Carton’s Montgomerie Course Ready for Irish Challenge

It’s another big tournament week for European Golf Design as an impressive list of Major Champions gather near Dublin for the 2013 Irish Open at Carton House Golf Club. Darren Clarke, Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell and World Number Two Rory McIlroy will all be challenging for their national title over the Montgomerie Course, designed by Colin Montgomerie and European Golf Design’s Stan Eby. It is one of two European Golf Design courses at Carton House, the other being the O’Meara Course, designed in association with Mark O’Meara.

Set within open parkland the Montgomerie Course has the feel of an inland links, and is characterised by steep faced bunkering as well as dramatic swales and contouring around the greens. It is a very strategic, thinking man’s golf course which demands accurate shot placement as poor shots will tend to be swept away from target areas and towards the penal bunkers.

This is the third time in the last nine years that the Irish Open has been staged on the Montgomerie Course, which was named as the “Best New Design of the Year” in 2004 by Golf World. To add to its tournament credentials the course has also successfully hosted the 2004 Irish Amateur Open Championship, the 2010 Irish Seniors open and the 2012 European Amateur Championship.

The Irish Open is the first of two European Tour events which will be staged this year on Colin Montgomerie/European Golf Design courses. The other will be at The Montgomerie Maxx Royal in Turkey for the Turkish Airlines Open, part of the inaugural Final Series of The European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

You can find out more about the 2013 Irish Open at http://www.golf.discoverireland.ie/Irish-Open/Home/

Above: The 12th hole on the Montgomerie Course

Sustainability – The Centre Pole at the Centre of Golf’s Tent!

“Sustainability is absolutely the centre pole that keeps this whole Olympic tent up”. So says Head of Deliverance Ian Fletcher in the BBC comedy ‘Twenty Twelve’, the spoof series based on the organisation of the 2012 Olympic Games. It’s a metaphor, often used by the lead character, played brilliantly by Hugh Bonneville, to express the central importance of various issues as the Olympic Delivery Commission lurches from crisis to crisis.

Yet is this metaphor so far from the truth? I’d argue that sustainability is becoming the ‘centre pole’ for many new developments. At European Golf Design sustainability is certainly at the heart of our design process. From the early stages of any project we work hard to create courses which exhibit a positive environmental, social and economic benefit.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s the principal concern was the environment. At that time there were growing concerns about the impact of golf, especially regarding the use of water and the effects of chemicals and fertilisers on natural habitats and water courses. Environmental Assessments were incorporated into the UK planning system in 1988, and this led to projects having to compensate for any negative environmental impacts.

In the mid-1990s the Committed to Green initiative led the way in giving golf a voice within the environmental lobby and for the past decade that task has been led by the Golf Environment Organisation (GEO). It has taken many years for the golf industry to put across the message that golf is not the blight on the landscape that many perceive, and in fact golf courses which are properly designed, constructed and managed can actually benefit local ecology and provide valuable green space.

But it is no longer just the environment that concerns us. Today’s developments not only need to demonstrate a greater degree of environmental awareness, they also need to achieve higher standards of social and economic stewardship. Sustainability is defined as the relationship between these three elements.

GEO is dedicated to ensuring that golf leads the way in the development and management of sustainable projects and at European Golf Design we work closely with GEO to help all of our projects meet the appropriate sustainability criteria. As part of our commitment to sustainability, three of our staff will soon be taking part in an important new initiative jointly organised by the European Institute of Golf Course Architects (EIGCA) and GEO.

The EIGCA’s ‘Raising the Standard of Sustainable Golf Course Design Programme’ will be the first Continuing Professional Development course on sustainable golf in the world. Those who attend the course will learn design principals based on the six action areas that comprise Sustainable Golf: Water, Energy & Resources, Environmental Quality, Landscape & Ecosystems, People & Communities and Products & Supply Chains. In the final phase of the programme, designers will need to demonstrate their understanding through the submission of a real case study. Those who successfully complete the programme will then be listed on a Sustainable Design Register.

It is an important step forward for golf and one that will hopefully lead to real improvements in the standard of golf course design and also in the way that golf developments are perceived outside the industry.

