve this each slab should be laid 40mm further back than its predecessor. For fairway bunkers a slightly more forgivable face angle of 145° is desirable (slabs laid 60mm behind each other). It should be noted that if the face is too steep it is likely to collapse. As the turf is laid, the over excavated area should be filled using native material. The bunker construction detail illustrates this clearly. The turf should be laid around the extremity of the bunker shape gradually getting lower until the desired back lip height is reached, this should be low enough so all golfers can step in and out of the bunker easily.

Drainage
The next step is to excavate a hole for the soakaway. This should be dug by hand in the lowest part of the bunker and measure 1m³ (this may be adjusted in accordance with the surface area of the bunker). If perorated pipe is required then It should be installed using the herringbone method prior laying the turf slabs.

Coring
– The bunker floors should be cleaned out and graded smooth. All cuttings from coring and edging should be removed along with any stones that lie on the bunker floor and edging.
– No ridges or barriers shall remain on the subgrade that inhibits the flow of water. The final phase of coring is the compaction of the bunker floor, this may be done manually or mechanically.
– The stockpiled topsoil should then be re-distributed around the bunker to a level consistent with the existing golf course and the specified turf can then be laid up to the revetted edge.

Sand Placement
On completion sand should be placed in the bunker to a finished depth of 100mm. Layers no more than 50mm deep should be raked into place and compacted. The sand at the sides can be a little deeper to prevent the ball getting trapped at a right angle between the revetted face and sand.

The construction detail and photo below should make the above a little clearer!

Above: Revetted bunker detail

Above: Revetted bunker during construction

Woosie visits St Kitts

With the feature shaping in St Kitts well under way Ian took the chance to join Gary to check on the construction and give his thoughts on the shaping and strategy of the golf course. With the majority of the technical detail work done by EGD Ian’s focus was on how the golf course plays and how to make best use of the numerous ghauts that cross the site.

Having spent the day walking the site and tweaking bunker positions and green shaping Ian declared himself to be extremely happy with the progress that has been made and can’t wait to see the first few holes grassed in the next few months. He said ‘we are very fortunate to have such a fantastic site which gives great views of the sea from every hole. It is going to be a fun course to play although when the wind blows it is going to be quite challenging’.

Sustainability – The Centre Pole at the Centre of Golf’s Tent!

“Sustainability is absolutely the centre pole that keeps this whole Olympic tent up”. So says Head of Deliverance Ian Fletcher in the BBC comedy ‘Twenty Twelve’, the spoof series based on the organisation of the 2012 Olympic Games. It’s a metaphor, often used by the lead character, played brilliantly by Hugh Bonneville, to express the central importance of various issues as the Olympic Delivery Commission lurches from crisis to crisis.

Yet is this metaphor so far from the truth? I’d argue that sustainability is becoming the ‘centre pole’ for many new developments. At European Golf Design sustainability is certainly at the heart of our design process. From the early stages of any project we work hard to create courses which exhibit a positive environmental, social and economic benefit.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s the principal concern was the environment. At that time there were growing concerns about the impact of golf, especially regarding the use of water and the effects of chemicals and fertilisers on natural habitats and water courses. Environmental Assessments were incorporated into the UK planning system in 1988, and this led to projects having to compensate for any negative environmental impacts.

In the mid-1990s the Committed to Green initiative led the way in giving golf a voice within the environmental lobby and for the past decade that task has been led by the Golf Environment Organisation (GEO). It has taken many years for the golf industry to put across the message that golf is not the blight on the landscape that many perceive, and in fact golf courses which are properly designed, constructed and managed can actually benefit local ecology and provide valuable green space.

But it is no longer just the environment that concerns us. Today’s developments not only need to demonstrate a greater degree of environmental awareness, they also need to achieve higher standards of social and economic stewardship. Sustainability is defined as the relationship between these three elements.

GEO is dedicated to ensuring that golf leads the way in the development and management of sustainable projects and at European Golf Design we work closely with GEO to help all of our projects meet the appropriate sustainability criteria. As part of our commitment to sustainability, three of our staff will soon be taking part in an important new initiative jointly organised by the European Institute of Golf Course Architects (EIGCA) and GEO.

The EIGCA’s ‘Raising the Standard of Sustainable Golf Course Design Programme’ will be the first Continuing Professional Development course on sustainable golf in the world. Those who attend the course will learn design principals based on the six action areas that comprise Sustainable Golf: Water, Energy & Resources, Environmental Quality, Landscape & Ecosystems, People & Communities and Products & Supply Chains. In the final phase of the programme, designers will need to demonstrate their understanding through the submission of a real case study. Those who successfully complete the programme will then be listed on a Sustainable Design Register.

