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What's happening today

Here’s what’s happening at EGD today:

Gary is in St Kitts, inspecting the construction underway for Kittitian Hills. It’s a tough job, going to the Caribbean, but he bravely volunteered for the duty.

Ross is in the office, catching up on the work generated from his trip to Nevis last week. The programme is to submit for planning at the end of the summer, so it’ll be pretty much full-on until then. And he’s trying to do some planning for our project north of Athens.

Rob is working on the final touches to the golf element of a planning application for our project in Anif, Austria. This has been moving slowly but surely for several years, but after months of negotiations with the many varied stakeholders, it looks like progress is being made.
Matt is helping Rob with the production for Anif, as well as doing some graphics and planning for the Irish Open.

Shara is working on money – getting it and spending it (admittedly more of the former than the latter). And getting her glasses fixed.

Dave is getting ready to go to Evian for meetings later in the week with representatives of the Resort and the LPGA to discuss the second phase of work leading up to the Evian Masters 2013 when the event will be elevated to Major status on the ladies tour.

I’ve got things to do from my trip to Turkey last week. Saw two potential projects in Anatolia and in Izmir which now need some attention.

Alex is enjoying the sunshine somewhere as he’s on holidays this week.


EGD Update

We’ve not posted a blog for a while so, for those of you that regularly check in to read the latest brilliance from the brains of EGD, our apologies for the lack of anything brilliant. But, we’ve been busy, which is a good thing, and while it would be too early to suggest that the European economy is picking up, at the very least we can safely say things are not getting worse.

In the past couple of months, we’ve made several trips to Turkey – the economic climate there does seem to be relatively strong – to look at various projects. We can’t say too much at this stage, but we’ve picked up a very interesting project there that could, ultimately, be 36 holes with an Academy and training facilities. We’ve also just won a job in Greece on a beautiful piece of land outside Athens. Working with a local project management team and international master planners, we’re going through various land use options at the moment with a view to submitting a final plan mid-Summer. We’ve been awarded a project outside Rabat in Morocco for Prestigia, the same group with whom we’re working in Marrakech, and have also started some strategic planning for an existing course in Slovakia, in the foothills of the Tatra mountains to the north of the country – it may be hellish cold there in the spring, but with snow-capped peaks and bright blue skies, it is a very pretty place to be.

On top of all that, the work at Evian Masters Golf Club has continued through the winter. Phase one of the work is now complete and the second phase will start as soon as the Evian Masters tournament is over this summer, to ensure perfect conditions for the event in the summer of 2013, which will be the first year the event is a Major tournament on the Ladies schedule. Construction has also kept going in Marrakech where we’re working with Colin Montgomerie, and in St Kitts with Ian Woosnam. Planning and design work has kept us busy on projects in the UK, Russia, France, Turkey, Ireland and Spain.

Oh, and Alex became a dad, Gary got engaged, Dave ran the London Marathon, Matt spent every waking hour outside of work in the gym, Rob had a knee operation, Shara stepped up her levels of organisation to previously unimagined heights (and her standards were already high), Ross seems to spend his time on-line shopping judging by the number of packages coming his way and I fell down the stairs. Other than that, we’ve been sitting back!


Stan Eby

As the wearer of the best moustache and ponytail combo in all of golf, Stan Eby is the stuff of legend. He has designed some of the greatest European courses of modern times – three have been named Best New Course of the Year by Golf World magazine: PGA Golf de Catalunya, The Faldo Course at Sporting Club Berlin and The Montgomerie at Carton House Golf Club. As well as those, he’s worked on some other fine courses – The Links Portmarnock, Euphoria Golf Estate in South Africa, The Schloss Course at Fleesensee outside Berlin to name but a few.

A quiet, relaxed, unassuming man, Stan is passionate, committed, demanding and precise when it comes to design. No-one works a site harder, no-one demands more of a project team. At the same time, no-one expects more of himself. Not known for his exuberance, Stan’s humour borders on arid. But it’s always there. Of the many stories about Stan, I’ve two favourites:

He and I spent time walking a beautiful coastal site in Turkey. It had everything – full access to the beach, dunes, rolling terrain, vegetation, ample space, ample water and outline planning already in place. In short, it was easily the best site I’d seen in years. After two days on site, Stan’s assessment was simple and plain: “Not bad”. And that was it. Nothing more. On the other hand, that was also the most positive reaction I saw from him of any site we ever looked at together.