If sustainability wasn’t the ‘centre pole’ of the golf course design tent before, then it is definitely moving closer to the centre now, and to quote Ian Fletcher once again, “were it not for that centre pole at the centre, then how would we know where the centre was”!

Mad Designers and Englishdogs

“A study suggests…” My heart sinks whenever I see these words. You know the sort of thing;

“A study suggests that coffee, tea, red meat, chicken, alcohol, too much sun, not enough sun, etc, etc, can be good/bad,/good and bad/ for you, and can knock years off/add years to/ make no difference whatsoever to/ your life”.

Here’s a selection of recent headlines, all beginning with those fateful words “A study suggests”;

…..Men care about their car more than their health
…..Strawberries protect women from heart attacks
…..Snowboarding linked to increase in injuries
…..Women moan most about their colds
…..Top footballers have high intelligence

Now normally I wouldn’t pay too much attention to these stories. They nearly always play on our insecurities about our own health and invariably they are ‘news’ items released by PR companies looking to gain publicity for their clients.

But one recent story caught my attention. A study suggests that taking dogs to work ‘reduces employee stress’. Now I don’t have a dog but ‘according to research’ (yes, there’s another dreaded phrase) access to dogs in the work place boosts morale and reduces stress levels, not just for the dog owners but for those people who have access to other peoples dogs.

A spokesperson said, “We encourage our employees to bring in their well-behaved dogs where practical and we have seen similar results to the survey – a more enjoyable working environment, staff more likely to take regular breaks and a reduction in stress through stroking and petting dogs during the working day.”

Which all explains why, at European Golf Design, we work in a virtually stress free atmosphere, in the presence of Mac, a Black Labrador belonging to Alex, and Riley, Gary’s Working Cocker Spaniel.

Of course it’s only stress free if you can keep the two of them apart, and there was that one very stressful occasion when Mac escaped and raided the local butchers, but otherwise they retain a permanent sangfroid which probably benefits us all. That is until they hear the biscuit box being opened!

Above: Riley and Mac on best behaviour

Design Influences

As a golf course designer one of the first questions I find myself being asked, (after the classic “So, do you play golf?”) is “What’s your favourite course?”, and I never quite know how to answer. In all honesty I’m not sure I have one favorite course. There are plenty which I’ve been inspired by, and not always through playing. Sometimes it might be from visiting the course, but just as often it will be through seeing it on TV, or even just a photograph of a hole in a book or magazine. Quite often the inspiration comes from a detail rather than a whole course, maybe a bunker style, or a bump on a fairway, perhaps the depressions at the back of a green.

Most golf course architects will have their favorite courses and preferences for design style, but it is the poor architect who tries to submit his own design style on a property without consideration of the surroundings. Ideally the designer’s eclectic experiences should be combined with the physical elements of the site to create an individual style for each new golf course. As a designer I am influenced, even if only sub-consciously, by almost every golf course I visit, of whatever standard. Very often you can learn more from what’s bad as what’s good.

The holes that have influenced me? Well, somewhat obviously, the par 5, 13th at Augusta would make the list. A great strategic hole which asks so many questions of the golfer, from the tee to the last putt. It has what all great golf holes need; superb design, a beautiful setting, drama and excitement in equal measure. There are two other par 5’s that have always had an influence for as long as I can remember. The 14th or Long on the Old Course is another hole which sets tasks for each stroke and seems to provide countless options as to how it might be played. It was identified by Alister MacKenzie as one of his ‘Ideal Holes’, the great man noting that, despite the fact that the hole was 530 yards in length, “the tilt of the green has a considerable influence on the tee shot”. The other par 5 is the 7th, or ‘Westlin’ Wyne’ on the Queens Course at Gleneagles. To be honest, at only 490 yards, and much of it played downhill, it is barely a par 5 by today’s standards and the fairway bunkering perhaps doesn’t challenge the best players as it might, but there are two reasons why I include it on this list. Firstly the bunkers themselves make such a fantastic statement with their deep, grass faces rising from the fairway, their great half moon shapes seeming to perfectly reflect the natural humps and bumps formed when ice moved through this valley thousands of years previously. What keeps this hole as a proper par 5 though is the severe slope at the front of the green – which is not particularly evident from the fairway – and will sweep any slightly under-hit approach into the greenside bunkers.

