Carne Golf Links New 9 Holes – Duneland Golf On An Epic Scale

In these harsh economic times it is nice to be able to report on a golf course opening, even if it is one with which we have not had a design involvement. Such is the case with the unveiling of the new Kilmore 9 holes at Carne Golf Links in Belmullet, County Mayo, Ireland.

I must declare a personal interest in the course, as I am an overseas life member of Belmullet Golf Club. One of the key incentives for me joining was the prospect of this new 9 holes being developed through the most incredible dunes I have ever seen. I was shown a draft plan back in 2006, which had been prepared by one time EGD designer, Jim Engh. The course that has finally emerged some seven years later is much revised from this initial sketch and has, in the later stages of development, been spearheaded by a good friend of EGD, Mr. Ally McIntosh.

Whilst Ally has fronted the design of the new course, it only exists because of the willpower and dedication of one man, Carne’s Eamon Mangan. Eamon was the inspiration and the driving force behind developing the new holes, despite Ireland’s crushing recession. The holes have been built on the tightest of shoestring budgets, reportedly just €140,000. Work could only be carried out when there was money in the kitty to allow it, which meant that for long periods the fledgling links lay deserted. On more than one occasion I looked out over the new course and doubted that it would ever be finished, but with Eamon’s dedication and Ally’s design eye, the course was finally unveiled for play on Tuesday July 23 2013.

The entire Carne development is a good news story. This is a modern links, dating only from the mid 90’s, developed by the community as a tourism incentive. It was the last course to be designed by the great Eddie Hackett, whose light touch has left in place some outlandish fairway contouring that other more heavy handed architects may have flattened in the pursuit of fairness. The story of how the course came to fruition is succinctly captured by Richard Phinney and Scott Whitley in their excellent book, ‘Links of Heaven’. How the locals rallied together at the eleventh hour to purchase the links from seventeen separate landowners, each with a government grant to fence in their strip of duneland with five rows of barbed wire, is a story of devout community spirit and foresight. Their reward is a magnificent course, ranked consistently within the top 50 courses in Great Britain & Ireland. If ever a course was worthy of making a concerted effort to play, Carne is it. Nobody arrives in Belmullet by mistake and this amazing links at the very edge of the continent, makes the long, lonely drive across the dark peat moors of Mayo thoroughly worthwhile.

Carne now has twenty-seven of the most dramatic, natural duneland holes in the World. With such a minimal budget, the necessity was to use the lie of the land wherever possible and it is with great skill that the new 9 wends its way between and over dunes of epic proportions. It is thrilling golf, raw in form and with stern consequences for waywardness. The hand of man is evident only in the location of the few bunkers that punctuate the course and the sporty, turbulent green surfaces, that will be great fun to putt on once they have fully matured. One minute you are playing through narrow clefts between immense sand hills, fully 100-feet high. The next you have ascended to a pulpit tee, seemingly on the roof of the World, with incredible views across the dunes to Blacksod Bay, the Atlantic Ocean and the islands that pepper the horizon. Golf really can be this great. It is a lesson to all of us who design for a living.

The course is still admittedly something of a rough cut. Given some maturity it will become a polished diamond and further cement Carne’s growing global reputation. Eamon, Ally and all at Carne should be immensely proud of their achievements. It is superb.

Above: This giant blow out bunker is the key feature of this drop shot par 3

Above: Second shot on this par 5 is played over giant dune above the flagstick!

Above: Do…Not…Go…Left!

Above: This stunning view is the reward for the steep ascent to the 9th tee

In the Beginning…

This was it. Death…or Glory. The final hole. The final approach shot. All that stood between me and victory was 120 yards of shimmering water, surrounding the pin prick sized island green. With a pounding heart and trembling hands, I made a slow backswing and with the sole thought of “don’t look up” on rapid repeat in my mind, I carefully transitioned into the downswing. Then….I looked up. Rather than striking into the meat of the ball, my club made contact close to the equator. An awful, thin sting reverberated up my arms and in an instant I knew I was doomed. Rather than prescribing a graceful arc against the cobalt blue skies, my ball speared furiously toward the engulfing waters. It smashed hard into the agua, disappearing for ever…or so I thought. So bad was the contact, that the ball was loaded with topspin and it instantly launched itself back into the air. One skim, two skims, three skims and then with one final, improbable salmon leap, the ball jumped up onto the green and ran out towards the flag. A miraculous escape and as I made my way around the lake shore to the green, victory and glory was assured.