The other story shall involve a client who, for obvious reasons, shall remain unidentified. During a project meeting, the client launched into a thirty minute monologue about what he expected from the site, from the project team, from the project (all of which were, to say the least, ambitious expectations), at the end of which he turned to Stan and said “Stan, are you listening? Am I making sense?” Stan thought for a few seconds then replied “I’m listening and you’re not.”

Stan retired a couple of months ago but has remained in the UK while he tidied up his affairs. He leaves to go home to the US on Thursday. We will all miss him. We’re all grateful for the contribution he has made to the company, and to each of us. Each of us is the better for having had the pleasure of working with him and I know everyone here wishes him much happiness for the future. We also hope this is not goodbye.

Above: Colin Montgomerie on site with Stan Eby at Carton House, Ireland.

To the next 20 years!

We reach a significant milestone in the history of the company this week – on 19th February 1992, European Golf Design was incorporated as a joint venture between the European Tour and IMG. The joint venture remains in place, as does Ross, who was here on the very first day and still shows up every morning with all the enthusiasm of a puppy (or have I got him confused with Mac?). As a company, and as a group of colleagues, we’re proud of what’s been achieved and hope there’s an awful lot more to do – we’ve been very fortunate to have had the chance to work on some great projects, with great clients. We’re grateful for the support we get from the Tour and IMG and hope, in turn, that we’ve added value for them too.

I want to thank everyone here: Queenie, Ross, Shara, Matt, Alex, Dave, Rob and Gary – it’s incredibly rewarding working with such a talented and dedicated group – as well as thanking all of those who have been with us for a time and then moved on: Andy H, Andy B, Maggie, John, Paul, Will, Tim, Russell, Edward, Peter, Colin, Sarah and Stan – thank you all for your past efforts.

And as for the next twenty years? Who knows, but let’s hope there’s more great projects and good laughs along the way.

Lost Hole at Sitwell Park

Robin Hiseman pays a visit to Sitwell Park in Yorkshire, England, and
seeks out Alister MacKenzie’s famous lost green

Article first appeared in Golf Course Architecture magazine issue 27 (Jan2012) by editor Adam Lawrence.

Alister MacKenzie’s extraordinary par three twelfth at Sitwell Park, near Rotherham, South Yorkshire is arguably the most iconic ‘lost hole’. Except this is a lost hole with a difference. It is still there, sort of! It remains 140 yards long, just as MacKenzie planned, but MacKenzie’s extravagant green is long gone, replaced by a humble design that gives no hint that this was once a green of such repute and controversy, that it influenced the evolution of golf course architecture.

MacKenzie’s work for Sitwell Park was completed in 1913, early in his design career. The site was notable for a very steep, wooded hillside upon which the clubhouse was to be built. MacKenzie’s routing required that two greens, the twelfth and eighteenth, be sited adjacently, high upon this hillside and approached from below. The accepted wisdom would have been to form a basic cut and fill green terrace. MacKenzie knew that to do this would result in each green being sited high above the eye line, with a tremendously steep embankment fronting each green. The putting surfaces would certainly be hidden and this was not acceptable. Instead, he built a pair of wildly undulating, eccentric greens that tumbled down the hillside close to the existing gradient. Each green contained numerous small cut and fill terraces to create flatter areas, but woe betide the golfer who left their approach shot above the hole location! We’ll focus on the twelfth hole, as this is the green made famous by the iconic photograph, but the eighteenth was so similar in form that ever since it has been mistaken for its nearby twin.

MacKenzie’s twelfth green was an artistic triumph. He executed a construction that allowed the golfer a clear view of the putting surface and which amply rewarded an accurate approach shot. It looked magnificent and fitted seamlessly into the precipitous hillside. It was also a functional disaster, as for anything other than a precise approach, the fierce contours would repel the ball to points from which the club golfer would have a miserable time recovering. Golfers were embarrassed. And they hated it.

It was inevitable that such freakishly contoured greens would be criticised and a commentator from the Sheffield Telegraph printed comments that summed up what seem to have been widely held opinions. He wrote that these were greens which “all golfers of knowledge and experience will look upon with amazement, and which many will unhesitatingly condemn”. Further: “A number of undulations have been traced in the greens, which are, in many cases, far too deep, so deep in fact, that the ball putted from any direction will be found to reach the centre. The committee will be well advised not to pursue this policy of violence and severity in the contours and gradients of their greens.” And, he concluded: “Three putts will be the rule, and not the exception.”

MacKenzie was infuriated by this criticism and fired off a vigorous and eloquent defence of his design. “I have got accustomed to measuring the ultimate popularity of a hole or course by the amount of criticism it gives rise to in the first instance,” he wrote. “It is only natural that players who have been spoon fed on insipid, flat uninteresting golf should view with a considerable amount of suspicion anything which is undoubtedly out of the ordinary.

