Royal Porthcawl – Through the eyes of a golfer, a designer and graphic designer.

A couple weeks back, I was fortunate to get the opportunity to play Royal Porthcawl ahead of this month’s upcoming British Seniors Open. Along with my playing partners, we were also fortunate to be greeted with blazing sunshine and NO breeze! (Note – that framed sea view from the locker room is something special…..and when you see it, you know are in for something special)

The course itself is a wonderful test and was already in great shape. The warm early summer weather had already firmed up and browned off the fairways, giving it that desired ‘links’ look! There is no weak hole out there and the par 3s were all excellent, especially the short 7th – how wonderful it is to have such a short hole (120yards if that), if only it was done more often these days!

At EGD we have numerous opportunities to work closely with the European Tour, and this year, Matt has been working on the tournament plan for this year’s British Seniors Open. Having seen the plan been worked on in the office, it was very interesting to see how this would work both on the course, and from a tournament staging point of view – the most notable course change, for staging reasons, is the 18th hole playing as the 1st and the 17th as the tournament’s home hole.

Finally, our game was played on quiet Sunday afternoon in late June, the sun was shining bright and the only sounds we could hear emanated from the nearby beach. The smell was that wonderful fresh sea air smell, the views were spectacular, and we pretty much had this fantastic links all to ourselves…..I vividly recall thinking, Life is good! In a couple weeks’ time, I am sure things won’t be all that tranquil for those in contention on tournament Sunday, but the Seniors Open sure does have a wonderful host!

Paul Casey’s double for European Golf Design and Colin Montgomerie Design

This weekend’s win for Paul Casey at the Irish Open was significant for two reasons. Firstly it marked the return to form for one of England’s most popular golfers, and secondly, he became a two time winner on courses designed by Colin Montgomerie in association with European Golf Design.

The Irish Open returned to the Montgomerie Course at Carton House for the third time, having previously staged the event in 2005 and 2006. The course, which opened in 2004, is often described as an ‘inland links’, characterised by its steep faced, penal bunkering and dramatic swales and contouring on and around the greens. Paul Casey showed an early liking for the course in 2006 when he finished runner up to Thomas Bjorn, losing by just one shot after three putting the last green. He more than made up for that this year by holing a monster putt for an eagle three on the 72nd hole to confirm his first victory since 2011.

That last win came at the inaugural Volvo Golf Champions at the Royal Golf Club at Riffa Views in Bahrain. As at Carton House, the Montgomerie Course at Riffa Views was designed to provide a links style golf experience, but this time in a desert environment, with fast running fairways and open approaches into huge, firm greens which are dramatically contoured. It is clearly a style which suits Paul Casey’s game.

So, if you’re wondering where Paul’s next win might come, then our tip would be to look no further than the Turkish Airlines Open which will be played at The Montgomerie Maxx Royal in November as part of the exciting Final Series of The European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

Above: The 18th green on the Montgomerie Course

The Road to Recovery

I’m in the fortunate position of being the webmaster for some of the world’s leading golfers and with the packed tournament schedule there is rarely a week that goes by when I’m not checking on results or glued to the TV screen over the weekend. Two of the players I deal with are Retief Goosen and Paul Casey, and both have struggled with injuries this year, Retief with his back and Paul with his toe. It’s great to see both of those players now coming back to form and hopefully finishing the season off strongly. Retief has big events coming up with the Presidents Cup in Melbourne and his home event, the South African Open, in Johannesburg. He’s won the event twice and narrowly missed out on the title last year after a close tussle with compatriot Ernie Els. For Paul he will be hoping to build on his fourth place finish in the HSBC Champions and end the season with good performances in the Chevron World Challenge and the season’s finale at the Dubai World Championship.

My interest in professional golf is not just with the players, I produce many of the on-course site plans for events on the European Tour. Not only is it a pleasure but also an insight into how much preparation goes into staging tournament golf. I’ve just completed the Dubai World Championship plans and looking forward to watching the top players battle it out for the 2011 Harry Vardon Trophy.

Above: Extract from the Dubai World Championship site plan.

