I had worked in live television sports broadcasting for over twenty years as a freelance editor. I was fortunate to have worked on World Cups, Summer & Winter Olympic’s and World Championships in a multitude of sports. I had travelled the globe and spent a large amount of time out of the United Kingdom. Two years ago I decided upon a career change, and decided the best way to facilitate my plans was to go back into education.
I was accepted onto the golf management (sports science) degree course at Merrist Wood campus in Surrey in September 2008. The first year was successful and in September 2009 I was presented with my assignments for year two. The module that captured my attention was golf course design. As a result of this I contacted various design studios seeking an internship for the year, allowing me to learn and develop an interest in this area of golf which I had no previous knowledge of. This would also satisfy another module on the program, professional development within the work arena.
Jeremy Slessor allowed me into the exciting atmosphere of European Golf Design at their studio, not far from Sunningdale Golf Club. I was impressed, what they thought of me I can only guess! However everyone welcomed me and made the entire experience extremely worthwhile. I was given the tour and introduced to Gary Johnston who would give me the benefit of his vast experience. What made things even easier for me was how much input the rest of the group gave me. The design team (Stan, Robin, Ross Dave), Sarah, Matt and Alex all offered help and I was given the impression that each of them wanted to see me succeed. A large open plan office allowed me to make myself at home behind a desk and get started.
I have enjoyed my time at EGD. As a mature student this placement has proved to be perfect for me. There is a great deal of professionalism at EGD, along with a wealth of talent and knowledge. Everyone does their best to make sure each item of work is the best it can possibly be.
My future plans are to utilise my previous experience and couple that with my new knowledge and work on Tournament/Event Management within golf. The degree program at Merrist Wood has a very good reputation, additionally I have been able to make many new contacts through my work at EGD.
The weekly abuse about me being the only Chelsea supporter in the office ceased this week when I pointed out that Chelsea had won the Premier league again! A win against Portsmouth this Saturday and it will be doubles all round I presume?
To me, at least, green design makes the difference between good and great golf courses. From big to small, flat to undulating, round to square (ish), heavily bunkered or no bunkers, they should all get the golfer thinking about the approach shot they are about to hit.
Drawn and designed at a 1:200 scale because of their complexity, they are accountable for a big chunk of time in the design process. One project for example could easily have 40 or more greens (including practice facilities) to design, each a different size and shape with different borrows to fit the golf hole that is laid out before it.
Every green design is painstakingly drawn with a high degree of detail, up to 6 contours per meter. The drawn design is not by any means set in stone, more often than not the Golf Course Architect will tweak (sometimes more than tweak!) slopes, humps and bumps when they are on site.
One thing that must be considered as a part of the green design process is creating areas that are flat enough to be ‘pinned’. There should be at least 5 suitable areas on a green for the pin, if, for nothing else, to cover the 4 days of a big tournament. To meet European Tour standards for example a pinnable area will generally have a gradient of less than 2%.
Along with Pin positions another aspect to be considered is the type of grass being used on the putting surface, the mowing height and potential Stimp reading as this will have an impact on the slopes and shaping. Generally Greens will be cut between 3-5mm depending on the time of year and during the summer they may be cut twice daily to keep the greens fast. The Stimp meter is a device that allows the Golf Club to gauge the speed of their greens. For Championship Golf they are normally a minimum of 10 feet on the Stimp. 12 feet is usually as fast as a professional golfer would see, Augusta’s Stimp however can run at 13 feet.
Now for some very basic construction information. Typically European Golf Design build greens to conform with the USGA recommendations for greens construction. Starting from the bottom upwards; The first job is to shape the green subgrade so that the contours in the subgrade reflect those of the finished shaping. A series of drainage lines are trenched into the subgrade, these will contain the perforated drainage pipe and be backfilled with washed gravel. Above this is a 100mm layer of the same washed gravel. Finally on top of this sits the seedbed mix which is a 300mm mixture of sand and organic matter. Occasionally a plastic membrane is installed around the green perimeter which is used as a barrier between the subsoil green profile edge and the gravel blanket and rootzone mixture.
One aspect I have not covered is grass seed. There will be a blog to come on this, so to find out more on Bent or Bermuda, Pencross or Penneagle watch this space!
With the Wales Open only six weeks away, and the Ryder Cup a little less than five months after that, the finishing touches have now being made to the Twenty Ten Course at Celtic Manor Resort.