At least that is what I saw in my mind’s eye. What any casual observer wandering across the windswept pastures of Rishworth School playing fields, high in the Pennine Hills would have seen is a solitary, mop headed 10-year old kid skulling a greying Penfold Commando across the outfield of a cricket pitch towards the roped off square, with a cut down, hickory shafted 7-iron. All that broke the silence in the lowering gloom was the constant fizz and crackle from the high voltage cables hanging from the twin lines of National Grid pylons that marched across the high moors in a mournful metallic parade and the far away drone of a farmer harvesting silage.

And that is how this career in golf course design started for me back in the late 70’s. Often on my own, or with my elder brother Andy, we would head up to the enormous playing field and make up imaginary golf holes from the bleak expanses. Teeing off we might hit over the rugby posts, before skirting around the (imaginary) fierce rough of the hockey pitch and over the (thankfully literal) sandy hazard of the long jump pit before reaching the eventual target of the cricket pitch roller.

And so it went on with many hours passed blissfully in this picturesque dreamscape. I could never have known then that because of these mindful distractions that a lifetime of…frustrating golfing mediocrity would ensue. I should have been doing what our Andy was concentrating on, which was getting better at golf! But it proved to be the genesis of a career. Something snagged in my brain that making up golf holes would be a fun thing to do, yet without a thought as to how one actually went about it. Besides, at that age I still had more pressing ambitions about being either the next Niki Lauda, Glenn Hoddle, or Ian Botham (depending upon the season).

This has always been the version of events that I have told people when asked, “what made you want to become a golf designer?” But, I’ve come to realise that there was an even more profound influence on me at that tender age and I can even pin it down to a specific date and time. Saturday, the 5th of January, 1980, a short while after 4:45 pm. But this is a story for another time…

Above: Rishworth School playing fields

The Twilight Saga

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

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

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

Above: 8th Hole – North Hants Golf Club.

Lost Hole at Sitwell Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Royal Golf Club at Riffa Views

Here is a before and after shot from the par 4, 6th hole at The Royal Golf Club, Riffa Views. We worked with Colin Montgomerie at Riffa Views and the course opened at the end of 2008. It’s a links style golf experience in the desert, with fast running fairways and open approaches into huge, firm contoured greens.

Above: Here is the 6th hole as it looks today.

Above: Here is the 6th hole during construction in 2007.

‘Ticking-off’ Huntercombe

EGD can thank my mother-in-law for the chance to experience Huntercombe. She doesn’t visit us very often, but on one weekend not so long ago her presence meant that I was able to steal away for that most precious of experiences, a Sunday twilight game. Not being a member of a club round these parts, I was looking at paying a green fee somewhere. The obvious choice was the local pay-and-play track. Perfectly adequate and a decent price, but decidedly unfulfilling. Nagging at my mind was the fact that for nigh on 20 years I’d been meaning to tick Huntercombe off my list of must plays. Ever since driving past it in 1992 with my former colleagues at Hawtree on our way to play Billingbear Park, supplemented by repeated reminders courtesy of the iconic photograph in Fred Hawtree’s golf design bible, this historic Willie Park Junior course had been permanently on my radar, but had never quite appeared within my golfing horizons. Finally, here was an opportunity to address this omission. It was a lovely afternoon and the pro had confirmed the course would take my green fee, so within 50 minutes of heading out of the driveway, I was teeing it up on the quirky par 3 opener. 5 minutes later, after what I’m informed is the customary 3-putt, I was well on my way. It was a good choice. Huntercombe is amazing.