The par 4’s I like are all strong strategic holes where the golfer is asked to make decisions from the tee in order to set up the best way to get close to the pin with his second shot. Such holes would be the 3rd at Royal Lytham, the 14th holes at Royal Dornoch and also on the Kings Course, Gleneagles, the 13th holes at both Elie and the Dukes Course, Woburn, the 12th at Sunningdale Old and the 15th at Carnoustie.

As for par 3’s well there are too many to mention. The bunkering at the 13th at Muirfield and 10th at Winged Foot stand out, there’s the glorious 13th hole at Worplesdon, the bumps and hollows around the 7th green at Rye and the 5th green on Sunningdale New. I’d include the Redan (15th) at North Berwick and then the water on the 12th at Augusta and finally the long 3rd at Elie.

Current vogues in golf course design are towards more natural looking golf courses with a natural, rugged appearance. There has been a move away from the very architectural sculpting of the 1980’s and 90’s where artificial mounds and shapes perhaps sat at odds with the landscape setting. Ragged-edged bunkers are all the rage and there is a perceptible move towards less manicured courses. This retro design style is possibly also as a response to the growing awareness amongst today’s designers of the importance of environmental protection and the need to make golf courses more sustainable in the way they are both constructed and maintained.

Looking to the future this approach is likely to continue as pressure increases for new golf courses to use less irrigation, fertilizer and chemicals and for the size of intensively maintained areas to be reduced, a task made more difficult as golf courses are tending to get longer to combat the improvements in equipment technology and player fitness.

Examples of these new trends in golf course architecture are typified by courses such as Sand Hills and the quartet of courses at Bandon Dunes in the US. In Scotland, Castle Stuart follows the trend set by Kingsbarns and The Castle Course, which are all very ‘links’ like in nature although not all created from typical ‘links’ land. More inland courses are reflecting seaside courses in the way they are laid out. The Faldo Course at Sporting Club Berlin in Germany and The Montgomerie Course at Carton House, Ireland, both designed by these greats of the game with my colleague at European Golf Design, Stan Eby, are two fine examples of what can be achieved by taking the character of a traditional links and transposing them inland.

Similarly at The Dutch, a new Montgomerie Course in The Netherlands, Colin and I were very keen to build something not only unique for Holland but a course which delivered a certain ‘wow’ factor by taking inspiration from the more rugged elements of seaside golf and transforming a completely flat, inland site into a thrilling visual landscape in its own right.

This article first appeared in the September 2011 issue of Golf World

Twenty-Ten Course Recovers from Ryder Cup Rigours

Returning to The Celtic Manor Resort for last week’s SAAB Wales Open one could not fail to be impressed by how well the Twenty-Ten Course had recovered from the rigours of staging the Ryder Cup last October. Where once there were seas of mud along the spectator walkways there is now fine green grass and the course was back at its best, glorifying in some welcome sunshine.

The transformation of the course and its surroundings is all the more remarkable when you take into account the terrible winter weather, when this part of the country had snow lying for over a month, and then the prolonged dry spell and high winds which were experienced in the spring.

Much of the credit for this must go to Director of Golf Courses Jim McKenzie and his team who, having done so much last year to set up the golf course for the Ryder Cup, were then treated to the worst weather imaginable during the actual event. Since then it has been a matter of committing resources towards getting the course back to full fitness in readiness for the SAAB Wales Open on the 2nd June.

Ironically more rain fell at Celtic Manor Resort in two days during the Ryder Cup then has fallen since, but at least this dry spell has allowed 40,000m² of new turf to be laid in the worst effected parts of the golf course. To put this into context this would be enough grass to relay the pitch at the Millennium stadium some four times over, or, for a golfing analogy, approximately 70 greens. Most of this turf has been installed on the lower, flatter parts of the site, but also on the hospitality platforms and the tented village location where large numbers of people and often vehicles did most damage. In fact the impact on the venue did not end on the last day of the Ryder Cup as removal of the infrastructure went on into December, requiring hundreds of additional truck and vehicle movements in increasingly damp ground conditions.