Last week some of the staff here at European Golf Design had the opportunity to visit Celtic Manor and see first hand what has been going on.
Over the winter Ross has been working closely with Jim McKenzie and his staff as the final few tweaks were made to some of the bunkers on the original holes to ensure that their style was consistent with those on the new holes. One of the most important aspects for us during the development of the Twenty Ten Course has been to ensure that there is a seamless progression between the nine new holes and the nine holes retained from the previous course. At the outset we were determined to make the bunkers on the new holes deeper and more penal with rolling grass faces blending into the flashed up sand to improve the visual aesthetics. As a result all the bunkers on the old holes have been remodelled in the same style by Jim’s team. Many have also been repositioned to improve their strategic value or reshaped to resolve other maintenance issues.
European Ryder Cup Team Captain Colin Montgomerie has also been involved. Following a course inspection last autumn Colin suggested some improvements to the par 5 11th hole and subsequently Ross and Jim have coordinated some major revisions to the green surrounds. The bunkers have been made more penal and the entrance into the green tightened. In addition a drop off on the left side of the green has been carved out which will kick any ball missing the target on that side down and away from the putting surface, towards the water. As a consequence this relatively short par 5 will now have a couple of much tougher pin positions and the approach to the green will need a great deal more thought.
Following other comments from Colin and feedback following the last Wales Open the opportunity has also been taken to adjust some fairway and rough outlines around the course to enhance the playing strategy.
With the completion of the Ryder Cup practice area and the opening of the bridge across the River Usk which will link it to the golf course, as well as the installation of numerous new tarmac roads and pathways to facilitate easier access for spectators and vehicles, the last 12 months have been another hugely busy period at Celtic Manor Resort. The Wales Open which starts on June 3rd will be a great opportunity for players and spectators alike to see what’s in store before the big event in October.
Michael King has always been one very English golfer, who won on tour and played in the 1979 Ryder Cup. But after severe arthritis forced him to retire, he has helped design some of the best courses in Europe. Bill Elliott meets the man whose friends call him ‘Queenie’…
In these days of pre-prepared golf professionals, of young men who are already battle-hardened and media savvy before their short game is complete, it can pay to reflect on the way it used to be on the European Tour.
Believe me – if in this mood – there is no finer companion with whom to reminisce about the good, daft old days than Michael King, or ‘Queenie’ as he is affectionately known to friends and foes alike. Yes, even his foes usually confess to an instinctive liking for the tall Englishman who blossomed briefly but well on the European circuit between 1974 and the mid 1980s.
Interesting bloke, Mike. Along with a small waterfall of hair that seems to grow thicker as he ages, he always has carried himself with that easy charm so particularly accessible to a certain type of Englishman. My own early memories of him are of a pro golfer who stood out because he always seemed happy and he appeared to own a wardrobe consisting exclusively of the finest cashmere.
When I mentioned this to him, he laughed: “Oh, I’ve always had a champagne taste for life no matter how much I’ve actually been earning.”
These days Mike earns his living pressing the flesh of potential clients for European Golf Design, the course design experts owned jointly by the Tour and IMG and whose glittering portfolio of completed projects includes this year’s Ryder Cup venue at Celtic Manor. King himself has been signature designer on two of EGD’s projects, Ribagolfe II in Portugal and Marriott Worsley Park near Manchester.
How he got to where he is today, however, is a story of good luck, bad luck and debilitating illness. It is also not quite as posh as many of us once suspected.
Born in Reading to an estate agent father, he initially flew in the face of his insouciant image by attending state schools before heading off to the sports-mad Millfield School in Somerset. Here his dormitory head boy was JPR Williams (who, of course, became a legend of Welsh Rugby), while next door a certain Gareth Edwards plotted his own ascent of the old, biff-bash game.
Despite such neighbouring peers, Mike’s game of choice was golf. He was good too, playing twice in the Walker Cup (1969 and ’73) before heading off to the City to play at stockbroking.
His future, however, was rudely mapped out for him when he lost everything in the great crash of 1974. At 24 years of age he was broke. It was then that someone suggested he make use of the one skill he appeared to have, playing golf. So with the help of friends – names like Steven Evans, Eddie Healey and the late, great photographer Laurence Levy spill out of him as he reflects on the men who helped forge his life – he joined the circuit where, inevitably, he stood out and not just because he was over 6ft 2ins tall. Whereas the majority of pros back then seemed to have come from the hard world of club golf, King seemed to have lolloped his way onto the tour.
