The Sun is Shining at Rowallan Castle

Just back from Rowallan Castle in Scotland where we are putting the finishing touches to a Colin Montgomerie golf course. The weather was glorious and when the sun is shining there will be no better place for a round of golf. The setting is wonderful – the course plays around two of the finest castles in Scotland (the ‘old’ castle built in the 13th century and the ‘new’ in the 19th). There are streams and stone bridges and superb views to the Firth of Clyde and Arran.

Every hole has its own distinct character but I think, as a group, the par 3’s particularly stand out. Having said that my personal favorites are probably the two short par 4’s, the 7th and the 12th. Both are between 280m and 320m but getting a birdie on either will be a real achievement and pars will probably be few and far between!

The course will be open for limited play later this month.

  • The 3rd hole at Rowallan
  • The 9th hole at Rowallan
  • The 18th hole at Rowallan

On Site and On Course

Sometimes you’re in the office for days – and sometimes you’re not. Variety is the spice of life!

Monday 1st June
9.00 – Sunningdale. On holiday last week so I spend an hour in the office checking emails and then it’s off to the airport to catch a flight to Amsterdam. ‘The Dutch’ is a course we’re building with Colin Montgomerie near Gorinchem. 6 or 7 holes have been shaped and hopefully I can approve some areas for drainage and irrigation.

14.00 – Holland. Arrive Amsterdam, hire car and drive south. It’s a public holiday today so for once the traffic in Holland is fine.

15.00  Arrive at The Dutch. Only the shapers working today and we spend several hours walking the course and discussing the style of the shaping which is going to be something quite different. We all agree that there will be nothing in Holland like this!

Tuesday 2nd June
7.30 – Back on site working with the shapers and putting our thoughts into practice. The guys are working really well together so I leave them to it and meet with the Contractor and Project Manager. We discuss the programme of works and try to come up with some solutions to one or two problems which have arisen.  The site is below sea level and has its own particular challenges.

12.00 – I check tee sizes and inspect drainage and irrigation installation then head to the 9th green which has now been roughly shaped. It’s not bad but something isn’t quite working. I ask the machine operator to dig out a huge chunk on the right side. He looks at me as if I’ve gone mad but plunges the bucket into the subgrade. It certainly doesn’t look plain now!

16.00 – Another meeting where we discuss the work that has been approved and what will be done before my visit next week. 5 mins before I’m due to leave our irrigation designer turns up. He’s had a nightmare drive from Amsterdam. He wishes me the best of luck as I head off for the airport. I make it, just!

Wednesday 3rd June
9.00 – Sunningdale. Two hours in the office and then it’s off to the Twenty-Ten Course at Celtic Manor Resort for the Wales Open which starts tomorrow. I’m looking forward to seeing how the players handle the course this year prior to next year’s Ryder Cup on the same course.

13.30 – Wales. Meet up at the 18th green with a BBC crew to film a piece for their Raise Your Game programme, which is aimed at inspiring and motivating people from all walks of life. We discuss why I became a golf course architect and what it takes to become one. Afterwards I talk to Jim Mckenzie, Director of Golf at Celtic Manor Resort and David Garland, Director of Tour Operations at the European Tour. We discuss the set up of the golf course and particularly the work that has been done on the course since last year’s Wales Open. Jim has been working on firming up the greens and we have added one fairway bunker on the 4th and a new back tee on the 14th. Apart from that the only changes have been to the fairway outlines and David already has some thoughts about making another tweak to the mowing line on the 16th hole. I’ll go out tomorrow and see how the players tackle it.

15.30 – Meet up with another film crew from European Tour Productions who are filming a promotional piece to be shown next year before the Ryder Cup. We talk a little about how the course was built and I point out the work we did on the 18th hole. I agree to meet them again tomorrow so they can film more with the crowds on the course.

17.00 – I speak to a couple of the pros and also to some of the participants in the pro-am. Everyone is very positive and comment on the improved condition of the course now that it has had an extra year to mature. The only minor issue is the thickness of the rough which is a bit inconsistent, mainly because of the warm dry spell we have had in the weeks leading up to the tournament. I see a couple of old friends in Wayne Sheffield and Jason O’Malley from Wisley GC and Woburn G&CC respectively. They have just played in the pro-am together. Wayne has played well and knocked it round in about 75, a fantastic score. I tell him I obviously need to make it more difficult. No one else seems to agree!

19.00 – It’s a beautiful evening so I go out on the course and take some photos.

Thursday 4th June
10.00 – I’ve driven to Marriott St Pierre near Chepstow, a few miles down the road from Celtic Manor. We’ve been carrying out an extensive upgrade to both the courses here over the last two years and I want to check the two newest greens which opened for play on Monday. They look in fine condition but I make some suggestions regarding the edging of the bunkers to Stewart Wood the Golf Course Manager. We also discuss the last phase of the work, programmed to start in the autumn.

13.00 – Back at Celtic Manor I meet up with Jonathan Smith of Golf Environment Organisation. The GEO is a non-profit organisation working to maximise the social, environmental and economic benefits of golf and they are currently working on the 2010 Ryder Cup Environmental Action Plan. We discuss how this is going and also about GEO’s involvement with two of our other projects. 