Rarely have I played a course that was so involving for every single shot. There was always a decision to be made; a risk to be assessed; a choice as to how to play the next shot. Topping it off was a set of some of the most interesting putting surfaces ever conceived. This is a design that has remained largely untouched since Willie Park Junior laid the course out in 1900-01 at roughly the same time as he was designing Sunningdale. More than a century later the course is still a captivating experience for the modern golfer. All this on a course laid out over modest terrain on a compact site. There is a lot that the modern golf architect can learn from the study of a course like this, most specifically what is it about the design which has given the course an appeal so enduring that it has remained largely preserved for 110 years?

With this in mind I went back to the EGD design office the following day and suggested that we try to arrange a study trip to Huntercombe. Generally, getting more than two of us in the same place at the same time is a task akin to herding cats, but on this occasion and perhaps encouraged by the prospect of a decent round of golf, five of us were able to commit to making the trip. I made the arrangements through Huntercombe’s genial and very helpful secretary, Nick Jenkins and within a couple of weeks we were out of the door early one afternoon and heading up into the Chilterns. Nick had very kindly arranged for Course Manager Neil McCarthy-Primett to accompany us on a walking tour of the course prior to our game. Neil has been at Huntercombe for years and so was able to fill us in with a wealth of information to supplement our own study of the layout. It was the first time that either Jeremy, Ross, Dave or Alex had ever seen the course and I think I can safely write on their behalf that they were all wholly impressed with what they saw.

For me it is the intricacy of the design that sets it apart. Everywhere you look there are humps, bumps, pits and hollows. Often these hazards have to be hit over at some point on the journey from tee to green. Other times they jealously guard the flanks. Never can they be ignored. Longer hitters will often have to keep the driver in the bag to sacrifice length for precision, which is probably the main reason why it is still a relevant design to this day. The integrity and length of the approach shots has been preserved by the necessity to keep the ball out of the fierce hazards from the tee. It definitely has penal undertones, consistent with the time it was conceived. That is no bad thing. Neil recounted the fact that the club had had to reroute the 6th fairway away from a parallel road and how, in so doing, he had been forced, much to his regret, to fill in one of the chasms. This is a club that knows and honours the value of its course design. Some of the greens are classic museum pieces. The 8th is the obvious showcase example. A giant four foot tier separates the green into two distinct zones, with the narrow upper tier then sloping away to the back of the green. Check your indemnity insurance cover if you ever try to do that these days! Perhaps the only downside to the way the course has evolved is that it is now far too choked with trees and scrubby undergrowth. The specimen trees are beautiful but the thick colonizing clag in between makes it quite a dark, enclosed course in places. Late in the day, the sun burst spectacularly through the heavy, overcast skies, but the sunbeams never had a chance to illuminate the fairways.

We rounded off the day with a brisk pair of 2-balls. Jeremy dusted off Dave (against the odds) and Alex and myself shared a closely contested halved match. Huntercombe was a joy and an essential visit for anyone with an interest in golf course design. Any architect who can replicate the enduring appeal of Huntercombe in their designs is onto a winner. I am sure we have all got some ideas in our lockers as a result of our trip. Hopefully, more EGD study trips will follow. I’d like to take them to Painswick. Now that will be an eye opener!

Above: Course Manager Neil McCarthy-Primett (left) explains the strategy of Hole 18 to Dave and Alex.

Above: Alpinised mounding and bunkers surround the green of the long par 3 7th hole.

Well played DC!

Along with most of the rest of Britain and Ireland, I spent Sunday July 17 2011 glued to the TV with my fingers crossed, hoping that Darren Clarke was going to make it across the line and win his first major championship. As a fellow quadragenarian, it was nice to see that ‘one of us’ still has what it takes to take on and beat the young pups.

Before he moved back to Portrush, Darren was frequently seen on the streets of Sunningdale, usually at the gents outfitters across the road from our office here at EGD. But it was in Bahrain this January that I got a chance to chat to Darren and it was because of the circumstances of this that I was that bit more pleased than I would already have been to see Darren win the claret jug.