It is an important step forward for golf and one that will hopefully lead to real improvements in the standard of golf course design and also in the way that golf developments are perceived outside the industry.

If sustainability wasn’t the ‘centre pole’ of the golf course design tent before, then it is definitely moving closer to the centre now, and to quote Ian Fletcher once again, “were it not for that centre pole at the centre, then how would we know where the centre was”!

The year has started well

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.

Evian – Construction progress update

Renovation works at the new ‘Evian Resort Golf Club’ (course name re branded from the ‘Evian Masters Golf Club’) are progressing well, and if the winter weather had played its part, things would be coming along even better.

Renovating in the Alps at this time of year has its difficulties, and winter rain and snow have caused some minor disruption; however, despite at times some tough conditions, the commitment and hard work from everyone on-site to get the new golf course built, has to be commended.

So far, of the 20 green complexes s that is being re-built, 14 are now complete. 80% of the new irrigation system is installed. Fairway grading and bunkering works remain on 2 golf holes, and only one more tee complex is outstanding.

The majority of the works remaining is topsoil replacement and preparation, turfing and the planting of the 170 new trees.

Things are starting to come together quickly now, and fingers crossed, with a little better weather assistance from ‘upstairs’, completion of the golf course construction works won’t be too far off!

Above: Turfing around 5th Green

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

Mad Designers and Englishdogs

“A study suggests…” My heart sinks whenever I see these words. You know the sort of thing;

“A study suggests that coffee, tea, red meat, chicken, alcohol, too much sun, not enough sun, etc, etc, can be good/bad,/good and bad/ for you, and can knock years off/add years to/ make no difference whatsoever to/ your life”.

Here’s a selection of recent headlines, all beginning with those fateful words “A study suggests”;

…..Men care about their car more than their health
…..Strawberries protect women from heart attacks
…..Snowboarding linked to increase in injuries
…..Women moan most about their colds
…..Top footballers have high intelligence

Now normally I wouldn’t pay too much attention to these stories. They nearly always play on our insecurities about our own health and invariably they are ‘news’ items released by PR companies looking to gain publicity for their clients.

But one recent story caught my attention. A study suggests that taking dogs to work ‘reduces employee stress’. Now I don’t have a dog but ‘according to research’ (yes, there’s another dreaded phrase) access to dogs in the work place boosts morale and reduces stress levels, not just for the dog owners but for those people who have access to other peoples dogs.

A spokesperson said, “We encourage our employees to bring in their well-behaved dogs where practical and we have seen similar results to the survey – a more enjoyable working environment, staff more likely to take regular breaks and a reduction in stress through stroking and petting dogs during the working day.”

Which all explains why, at European Golf Design, we work in a virtually stress free atmosphere, in the presence of Mac, a Black Labrador belonging to Alex, and Riley, Gary’s Working Cocker Spaniel.

Of course it’s only stress free if you can keep the two of them apart, and there was that one very stressful occasion when Mac escaped and raided the local butchers, but otherwise they retain a permanent sangfroid which probably benefits us all. That is until they hear the biscuit box being opened!

Above: Riley and Mac on best behaviour

Football Crazy!

While I realise this blog is normally devoted to golf I want to talk about an entirely different sport – football!

We Brits tend to think we are passionate about our football but if you have ever been in Morocco you would realise they take their love for the game to another level. If you have ever been there while the national team is playing you can’t help but notice the buzz of excitement on the streets ahead of the game (even just for a friendly) and if they win you certainly know about it, singing in the streets, waving their red and green flags and, rather annoyingly, beeping their car horns till the early hours of the morning.

Just as in many other countries football is popular amongst the children who love to play whenever they can, but with few real pitches in Morocco they often have to make use of anywhere they find – including golf course construction sites!

Pulling up on the 15th hole during a recent site visit to our project in Marrakech we came across a group of children who had sneaked onto the site and were making use of one of our levelled tees and the chalk we use for marking out to make their own pitch. Thinking they would be in trouble they promptly stopped playing, grabbed their home made ball and scarpered. Now whilst I certainly wouldn’t encourage this kind of behaviour on one of our sites I really couldn’t help but smile at the inventiveness of these kids and the enjoyment they were clearly having before we got there and ruined their game!