Golf Course Bunkers

Having just been updating our project images I was struck by the different character of the many European Golf Design courses. These differences are particularly evident in the bunker styles which can come in all shapes and sizes. They range from small pot bunkers which are deep and round with steep faces, to large expanses of flat waste bunkers and many other types in between.

Bunkers are defined as hazards and are one element used by golf course designers to determine the strategic test of a golf course. They can be placed to direct play, to penalise wayward shots or to provide protection. They also have an important aesthetical value.

Bunker positioning has been a subject of debate ever since the earliest golf course architects. Alistair McKenzie, the foremost designer of his time, stated that “No hazard should be placed which has not some influence on the line of play of the hole. On many courses there are far too many bunkers“, while Donald Ross the other pre-eminent architect from the same era considered that “There is no such thing as a misplaced bunker“.

Bunker play requires a different approach depending on it’s location, shape and size, they are usually categorized as either fairway bunkers, greenside bunkers or waste bunkers. Commonly fairway bunkers tend not to be that deep and have a lower face which allows the golfer to advance the ball at least some way towards the hole. Greenside bunkers are usually deeper with a steeper face and are one of the most difficult shots to play in golf for the average player. Waste Bunkers are typically unmaintained natural sandy areas which may run alongside the fairway and could have rocks and vegetation within them. According to the rules waste bunkers are not considered a hazard so golfers can ground a club and remove loose objects from around the ball.

The style of bunkers is often influenced by environmental factors such as wind, rain and sun. Bunkers with high, flashed up faces can be a problem to maintain in areas which receive a lot of rainfall as the sand is often washed into the bases. Long, flat bunkers can be effected by wind whipping up the sand and removing it, while south facing steep grass faces in hotter regions might need additional irrigation to prevent stress damage to turf.

At European Golf Design we have designed golf course’s with every type and style of bunker and here are some examples:

  • Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club, UAE
  • Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links, Ireland
  • Riffa Views, Bahrain
  • Papillon Golf Club, Turkey
  • Twenty Ten Course at Celtic Manor, Wales
  • The Montgomerie at The Dutch, Netherlandss

Cart Paths

Cart paths are a preferred route that golf buggies should follow around the golf course. A recommended golf course design feature in warm climates, to help reduce turf grass wear on the golf course, can be an important component for the golf course presentation. In today’s resort golf courses cart paths provide a beneficial support for golf course operations.

Basically a mini road, construction can be concrete, brick pavers, asphalt or more eco friendly materials. Typically a cart path will be 2.25-2.5m wide with a 2% fall for drainage. Below the surface will be a 150mm subgrade of crushed rock and a compacted subgrade. Kerbing may also be necessary depending on the golf course terrain. Typically, kerbing may be installed in the areas of greens and tees to direct traffic away from areas of play.

Design of the cart paths is very important. The route should be efficient, unobtrusive and safe, avoiding steep slopes and tight turns. Where possible, paths should be placed away from play areas to avoid interference with play. The path will often follow the shortest route tee to green. Cart Paths may be installed in stages and partial systems are not uncommon. It should be noted that entry and exit points are areas that commonly exhibit turf wear problems and may require restoration.

Cart Paths can impact greatly on the overall construction costs depending on materials and terrain. Cart Paths can also help and support drainage by collecting runoff in channels along the path thus directing water away from the fairways.

Many modern construction methods are regarded as low maintenance, but poorly constructed cart paths can have a significant negative impact upon the presentation of the golf course and golf course maintenance.

As designers, we make great efforts to design cart paths to avoid disrupting the natural setting. Where possible we try to utilise the natural topography into the design of the cart paths. On flatter ground, mounding can be used to provide natural barriers to help screen the cart paths. Landscaping can also be used to screen cart paths from view.

We spend a lot of time considering the cart path route for a golf course to ensure that the visual impact for the players is minimal.

Brick paver cart path with kerbing

A Classic Links Course

As I sit here working on the Staging plan for the 2010 Senior Open Championship held at Carnoustie I cannot help but think about the characteristics of classic links golf. Undulating fairways, sandy soil and dunes, wispy long rough, the smell of the sea from the coastal wind, thick gorse, firm well-drained ground and yes deep revetted pot bunkers.