Nothing, however, could have been further from the truth. For a start he had an overdraft of £800 the day he turned pro and he had also just been diagnosed with the cruel beginnings of ankylosing spondylitis, an arthritic condition of the spine. The fact is that right from the start, Michael King knew that as a top-flight player he was going to face the end sooner rather than later.
“I always knew that, yes, but I was also determined not to let it stop me trying to enjoy myself. And I did quite well I suppose. I was quite a good golfer, certainly a good striker of the ball. That said, I was also probably the most mentally inept player in the world. If I was doing well I’d start making a speech in my head but by the time I’d completed it, I’d finished sixth.”
This was not always true, or at least once it wasn’t. In the autumn of 1979 he finally got to make that speech when he won the impressively titled SOS Talisman TPC at Moor Park in Yorkshire to finish the year the fifth ranked player in Europe. The previous week he had played in the Ryder Cup in West Virginia.
“Ah yes,” he recalls. “The Ryder Cup… I only got to play in the singles, sadly. John [Jacobs, the captain of that ill-fated venture] kept telling me I was due to play but then he kept putting me back so I had little else to do but practise and that meant I was really ready to go when we got to Leeds the following week.”
Five years later the arthritis had really kicked in and so reluctantly he had to give up his life as a touring pro. It was a tough time – and certainly tougher than he even now lets on – but once again a lot of friends rallied round. “You know, the friendships one forges on the way up are vitally important because you need those friends when you are moving in the opposite direction.”
These friends include the likes of Sam Torrance, David Feherty, Nick Job, Greg Norman and so many others. “These pals encouraged me out on to the golf course to partner them even though back then I struggled to knock the ball 150 yards off the tee. It meant a lot and it still does.”
By the time his arthritis hit hard, he had been a member of the players’ committee and the Tour’s board of directors. Behind the Roger Moore image lurks a more serious and thoughtful man than he would ever wish you to know but the Tour hierarchy had indeed noticed this and so offered him a role that involved meeting and, as always, effortlessly charming potential sponsors. It is from this role that he has segued into his job at EGD and a position he now clearly loves.
He still plays golf too. These games take place at Sunningdale, the club he first joined in 1968 and which offers him the sort of vaguely PG Wodehouse environment that he relishes. He joined as a young amateur because Gerald Micklem, the first gentleman of English amateur golf, told him it was a good idea. Not for the first time, Micklem was spot on.
His hero was Jack Nicklaus and one of his biggest thrills came when he was paired with the great man over the opening rounds of the 1981 Open at St George’s. Unfortunarely their afternoon three-ball – Jumbo Ozaki made up the trio – hit the mother of all Channel storms that day. Nicklaus returned 81, Mike hit 82. When I bumped into him that evening he grimaced and said: “I’ve dreamt of beating Jack and on the one day he shoots over 80 I lose to him by one.” The following day saw Nicklaus shoot 65 to make the cut. Queenie missed out.
Did I mention that Michael ‘Queenie’ King could charm for England? What is also true is that we won’t see his like again on the pro circuit, let alone feel that quality of cashmere.
by Bill Elliott, Golf Monthly.
Jack Nicklaus and Michael King during the 1981 Open at St George’s
Since a very successful cooperation with EGD in the Czech Republic during the design work and construction of Casa Serena, my professional relationship with Robin Hiseman, Jeremy Slessor and whole EGD group has developed into a warm, personal friendship. So, I was very happy to get the opportunity to come back to the office for a week again this year and meet the team. The previous visit was split into two parts, with office work experience and practical exercises on the golf course. As I come from a country without any coastline and where the golf tradition is short by comparison to the UK, my aim was to visit the classical heathland and links courses. This year, I was privileged to visit and play Swinley Forest and Hayling golf clubs, both of which were great playing experiences. I am proud also that my game, so deep in the winter, was good enough for me to shoot 77 at Swinley Forest! The usual match play competition with Robin was enriched with his very valuable golf course architectural observations. Robin´s focus on details, feeling for landscape and good will to share his golf architectural ideas during his work at Casa Serena started up my personal interest in golf course architecture. It has grown in time into a real passion for me. This time, I brought my current design project with me, to be reviewed by both Robin and Gary Johnston. Gary and Robin´s notes on the design strategy and technical details of the grading plan have been very helpful.