The Volvo Golf Champions, on the course we designed with Colin Montgomerie, had concluded an hour or so beforehand; the crowds had largely dispersed and the tour players were back in their hotels or on their way to the airport. Only one pro remained to chat with the fans and that was Darren. He wasn’t in the private clubhouse bar, but was outside at the public bar and for an hour or more was happy to spend time chatting to all and sundry. He and I spent a good ten minutes chatting about the course, the event and golf design in general. It was a good, open discussion and we even disagreed over a couple of points. When he said he didn’t like the hump in the centre of the 15th fairway, because he couldn’t get his drive past it, I told him to “hit it harder next time!” Well, he’s now qualified to play in the next Volvo Golf Champions, so here’s hoping that the event returns to Bahrain to give him the chance to put my tip into practice! I was too polite to mention his double bogey on the last hole of the tournament, which cost him €21,000…but I think he’s probably got over that by now!

It was nice to see one of the leading players on the tour prepared to kick back with the fans in such convivial surroundings and I know that everybody who was there that night, as we celebrated the end of a very successful event, will have been that extra bit pleased to see Darren win the big one. Well played DC!

A Great Team Effort – Madrid 2018

Robin Hiseman, the architect of the new golf course designed for Madrid’s bid to host the 2018 Ryder Cup, gives a personal insight into his work as the winning bid announcement looms.

The wait is nearly over. On May 17 2011, Ryder Cup Europe will announce which country has been awarded the rights to host the Ryder Cup in 2018.

My involvement with the process is as the golf course architect for the Spanish bid, through my position with European Golf Design.

We were engaged by the Spanish Golf Federation to appraise a selection of potential sites around the capital Madrid, once they had determined that the existing stock of courses were not capable of hosting an event of the scale of a modern Ryder Cup.

We quickly settled on a quite magnificent plot of moorland, adjacent to the town of Tres Cantos, some 15 kilometres north of the city. This outstanding property encompassed 230 hectares of lightly vegetated, open grasslands, with spectacular views towards the Sierra Guadarrama mountain range. It reminded me immediately of the beautiful glaciated terrain of Gleneagles, in Scotland, where the 2014 Ryder Cup will be staged. Indeed, it looked almost like there was a golf course there in the past, so perfectly suited was the terrain to the requirements for a world-class golf course.

It’s all very well having a beautiful site, but the Ryder Cup is about far more than that. Future Ryder Cup venues have to be able to combine a thrilling golf course with the capability of hosting 50,000 fans a day, following just four matches, together with immense merchandising, catering, hospitality and media operations within the confines of the course. At the beginning and the end of the day’s play, these 50,000 people need to be moved into and away from the course quickly, efficiently and comfortably.

Our task in Madrid has been to accommodate all these varied and demanding requirements, without compromise.

After much planning and a fantastic effort from a dedicated and very close-knit team, we believe we have presented a bid package that ticks all of the boxes and will, if selected, be the best European Ryder Cup venue in the history of the event.

My focus has been on the design of the golf course, which, if we get the nod, will for a time be the most scrutinised, analysed and dissected golf course on the planet. So no pressure there then!

Helping me out immensely is the sheer quality of the site at my disposal. It is the most attractive inland golf course site I have ever seen. I love it as it is now, in its raw state, full of wild herbs, broom bushes, Spanish oaks and grazing sheep. I want the golf course to be draped gently over the existing terrain, with the minimum of artifice. We are only going to move earth if we have to. For the most part we will follow the natural contours and preserve the indigenous vegetation outside of the playing corridors.

It is not untypical for a new championship golf course, developed on agricultural or ex-industrial land, to require an earth moving volume of several million cubic metres to reshape and sculpt the land for the purposes of providing an attractive ‘golfscape’. At Tres Cantos, we will move just 200,000 cubic metres and that is mostly accounted for by the construction of the lakes in which we have to store our irrigation water. This is a Ryder Cup venue that has the preservation and enhancement of the natural environment at the very core of its ethos.

Our design has already passed a rigorous Environmental Impact Assessment and our innovative water capture and recycling scheme quite literally defies gravity to ensure that we get the most out of every drop of rain that falls on our land.

Madrileños are passionate about their city and passionate about sport. Madrid’s 2018 Ryder Cup bid reflects this passion. It has been put together by a wonderful team of people who really care that the show they hope to be entrusted with staging is better than it has ever been before. Our work is done for now and our bids fate is in the hands of the Ryder Cup committee. All of us involved can look each other straight in the eye and know that everybody has done the best they can. No stone has been left unturned. No avenue unexplored. May 17 is going to be a big day.