Looking at the revetted bunkers in more detail not only are they inevitably a one-shot penalty but they are also labour intensive to construct and maintain. Construction involves stacking thick turf strips (approx 40mm thick) in layers. Each layer is set back from the one below depending on the steepness of the face. The turf is generally a bent grass / fescue mix which are more tolerant to wind and drought conditions. Maintenance is an ongoing process with a typical turf renewal every 4-5 years, although the life expectancy of the bunker face will be affected by exposure to the sun and wind which can cause the face to dry out and crumble. Additional Sprinkers are sometimes installed to include coverage of southern facing revetted bunkers exposed to the sun to try and prevent the faces from drying out but generally these bunkers need to be rebuilt more frequently. To accommodate the constant turf rotation links courses generally have large turf nurseries.

Thinking back to Carnoustie who cannot recall Padraig Harrington’s memorable first Open victory in 2007 when he defeated Sergio Garcia in a play-off.

  • EGD's Gary Johnston assisting the greenkeeping team with the renovation of a number of the revetted bunkers at Princes Golf Club.
  • EGD's Gary Johnston assisting the greenkeeping team with the renovation of a number of the revetted bunkers at Princes Golf Club.

Tools of the Trade

When it comes to my world working as European Golf Design’s Computer Guru it’s always important to have the right digital tools available for every job. I don’t think there are any boundaries in IT and that’s why I enjoy it so much, whatever you need to do there is a tool that can help you do it. I spend a lot of time testing, cursing and adoring a wide range of software, here is a list of my essential software apps (in no particular order).

1. Bentley Microstation/Powercivil – The bread and butter workhorse when it comes to plan production and terrain modelling. There is no better CAD system available today.

2. Adobe Photoshop – It’s the industry standard image editing package and is packed full with features. It is an essential tool for any serious photographer or web developer and integrates tightly with Adobe’s other products.

3. Google Earth – The professional version has changed the way we work. Being able to locate sites and view the terrain in 3D is truly amazing. Not only does it enhance plans it also helps design work when a detailed site survey is not available.

4. WordPress – This is a popular blog publishing application with a built in content management system. It’s used by 1000’s of people to create online blogs and best of all it’s free.

5. Adobe Dreamweaver / Flash – Dreamweaver is a highly extendable web development application and suitable for users of all abilities. Flash is used to add animation and interactivity to web pages, it also supports streaming of audio and video.

6. Abode Illustrator – This has become the standard application when it comes to illustration design. Artists, Illustrators and Graphic Designers use Illustrator to create vector-based graphics. Like Photoshop it’s not easy to master but the rewards are worth the effort.

7. PHP/MYSQL/Apache – If you want to build dynamic web pages with a database backend and all for free, look no further.

8. Windows Small Business Server – Being a Microsoft Qualified Engineer (MCSE) I’m in my element here. Without getting all techie this is an all-in-one server solution with all the features you’ll ever need from a server.

9. Napster – Online music file sharing service with more than 10 million tracks in every possible genre. If you need music while you work this is it.

10. Google / Web Browser – This is Daddy, use Google properly and you can become an expert in any subject in 15 minutes! Oh and don’t forget your trusty Web Browser you can’t use Google without it, Internet Explorer is still my choice.

Others worth a mention – Skype, QuarkXpress, 3D Studio Max, LSS, Spotify.

I’d be interested to know what your favourite applications are and why?

Who needs an office?

Golf Course Grass Types

When the majority of golfers play their ball, either from the tee, fairway, rough or green, not many will give a second thought about the hallowed turf beneath them and how it is different from the grass they mow back at home each week. In reality a great deal of consideration is given to ensure the best possible grass varieties are used. Grass selection is based on climate, soil type, water availability and quality and the playing characteristics required by the designer. There are many specialized varieties of turfgrass for golf courses some of which require intensive maintenance and careful cultural practices.

Here are some of the typical grass types found on golf courses.

Bentgrass – A grass often used on golf courses in northern Europe. The bentgrass varieties have many advantages as they can be mowed to a very short height and are ideal for highly-manicured areas such as tees, greens and fairways. There are various types but browntop bents are well adapted for maritime and coastal climates such as in the UK, while creeping bent is commonly used, especially on greens, in both cool and some warm climate regions.