I am currently working as a construction manager and site surveyor on golf developments in both the Czech and Slovak Republics. Thanks to my job I have the opportunity to combine my technical construction knowledge with the differing design styles and working methods of the golf architects, notably the quality of the drawings and the attention to detail during the construction site visit. Let me say that the overall quality and professionalism of EGD is top of the class!
My week at EGD went too quickly, unfortunately, but the visit on Sunday, my last day, to the extraordinary Painswick Golf Club was a real cherry on the top of the cake.
I have to thank to everyone at EGD for making me feel very welcome!
2009 is nearly over. New contracts have been signed for courses in Egypt, Holland, Russia, Portugal and Cyprus. Construction is underway in Russia and Holland, and courses completed in Scotland, Greece and Bulgaria. New websites designed for Paul Casey and Colin Montgomerie’s Foundation. Looking back on 2009 here are our own individual highlights:
Jeremy – Can’t limit myself to one highlight of the year; Working at EGD was a highlight. We’ve a great group of people. Each is talented for their respective area of responsibility. Being part of that experience, competency and professionalism is a real pleasure.
Seeing great courses designed by Ross, Stan, Rob, Gary and Dave was a real treat. I’m the lucky one – I get to see what everyone is doing. It’s a fantastically impressive body of work.
Speaking at a number of conferences (US, Denmark, UK, Spain and Amsterdam) this year was very interesting, if only to gauge how we’re doing compared to others in the industry. We’re doing well by comparison.
Stan – Returning to Sporting Club Berlin after several years and catching up with old friends.
Ross – Two things stand out and both from courses we’re working on with Colin Montgomerie. Firstly, working with the shapers at The Dutch trying to create a unique character for the golf course, and secondly the opening for play of Rowallan Castle Golf Club in Scotland.
Shara – Conquering my fear of heights – riding the London Eye at the Christmas Party.
Gary – Finally getting to play on the Old Course at St Andrews and going out in level par – just don’t ask about the back 9!
Matt – 2009 has been a very enjoyable year. Working with our Parent Companies I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with not only some of the World’s best golfers working on player websites but also to have produced tournament graphics for some of the World’s top golfing events. A particular highlight has been the Elizabeth Montgomerie Foundation website and related social media. Being part of Colin Montgomerie’s team helping raising money for those affected by cancer has been a very rewarding experience.
Dave – My highlight has to be the site trips to our project at Zavidovo. We have been very fortunate to have two of the very best shapers building the golf course, and it has been a pleasure and education watching, learning and working with them.
Alex – Seeing a picture one of my plans for Palm City on a sign in Denmark, the size of a house.
Robin – Standing on the proposed 2nd tee of our new project site near Madrid. Having sketched out a routing on the topographic map I thought this hole might turn out quite well when I went to the site to check it out for the first time. However, I wasn’t prepared for just how spectacular this hole could turn out. I got a huge adrenaline rush standing here thinking this could become one of the World’s great par 5’s. Reminded me why I love this career so much.
Sarah – Attending the KPMG Golf Business Forum at Celtic Manor and sharing a mini bus with Arnold Palmer.
Thrill seekers Dave Sampson and Gary Johnston during the EGD Christmas Party
Riffa Views, in Bahrain has won a 5-star Award for ‘Best Golf Real Estate Development’ at the prestigious CNBC Arabian Property Awards 2009. The award highlights Riffa Views as a leading golf and residential development in a tough economic climate and has helped elevate Bahrain as a residential destination. Since opening this year, the course has hosted a number of prominent tournaments including the Gulf Air International Pro-Captain Challenge and the Middle Eastern Final of the Faldo Series.
The luxury Riffa Views development has over 900 villas built around the acclaimed Montgomerie Course, designed by Colin Montgomerie in association with Robin Hiseman of European Golf Design. Hiseman commented, “We were delighted to hear that Riffa Views has won this prestigious award and feel it is wholly justified for the very high standard of the whole Riffa Views development. The developer was very accommodating in providing us with the space and investment necessary to provide a world class golf course and we expect this to be just the tip of the iceberg with the plaudits that Riffa Views will receive. It’s a great place to live and a fun golf course to play”.