For the event last week the Twenty-Ten Course was prepared immaculately and proved a real challenge to the players in blustery winds. Despite some rain on the last day the staff at Celtic Manor Resort can breathe a sigh of relief that there was no repeat of the biblical downpours of last October. This time, with the Wales Open at an end, the golf course will be right back into action, providing a thrilling test for average golfers who wish to tread the same path as their golfing heroes.

The 18th Hole on the Twenty Ten Course at Celtic Manor during the 2011 Wales Open

The 2011 European Tour Players Awards

The European Tour Players Awards which took place on Tuesday night before this week’s BMW PGA Championship gave a real indication of just how much European Tour Members are beginning to dominate the professional game. Not only was the entire winning European Ryder Cup team present, together with their Captain and all but one of the vice-captains, but so were all four current Major championship winners. Perhaps most impressively was the fact that amongst this group were six of the world’s top seven players and seven of the top ten. Here was the evidence of a sea change in the top echelons of the sport. European golf was again dominating the professional game.

It’s almost twenty years since European players last featured so prominently in the World Golf Rankings. At the end of May 1991 the top three in the rankings were Woosnam, Olazábal and Faldo with Seve and Langer both ensconced inside the top 10. However, outside that first division it was a different story, with only five other European players inside the top 50, Ronan Rafferty being the highest of them at 25. The remaining places were dominated by players from the US, with 27 Americans in the top 50 and 13 from the ‘Rest of the World’. While the leading Europeans might have been dominating the world stage there was clearly a lack of strength in depth.

Compare that to today. The most recent world rankings show Lee Westwood leading the way, just ahead of Martin Kaymer and Luke Donald. McIlroy, McDowell and Casey are also in the top ten. Below them? Well things are looking better with twelve other Europeans in the top 50. In fact it is interesting to note that both the US and Europe have eighteen players each within that fifty, and that seven of those in the ranking from the ‘Rest of the World’ are members of the European Tour.

Obviously there are various reasons for this leveling of the world order. The European Tour is more lucrative than twenty years ago and opportunities for their members to play in the US and all the major championships are much better so playing standards have improved. But there is more to this than just improvement in performance. It’s not difficult to detect a new sense of self confidence amongst the European players and a real belief that, on their day, any of them could be the best in the world. This attitude, of course linked to hard work and natural talent, is helping to drive each of them on to greater achievements.

During his interview at the awards on Tuesday, Martin Kaymer pointed out that what spurred him on to victory at the USPGA last year was watching Padraig Harrington win The Open Championship in 2007 and then two more majors in 2008. “It gave the Europeans the belief that we could win Majors as well. It wasn’t just the Americans like Tiger Woods.”

“Then Graeme won the US Open. All these things gave me the motivation to work harder. All the putts Padraig holed inspired me to practise harder and it showed at the US PGA Championship, and when I made that putt on the 72nd hole it paid off. I have Padraig Harrington to thank for that inspiration. Now I have to continue and keep working hard.”

That feeling of confidence certainly pervaded the room on Tuesday night as the great and the good in the golf world gathered to pay tribute to what George O’Grady, Chief Executive of the European Tour, called “…the greatest year in the history of The European Tour”. Most left feeling that, although we may be in troubled times, the state of the professional game is strong and this can only be good for the future development of the game.

With young stars like Rory McIlroy and Matteo Manassero already establishing themselves as winners the future of European golf looks in safe hands and, this time, unlike in 1991, the progress will surely be sustained.

Golf Course Design – The Price of Progress

If you transported a footballer from 1880 to 2011 he’d recognise his sport as essentially unchanged in the last 130 years. The same sized muddy pitches, goal posts and nets. He might marvel at the light-weight Jabulani ball (which is more than can be said for the players during the last World Cup) and be scornful of the latest kangaroo skin boots, but in all other respects he’d be quite familiar with the sport. And if W.G. Grace walked out to the crease at Lords this summer he’d be hard pushed to see any changes at all to cricket. He might huff and puff about sponsors logos and helmets and he probably wouldn’t see eye to eye with Hawkeye or understand why they’re referring decisions to a third umpire, but the game as it is played today is pretty much the same. I suppose in tennis Fred Perry might struggle today with his wooden racket and long trousers but, like football and cricket and almost every other sport you could mention, at least the dimensions of the playing area have remained pretty much the same.

