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.