15.00 – More filming with European Tour Productions then I can finally watch some golf. I meet up with my colleague Matt Sturt and we follow Colin Montgomerie as he plays the last 6 holes. It’s been another beautiful day. Let’s hope it stays like this for the weekend.

Friday 5th June
12.30 It was a late night! I spend a couple of hours catching up with emails and sending reports and then see a little bit of golf before having lunch with Russell Phillips from CMR. Many of the people who were involved in the construction and engineering of the golf course are also on the table. We reminisce about the project and some of its peculiar difficulties but there is an underlying sense of pride about our involvement and what has been achieved. Gareth Edwards is another of our guests and he and Thomas Bjorn do an excellent question and answer session.

19.00 It’s just starting to rain! One last word with Chris Sentence at the Twenty-Ten clubhouse who, with all the team there, make’s everyone feel so much at home and then it’s back to the hotel. I’ve been invited to have dinner with the members of the Twenty-Ten Course. It’s a great evening hosted by Sir Terry Mathews. Corey Pavin, US Ryder Cup team captain, is also in attendance. Sir Terry’s enthusiasm for the Ryder Cup and the Twenty-Ten Course is clear for all to see and he is obviously held in much affection by the membership.

Saturday 6th June
06.00 A few hours sleep broken only by the noise of heavy rain thundering against my window. 35mm of rain fell in just three hours, the course is flooded and it is still raining. Another 15mm falls and play is inevitably delayed but it is a testament to the new drainage system and the hard work of Jim McKenzie and his greenstaff that only an hour after the rain stops play is underway and virtually all the rounds are completed. A tough test but one that needed to be seen to be passed. 

So that’s it for this week. Three hours in the office over the last 14 days. I need to get behind the desk next week – or maybe not!

  • Shaping on the 2nd hole at The Dutch
  • Crowds around the 18th hole on The TwentyTen Course at Celtic Manor.

Elie – Where it all Started for Braid

With his fantastic victory at Royal Birkdale Padraig Harrington became the first European golfer since James Braid in 1906 to successfully defend the Open Championship. Braid of course won the Championship 5 times in all and went on to become a prolific golf course designer.

A Scot, Braid learnt his golf over the links at the Golf House Club, Elie, a wonderful seaside course of great charm and character and the setting last week for a golf match between representatives of EGD and PGA Management.

Flying the flag for EGD were Ross and Rob, while Keith Haslam and Jonathan Pendry stepped up to the plate for PGAM. Elie has no par 5’s and only two par 3’s but probably has as good a variety of par 4’s as you are likely to see on any course. It demands good positioning from the tee and a fine short game to make a score. From the 12th the course steps up a gear with several holes well over 400 yards and long straight hitting is needed to reach the greens when the wind is from the east.

It may not be the most difficult golf course in the world but it is challenging enough for most, the setting is glorious, the greens are testing but fair and the course rewards good shot making. All in all, just what you want for holiday golf and a reaffirmation that modern day designers don’t need to resort to over complication and trickery. Golf is, after all, meant to be enjoyable.

2008 Wales Open

Wednesday 28th May

To Celtic Manor Resort (CMR) and the official opening of the Twenty Ten Course prior to the Wales Open. Chairman of CMR Sir Terry Mathews, First Minister for Wales the Rt Hon Rhodri Morgan and European Tour Chief Executive George O’Grady perform the opening functions although ominously their words are almost drowned out by the sound of torrential rain falling on the roof of the media centre. Later I take time to talk to Tournament Director Mike Stewart about the course set up. The course is playing long and Mike thinks we’ll move some of the tees forward which is fine by me. The course has been designed to have this kind of flexibility. The view from the players seems pretty encouraging from the limited play they’ve been able to have so far. After a month’s rainfall in the past four days, go to bed praying that the drainage system works!

Thursday 29th May

Fantastic – the rain has stopped. Less fantastic – we are delayed because of fog! The drainage has worked though and soon the players are out and I spend the morning watching how various holes play. Glad to see that many of them are going for the green on the par 5 18th with their second shot, despite the carry over water in front of the green. In the afternoon I spend some time with Russell Phillips of CMR, John Jermine, Chairman of Ryder Cup Wales and a film crew from BBC Wales. We walk several holes and discuss various aspects of the designs for the course, particularly the spectator viewing areas and the work that was carried out to protect and enhance natural habitats as well as the archaeological heritage of the site. Take the opportunity to speak to some of the players after they come off the golf course. All the players I managed to catch up with following their rounds are very positive about the golf course, despite the soft conditions. To bed with the sound of rain beating against the window again.

Friday 30th May

Thank goodness – it’s dry. I go down to the practice area to see how the spatial relationships work between the practice greens, the driving range and player and spectator movement. From there, the players have a very short walk to the 1st tee. Come the Ryder Cup most of the practice area will be used for the tented village. An additional practice ground is being constructed on the other side of the river to be connected by a bridge. Wander into the media centre to see some of the journalists. They’ve got a great location right next to the 18th green, as have many of the hospitality units on the other side of the fairway on the specially constructed platforms which create a natural amphitheatre. We watch as Danny Willetts, playing his first professional tournament, plays his second shot. He needs to make an eagle to make the cut and goes for the green. He only just makes the carry but the soft ground conditions just stop his ball from rolling all the way back into the water. His chip is well struck, climbs the steep slope, runs across the green and into the hole. Never looked like missing. Danny will be back for the weekend. I’m off home.