But in golf it’s different. The equipment manufacturers spend millions working out ways that we can hit the ball further and that’s creating a bit of a problem. In 1980 Dan Pohl led the US Tour driving averages with a measly 275 yards. In 2010 Bubba Watson topped the list with a much more impressive 315 yards. If we assume that the best players are hitting their iron shots at least 10% further as well then it’s no wonder par 4’s are creeping over 500 yards.

Twenty years ago if a client asked how much land he’d need for a tournament standard golf course we’d confidently say about 150 acres, and that would include room for a decent practice area, a clubhouse, a course of about 7,000 yards, a maintenance building and plenty of room for the club president to park his Bentley. Nowadays that figure is probably closer to 200 acres and often more. And guess what – bigger sites and longer courses cost more money and I’m not just talking about the purchase of the land. It’s been estimated that each additional 100 yards on the length of a golf course costs an extra 2% to maintain and longer courses need more irrigation, more fertilizer and more chemicals, at a time when we are trying to improve sustainability and environmental awareness.

What’s more, while we all might be hitting the ball further more often we are not necessarily hitting it any straighter. With larger sweet spots it is possible to hit the ball considerable distances even when the strike is not out of the centre of the club. Consequently the safety margins golf course architects are using are increasing and again that means more land is needed. I am sure that many golf clubs around the country are familiar with increasing litigation from adjoining home owners as those living next to courses find their peace being shattered by errant golf shots.

So what can golf course architects do? Should we try to reign back the length of courses by taking the driver out of the golfers hands and putting more premium on accuracy? Or should we make them more strategic, perhaps with trickier greens and more bunkers? Well it seems to me that we should be designing courses that test every facet of a players game. So yes, I want to see golfers of all standards given the opportunity to use their driver, but there needs to be a suitable penalty if they don’t use it correctly. And courses need to be more strategic; we would all benefit from having to think about our game a bit more and being rewarded for the correct placement of our golf shots. However, we also need to recognise that even courses built to hold tournaments must be playable for average golfers 99.9% of the time, so we can’t go over-board with hundreds of deep bunkers and wildly sloping greens. And length should play its part. If par 4’s need to be in excess of 500 yards so that a pro has to use a long iron for his second shot, then so be it, but let’s put in enough forward tees to make it enjoyable for everyone else.

While advances in technology do make the game easier and more fun for most of us, the real shame is that many of our great courses will soon be unable to hold major championships as they simply run out of room for expansion. On the Old Course at St Andrews they are now placing tees outside the golf course boundary, as we saw on the 17th hole this year. Can that continue? We shouldn’t be surprised if Open Championships on the Old Course become a distant memory, just like those at Prestwick and Musselburgh Links. I suppose it’s what they call “the price of progress”.

An edited version of this blog first appeared in Today’s Golfer.

2010 Ryder Cup Blog

So that’s that. The 2010 Ryder Cup matches have been and gone. The Twenty Ten Course may have been 10 years in the making but it still took an extra day to get the right result – a European win and in bright sunshine! The weather gods may have done their worst but the golf course, spectators and Colin Montgomerie’s team came up smiling, as did all of us at European Golf Design who were privilidged to be there to watch the exciting finish to the worlds greatest golf event at The Celtic Manor Resort. In more ways than one the last week has been totally draining!

The weather aside this was one of the greatest Ryder Cup’s, coming down to the last match out, on the 17th hole, before the result was determined. The atmosphere on the closing holes was phenomenal, with tens of thousands of spectators lining the fairways and finally breaking through the ropes on the 17th green to join the European team in celebration. Even the mud didn’t seem to dampen the fans enthusiasm. As one spectator said, “It was just like Glastonbury, but with better singing!”

Congratulations to Sir Terry Matthews, the Celtic Manor Resort and all the organisers responsible for staging such a great event in such difficult circumstances. It will be a tough act to follow.

It's easy designing a golf course isn’t it?

Every member of every golf club probably thinks they could be a decent golf course architect.