Fescues – A large family of grasses which can be used on all areas of a golf course, most usually in cooler climates. They adapt well to less fertile conditions and although some varieties are appropriate for close mowing they are most often distinguishable as tall rough grasses, particularly on links courses.

Rye Grass – This cool-season grass is used for roughs and fairways. Its use on golf courses has increased due to the fact that it is hard wearing, tolerates close mowing and the ease with which it can be striped by reel mowers.

Kentucky Blue Grass or Smooth-stalked Meadow Grass – A grass used for fairways and roughs, largely in cool-season areas, but also in some humid regions.

Bermuda Grass – A warm season grass variety which is very heat tolerant and found on courses in southern Europe and the Middle East. Bermuda grass can be used on all areas of the golf course and is commonly propagated by sprigging.

Paspalum – A warm season grass which is tolerant of salt water and heat. It can be used for tees, greens, fairways and roughs and provides a very dark green colour.

Taking three of the courses we have designed with Colin Montgomerie as an example it is interesting to note the differences in grass selection at each.

1) The Montgomerie at The Dutch in The Netherlands has creeping bent greens with a browntop bent / fescue mix in the fairways.

2) The Montgomerie at Papillon Golf Club in Turkey has bermuda grass everywhere except for the greens which are creeping bent.

3) The Royal Golf Club at Riffa Views in Bahrain uses wall to wall paspalum.

Made in Scotland

He holds the record for the most appearances on the European Tour winning, over twenty times. He played for Europe in the Ryder Cup eight times and sunk the winning putt in 1985 to capture it back from the USA for the first time in 28 years. He went on to captain Europe in 2002 as Europe once again regained the trophy. Now playing on the European Senior Tour he won the 2009 Order of Merit.

Got it yet ? Easy, Sam Torrance. He must be one of the most popular and charismatic golfers in the world.

As well as his playing schedule and being a well loved TV commentator Sam is now involved in the design of a new golf course in Holland. The project named The Dutch is located in Spijk which is in the centre of Holland close to the town of Gorinchem approximately 40km east of Rotterdam.

It’s easy to see why Sam is such a well respected voice on TV. When he dropped by the office for a design meeting with lead designer Ross McMurray he was fascinating to listen to, and very humorous!

Sam is keen for his golf course at The Dutch to have a traditional feel in terms of its design. It should certainly have a Scottish flavour as it will feature a number of burns crossing golf holes in strategic places, and bunkers will be relatively small but deep enough to cost at least half a shot. But, most importantly, and like his personality, Sam wants the course to be great fun to play.

From left – Lead designer Ross McMurray, Sam Torrance, EGD Director Michael King

Groovey Kind of Love

As from Jan 1, 2010 the R&A and USGA rule regarding grooves shall come into enforcement for all professional golfers. The rule affects irons and wedges that have a loft greater than or equal to 25 degrees (a 5-iron and above). The rule is the result of research done by the R&A and the USGA into how the grooves on a club affects the amount of spin that can generate especially out of the rough. Basically the powers that be want to limit the amount of backspin that lofted clubs can achieve in the hope that wayward shots off the fairway into the rough will be more challenging to the player. The rule will specify that clubs have “V” shape grooves rather than the controversial Square “U” shaped grooves. It might be a step back in terms of technology but by reducing backspin this will increase stopping distances making it more desirable to hit fairways and place a premium on accuracy.

Anything that encourages players to be more accurate off the tee can only be a good thing. Golf should not be all about launching the ball into space but, surely, with an emphasis on shotmaking, strategy and skill. Players will need to be more proficient or less aggresive with an emphasis on course management. It will very be interesting to see how courses will be set up to account for this in the future and how players manage their game.

EGD designer Dave Sampson points out “there will be a ‘better’ position to be … whether in the fairway or rough. The professional golfers will still be able to control the ball from the fairway, however tee shots will now be enhanced / exaggerated / challenged as ‘control’ from the rough will no longer be a given.”

The change by the R&A and USGA shall be very interesting and the intent by the governing bodies is a very positive stance.