Featured first on

An Unforgettable Week in Bahrain

When one sets out upon a career as a golf course architect there are a number of goals that one seeks to accomplish along the way; a first green to be built, a first entire hole, 9-holes, 18-holes and so on. But to be associated with the design of a course chosen to play host to the World’s finest golfers with a major European Tour event, which was shown on TV screens in more than 140 countries is about as thrilling…and nerve wracking as this career can get.

It has been my privilege to work with Colin Montgomerie on the design of the Montgomerie Course at The Royal Golf Club, Bahrain, which hosted the inaugural and highly successful Volvo Golf Champions this past week. The tournament was won in thrilling fashion by Paul Casey with a score of 268, 20-under par. Paul was the highest ranked player in a very strong field and all of us associated with the tournament were delighted that the course truly did identify the best player.

Now, with a 20-under winning total you might be thinking that the course was something of a pushover, but this was far from the case. Indeed, it would be fair to say that we’ve had to deal with a degree of criticism about the difficulty of the greens. Tour pro’s have earned the right through their skill to voice (or tweet) their opinion on the courses they play and with the Royal Golf Club being a brand new, untested tournament venue, designed by one of their peers, it was inevitable that it was going to prove to be more of a talking point than an oft-frequented tour venue. Comments were anticipated…and welcomed. It would have been far, far worse if the week had passed by with palpable indifference. The Royal Golf Club is a visually striking, intensely strategic and delightfully quirky golf course, that was designed to bring out a spirit of adventure in the golfer. The club members, our clients, love the course with a passion. Even after two years of play they are still finding new ways to navigate the course, such is the rich vein of ‘local knowledge’ secreted away throughout the holes.

This last week we had 93 of the world’s golfing elite as our invited guests. It is fair to say that the playing agenda of a touring professional is highly refined. They are playing for their living, not for leisure like the other 99.9% of us. The examination paper they faced in Bahrain demanded that they test facets of their game not commonly encountered under tournament conditions. Our greens are highly contoured with hole location areas defined by changes in elevation. Some of these hole location areas are not especially large and can only be approached easily through the correct placement of the preceding tee shot. To give themselves good birdie opportunities the pro’s had to be aggressive and shoot at the pins. If they played conservatively they left themselves with some seriously challenging chips and putts. As the great scoring proved, they coped marvelously, either through hitting it close or through a breathtaking display of short game skills, which highlighted the talent gulf between these guys and the rest of us. It was compelling viewing at the course and produced some of the most stimulating TV coverage you could wish for. My appreciation for their talents has certainly gone up several notches, because I know just how tricky the course is. It was a unique challenge for them, to which some struggled to adapt mentally. As golf design is to a large part a psychological game, I would say that we, as designers were one-up on a few notable players before they’d even got to the 1st tee!

Professional golf is first and foremost an entertainment industry and by that measure the quality of the show the course drew out of the players was truly outstanding, both for those lucky enough to attend in person and for the millions who tuned in around the globe. I cannot conclude without mentioning the spectacular condition of the course prepared by my good friend, Mark Hooker and his dedicated team of assistants. I doubt that the European Tour has been to a more immaculate venue.

Golf Course Architecture is meant to be stimulating, exciting, challenging, beautiful and unforgettable. Monty’s course at the Royal Golf Club has proven itself to be all these things under the most intense scrutiny. All of us involved with the creation of the course are intensely proud of our ‘baby’ and we’ll be taking stock in the coming months to see what we can do to make the course even better for our return as the season opening, Volvo Golf Champions in 2012.

Robin Hiseman

  • Surprise Day 2 Leaders:  It was irresistible!
  • The bonny 12th:  Mark Hooker prepared the course beautifully.
  • With the Champ:  Well played Paul!  A worthy and brave winner.

Cart Paths. Necessary? Evil?