Here’s what you do. Sketch out a few holes on the back of an envelope. Make sure that the par 3s run in different directions. Design four par 3s, four par 5s and make the remainder par 4s. Try and bring the first nine holes back to the clubhouse and make sure the 18th hole is a stonker, finishing under the clubhouse window, perhaps with a do or die element to it.

Keep water to a minimum, likewise soil movement because that costs money, and don’t overdo the bunkering. And off you go. Bob’s your uncle. James Braid, not a man to linger unnecessarily, once caught a mid-morning train from London to King’s Lynn and was on the mid-afternoon train back having designed a nine-hole course – and having had lunch.

Well, actually, it’s not quite like that. Just ask European Golf Design, one of the largest golf such firms in Europe, nine of whose courses were used by the European Tour in 2009. To be more precise, ask Ross McMurray, 46, who has designed 25 courses in nine different countries yet will forever be remembered for one: the Twenty Ten at Celtic Manor, near Newport, Wales, venue of the 38th Ryder Cup.

Literature advertising the Twenty Ten contains the following lines: “This is the Twenty Ten. Tailor Made To Challenge The Best. This Is The First Course In History Built To Host The Ryder Cup.” In between those words came five more, set in much larger typeface, screaming their message: “This Is Where Dragons Play.” No pressure on McMurray then to make sure that his work lived up to those extravagant words.

Rare is the course that is the same when it opens as it was when it was first conceived on the architect’s drawing board. Much more common are the courses that undergo changes, followed by modifications, followed by alterations, followed by tweaks. In this regard, the Twenty Ten is no different. Since he first started work at Celtic Manor ten years ago McMurray, a lead designer with European Golf Design, made nearly 200 site visits and worked on 20 significant design changes.

Parts of the course that will be the venue for the biennial match between Europe and the US were once part of a course known as Wentwood Hills, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jnr. It quickly became obvious that the Wentwood Hills course as it then was had too much slope on it for it to be considered for a Ryder Cup. That was the start of the modifications that would end up with the course that now sprawls mostly across the bottom of a valley.

In broad terms, McMurray has added another nine holes, a few at the start of the course and a few at the finish, and the course has been renamed The Twenty Ten. It looked benevolent as it simmered beneath the sun at the Celtic Manor Wales Open last June but at nearly 7,400 yards it was a monster. It has one hole that measures 610 yards and three others that are each more than 560 yards.

“It has been a pleasure and a privilege working on it. There is no doubt of that”, McMurray said. “But it is easily the most difficult project I have ever worked on. There were very unusual ecological, archaeological and engineering issues that had to be considered.

“As far as the ecology is concerned we had to limit the course’s impact on otters, dormice, badgers and bats which were all present on the site. New archaeological challenges kept being thrown up because there were archaeologists working alongside us on the site and they kept on making new discoveries. Roman times Caerleon was a very important pottery site and there are kiln workings we had to respect, for example. And it was for archaeological reasons that we completely redesigned the last three holes at the 11th hour.”

As if that wasn’t enough, there were drainage issues that had to be resolved, too. That is no surprise. The course covers several hundred acres in a valley and the river Usk runs nearby. “We had to resolve issues concerning storm drains, high water tables and even the fact that at high tide the nearby river Usk was liable to flood.”

McMurray pointed out that for European Golf Design and for himself, a project such as this was worth any number of difficulties. How many designers can say, hand on heart, they have designed a course for a Ryder Cup?

“Every project has its problems” McMurray said philosophically. “You have to take a deep breath, step back and start again while muttering to yourself here we go again. Actually, I don’t feel sorry for myself. I feel sorry for the production guys. They think they’ve finished and you have to go to them and say “sorry guys. We have got to go again”.

No-one doubts ‘though’ that all the work, the designs, the redesigns, the tweaking and changing have been worth it. There are a number of risk and reward holes, which are the very bones of a matchplay competition. And the spectator facilities, particularly those along the last few holes, should create a memorable atmosphere. The 38th Ryder Cup will be staged on a course worthy of the men who will challenge it.

By John Hopkins.


Ross McMurray – It has been a pleasure and a privilege working on the Twenty Ten Course