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

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

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

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

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

Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in Saudi Arabia

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

A return to the Evian Championship

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

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

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

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

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

Above: The 16th Hole at Evian

Golf Tour in St Andrews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of the best 9 hole Courses in the Land?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Evian Championship – The ‘New’ major on the LPGA tour

In the lead up to this week’s ‘New’ major, the designers of the course redevelopment, European Golf Design, provide some interesting ‘numbers’ on the just what was undertaken in preparing the course for its new ‘major’ status.

80000 – The cubic metre amount of earth moved in redeveloping the course

6428 – The total number of yards from the championship tees

71 – The new par of the Evian golf course. The most significant changes to the course have been in the redesign of the 5th hole from a par 4 to a par 3; the 13th has been extended to a reachable par 5; the 16th is now the short par 3 and the 17th a par 4; while the 18th has been changed from a short par 5 into the longest and most demanding par 4 on the course.

442 – The length of new par 4 finishing hole

77 – The number of new bunkers on the course. The previous large flat bunkers have been replaced by a smaller, deeper and more challenging bunker style.

20 – The number of greens which have been redesigned and rebuilt. On average, the greens have increased in size by up to 40%, allowing for more flexibility in pin position opportunities and more undulation within the putting surfaces.

19 – This week’s Evian Championship (Sept. 12-15), is the 19th edition of this women’s golf tournament, which this year becomes the fifth and final major on the LPGA Tour.

3 – The number of cascading ponds which defend the front of the new short downhill 155 yard par 3 16th hole

176 – The number of new trees planted around the course

For more information on what exactly took place during the past year’s construction, click on the video link below from this month’s CNN Living Golf programme

http://edition.cnn.com/video/?/video/sports/2013/09/05/spc-living-golf-evian-women-fifth-major.cnn&hpt=igo_mid

And for all the latest news and tournament information, visit the tournament website

http://www.evianchampionship.com/en/

Above: The 14th Hole at Evian

Zavidovo is European Golf Design’s 50th Major New Project

The opening of Zavidovo PGA National Russia represents an important milestone in the history of European Golf Design as the course is the 50th to have opened since the company was created in 1992. Russia also marks the 22nd country where European Golf Design has golf courses in play.

Following the opening ceremony, European Golf Design’s Managing Director, Jeremy Slessor, commented; “It is a great achievement to have created so many new courses in such a wide variety of regions and countries. We believe that our attention to detail and client support are the reasons why so many of our projects have been successful, not only for the quality of golf which they provide, but also for the economic advantages for our clients.”

The award winning Zavidovo PGA National Russia is the centre piece of a new exclusive development created by Moscow Agranta on the banks of the Volga river, 100 kilometres west of Moscow. Measuring 7,400 yards from the back tees, the course is characterised by wide fairways, undulating greens and heather clad bunkers.

Speaking after the golf course had been unveiled to the international media and other guests, European Golf Design’s project architect, Dave Sampson, said; “We are extremely proud of what we have created here at Zavidovo. We have been fortunate to have had a great construction and grow-in team, and that, combined with a great client, helped us to deliver a really high quality project.”

“The course is looking absolutely fantastic. The playing surfaces are hard and fast in accordance with our design intent, and the heather we have planted around the bunkers gives the golf course a heathland character which is quite unique for Russia.”

Dave Sampson is sure that the course will prove a stern test for the elite players, but will also be a fun and strategic challenge to high handicap golfers. “Russia is an emerging golfing nation, and we were fully aware when designing the course, that we would need to provide multiple teeing grounds for players of all abilities. In addition, to further encourage golf development, the course has extensive practices greens and a full length practice range with state of the art teaching facilities. In 2015 we will also be adding a PGANationalGolfAcademy.”

Above: Zavidovo PGA National in Russia

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??

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

Construction recommences at Evian

Phase 2 construction work in preparation for the new major on the LPGA tour is well underway and the proposed changes to the course are now starting to take shape.

The most notable changes to the golf course layout will take place on golf holes 5, which has been converted from an uphill par 4 to a dramatic one-shotter played over water, and the final four holes, where we are creating a ‘stadium-like’ amphitheatre around the new green complexes 15, 16 & 18.

In terms of the actual golf course features, the previously small and undulating greens are being replaced by larger greens with many more pin locations. The beauty behind the majority of the new greens is that not only will they reward pinpoint accuracy but they are also designed to be receptive to shots that are played along the ground, ensuring that the golfer always has multiple options in which to attack any pin position.

The new bunker styles are designed to be more of a deterrent and penalty, replacing the large & flat bunkers of the past. They will have a more natural and ‘ragged’ edge to them, and will be smaller and deeper, more in scale and proportion to the narrow tree-lined golf holes in which they will sit.

Additional and larger tees have been added to most of the golf holes allowing for more flexibility in the course setup.

To increase the drama and climax of the course, additional water features have been added, mainly to the closing golf holes. As mentioned above, Hole 5 will now be played over a large lake, while the new short 16th will be played downhill, to a raised green which sits above a new cascading stream system. The existing stream feature which use to front the 18th green has now been made into a much larger pond feature which will protect the new raised green. The water features are designed to serve both aesthetic and functional storage purposes.

The ultimate intention at Evian is to create a course with much more variety and choice.

Above: Hole 14

PGA National Russia nears completion

I was back in Russia last week, mainly to present the Detail Design package for the PGA Academy course at Zavidovo, but also for the ‘soft opening’ of the first 9 holes on the PGA National course.

The National course really is coming on great, and Paul Avison and his team have done a fantastic job growing in and presenting the course, the greens in particular were in excellent condition.

Minor tweaks have been made, mainly to grassing lines and bunker edges, but it was good to have the opportunity to see the course again prior to the official opening which is on the 7th of September – can’t wait to see it completed!

Above: Par-3, 12th Hole at PGA National.