Cart golf is rubbish! You can keep your GPS tracking, complimentary tees, iced water and towels. I prefer to walk. That is the pace at which the game is supposed to be played. You have time to appraise your next shot, take in the scenery and chat to your playing partners. Golf in a cart is an impersonal and hurried affair and heaven forbid you have to stick to the paths, requiring you to haul an armful of clubs on the inevitable trudge to the rough at the far side of the fairway, only to find when you get there that you don’t have the right one! Carts? Not if I can help it.

However, I have a guilty secret. I actually enjoy the design challenge of routing and specifying the cart roads. Does that make me a hypocrite? When I was a young kid I used to scribble down made up grand prix tracks on paper and repeatedly do laps with my stubby HB pencil until I had worn a hole in the paper. I guess laying out cart paths is my outlet for these juvenile doodles. Single or double track? Where should we put the kerbs and parking bays? How about a turning circle, or a nicely cambered corner? How are we going to snake down that steep hill? What should we make it with? Asphalt, concrete, block paving? All these decisions and more are part of the design process. Love ‘em or loathe ‘em, carts are here to stay and its our responsibility as architects to make the cart tracks work as best as we can.

The reasons for having a formal path are numerous, but they will include several of the following. If the site topography is quite severe, a cart is going to be a big help in getting you up, down and around the inclines. There are now plenty of sites that have only been developed for golf because golf carts exist. Whether courses should be developed for that reason is a discussion for another time. Climate can play a big factor. Having worked on a course in Bahrain, it is very much the exception to see somebody walking. It is uncomfortably hot for golf and the cart minimises the physical strain. Resort and real estate courses can be quite strung out between holes and a cart undoubtedly speeds up the transit times between holes. Transit times are one of the main reasons why golf takes longer now. If you average only 3 minutes between putting out and teeing off, you add an hour to the round. Often, it is quite a bit longer than that. Finally, and most pertinently, is the commercial aspects of having carts. Operators will charge you for having a cart and it is a lucrative add-on for them. Taking the above factors into consideration, it is also clear that access to a cart extends the time span and the variety of courses that a golfer with restricted physical movement can play. For that, they are a good thing.

On both projects that I have completed for European Golf Design, we have built a partial cart track system. That is where the path alongside the fairways on par 4’s and 5’s is omitted, ostensibly because the carts will run down the fairways all the time, so there was little point in going to the extra expense of building the road. The first one, in the Czech Republic, was on a course with such limited play that turf wear was never going to be a problem, and the second, in Bahrain, was on a course where the carts were fitted with GPS systems, so they too would be on the grass generally.

Cart tracks never add positively to the landscape, so it is a matter of trying to minimise the detrimental aesthetic impact whilst maximising the functional demands. This isn’t so easy to achieve, as generally the path will be running directly in the line of sight from the tee, where it will be closest to the point of play. I try to route the path to the outside of a doglegged hole, even if this means that the path has to cross the line of play, as it is far easier to obscure and less of a factor in play on the far side of play. Clearly, on straight holes other factor come into play, such as the direction of slope and how the path links in from the previous and to the next holes.

The surface and width of the paths is very important. I used to prefer concrete to tarmac, but a well made tarmac path is usually more visually discrete, unless you’re tying the path into the desert. Our path in the Czech Republic was formed of block paving. It looks great, but having seen it recently, is very susceptible to weed infestation between the blocks. The path should be a minimum of 8-feet (2.4m wide). Less than this and cart drivers will tend to nip across the corners and wear the turf away. Passing bays and two-way traffic requires a 12-foot (3.65m wide path). Paths are also really useful for the maintenance crew, so a good, wide track will contain most, if not all of their vehicles. We’ll put kerbs in on the inside of some corners, or where we want to contain the carts on the path, such as besides tees. One has to be careful with kerbing, because they can easily act as dams if surface water is allowed to collect on the path. It doesn’t even have to be raining. Overspray from the irrigation system can quickly turn a path into a muddy mess if the drainage is wrong.

Golf is a walking game and so it must remain. Whilst I strive to accommodate cart traffic as best as possible, my focus will always be on trying to make the course as user-friendly as possible for the golfer prepared to sling a bag over their shoulder and burn some calories whilst they feel the design under their feet. That is how we want you to experience our work.

Brick paver cart path in construction at Casa Serena