Colin Montgomerie added “The course has all the characteristics to make it one of the top courses in the Middle East. Of all the region’s desert courses that profess to offer a links type experience, we believe that Riffa Views is clearly the most authentic. It is a very classy development and a special layout to play. I’m very proud to have my name attached to it.”
The impressive Montgomerie Golf Course at Riffa Views
I was very excited to hear the news that on the 16th of November I would start a weeks work experience at European Golf Design. I have always been a keen golfer and I currently work at Dale Hill Golf Club so I was looking forward to seeing the design aspect of the golf industry.
Work experience is normally associated with photocopying paper and filing notes but this definitely was not the case! Monday morning came around quickly and after meeting the team I was put under the wing of Designer, Gary Johnston. My task, design a golf course! I was given a plot of land in Berlin and after getting familiar with the constraints and contours I set to work. I went home that night wishing golf courses only had 17 holes; it was proving a lot more difficult than I anticipated!
By Tuesday morning I had a good outline of where all my holes would be placed so that they were within the boundaries and complimented the land. I decided on an inner and outer loop design, with my front 9 as the outer loop and the back 9 as the inner loop.
Now that my routing was set it was time to add the design features such as fairways, bunkers and greens. I learnt all about the different types of golf hole such as natural, strategic and penal. I tried to stick to a strategic design so that the golf course could be enjoyed by golfers of all standards. I continued my designing into Tuesday evening and had it ready for a big day on Wednesday, competition day!!!
Gary had informed me on Tuesday night that there would be a competition between me and another work experience student. We had to present 6 finished holes to him and fellow EGD designer Robin Hiseman and talk through all the reasoning behind the holes. Brian, my competitor was an experienced golfer studying golf science so I knew I was up against it! I kept my cards close to my chest and although I was slightly under prepared on technical issues of the course I was quietly confident going into the presentation room. Brian and I competently pitched our 6 holes and awaited a result. However, Like France vs Ireland a controversial decision was to follow! Gary and Rob called a draw! I was initially disappointed but a very worthwhile exercise, giving me a great chance to see how Brian had set about his course and what he’d done differently to me.
The week was going quickly and by Thursday I was on to grading the course. This was a concept I struggled to grasp straight away but Gary remained patient and did his best to show me the way. At this stage you have to focus in on one of your golf holes and add all your slopes, mounds and depressions. I managed to get two holes completed with all the interesting mounds and slopes I wanted whilst taking into account how the drainage would work. It’s easy to have the idea in your head but putting it onto paper for someone else to understand is quite a task!
Friday came around much too quickly for my liking but I had a great time working on my golf course and working here has made me even thirstier to pursue a career in the golf industry.
Lastly I need to say a few thank you’s:
To everyone for making me feel very welcome.
Gary – for teaching me everything I know about golf design
Jeremy – for setting everything up and allowing me to come here!
Football is well represented at EGD; it is often at the heart of a heated discussion especially on a Monday morning.
Starting in the back of the office we have Gary, a Glasgow Rangers fan, I don’t have much to say about Rangers apart from Gary could probably get in that team at the moment. It also helps getting tickets when your uncle is the Chairman!!
Robin and Dave are Spurs Fans. One would be too many. Sleeping Giants? I think they are in a coma. We mustn’t also forget Rob’s first love Halifax Town who languish in the Unibond league.
The Man Utd Mug belongs to Matt, he doesn’t like the diving that has come into the modern game and hates Ronaldo’s greasy hair, he was glad to see the back of him. His Favourite Utd player? I would say Wayne Rooney, of course, the toffees taught him everything that he knows.
Jeremy is a Gooner, he has not forked out for a mug though. Maybe he is not very proud. Or is it us? Maybe we haven’t seen it like Mr Wenger.
Sarah is a part time Liverpool fan, when they lose (quite often this season) she cheers on Fulham. I think she fits in better with the fans in South West London rather than the Merseysiders. She does own a pair of highly one sided Liverpool goggles though.
Shara, as far as I know the only team she supports is the one that her sons James and Sam play in. She is probably the most sensible of all of us.
Ross – he is a Hammer, currently they are in the relegation zone, the team that put them there last week with a win at Upton Park? Everton , that happens to be my team. The Pride of Merseyside.
Stan also likes football, his favourite team? The Chicago Bears. Huh.