“Criticisms have been made that at Sitwell the putting is going to cost you more. The exact opposite is the case: the putting is going to cost less. It is inaccurate approaching that is going to cost you more. A man who has approached with great accuracy is helped towards the hole, and will frequently be down in one putt. I would ask my critics in what other way would it have been possible to utilise the terrific slope on which these greens are situated and yet to have given the same natural appearance? Unless the hollows were made large enough and deep enough it would be impossible for anyone putting from the top of the green to remain anywhere near the hole when placed in a hollow at the bottom, and in a green of this kind it is only intended that the hole should be placed in a hollow or on the flat.”

One cannot contradict MacKenzie’s opinion that accurate approach play deserves reward. However, in my view, MacKenzie was guilty of perfecting the form at the expense of the function. Even with greens mown with primitive technology, balls were running out of control. MacKenzie defied his doubters, but he couldn’t defy gravity and the twelfth green was doomed from the outset.

The Sheffield Telegraph critic responded with a fatefully accurate riposte: “I contend that the Sitwell Park committee will be obliged to change the shape of their greens almost as soon as they begin to settle down and become hard. In about three years time we shall know who is correct in his forecast. If I am proved wrong, and the greens meanwhile have not been altered, I shall apologise and confess I made a mistake. In the meantime, I stick to my guns, and contend that the work at Sitwell is a caricature of the legitimate efforts of modern course architects.”

History shows that this gentleman didn’t need to issue an apology. Apparently, the course was subsequently played by a number of prominent professionals, who roundly criticised the greens as unfair. The club committee capitulated and MacKenzie’s incredible greens were radically flattened and contracted. What emerged were the simple platforms that MacKenzie so strenuously avoided. MacKenzie’s pride was wounded and he later delivered a stinging rebuke to the club committee for making the course ‘dull and insipid’.

And that was that. They were gone. Consigned to history, but not forgotten, thanks to the photographer who took the historic snapshot. Initially printed in MacKenzie’s book Golf Architecture, this photograph has been the staple diet of golf design books ever since and continues to amaze to this day. Some have tried to replicate the green, perhaps most notably in modern times, Tom Doak and Brian Schneider, with their ‘Sitwell’ green at Barnbougle Dunes. One would be a fool to attempt an accurate replication, as modern green speeds would preclude you from finding even one sensible hole location on a green like this.

Many have wondered what became of the green, but few have made the trip to see. I did, once, on a bitingly cold January day. I knew it had been modified, but not the extent. It was shocking to see what it had become, but it was still possible to see remnants of MacKenzie’s old contouring. I recently got my brother, who lives nearby, to take a photo from as close as possible to the original location. His photograph clearly shows that much of MacKenzie’s original putting surface contouring still exists, albeit shrouded under a cloak of long, rough grass. It is a tantalising prospect to mow out the old green and recreate this old photograph, if even just for one special occasion. Sitwell Park celebrates its centenary in 2013. What a fitting tribute it would be to its original creator. GCA

Robin Hiseman is a golf course architect with European Golf Design, and responsible for the design of the Royal Golf Club, Bahrain, in association with Colin Montgomerie, Casa Serena in the Czech Republic and the future Club de Campo Tres Cantos, which was Spain’s proposed venue for the 2018 Ryder Cup.

Above:The short lived green is still the most spectacular putting surface ever built.

Above: Many of MacKenzie’s ridges and terraces are still apparent in Sept 2011.

The Start to the Year

It’s been an interesting few weeks as we’ve come out of the Christmas and New Year haze. There’s some exciting things coming up which are not quite finalised yet, so we can’t quite share them with you now, but keep watching in coming weeks.

In the meantime, I’ve spent my time, seemingly, on Eurostar between London, Brussels and Paris. I sit on the European Golf Association Golf Course Committee on behalf of the European Tour. The Committee is made up of representatives from eight organisations: European Golf Association, R&A, European Tour, Club Managers Association of Europe, European Golf Course Owners Association, Federation of European Golf Greenkeepers Associations, European Institute of Golf Course Architects and the PGA’s of Europe. It was established such that there was a unified body through which European golf could engage with the European Parliament and the European Commission. We meet normally twice per year – once in January in Brussels (our meeting was two weeks ago) during which various meetings are arranged with MEP’s and officials of the Parliament, and then during the European Parliament’s Green Week event, which is normally held in June of each year.

The other Eurostar trip was earlier this week to Paris for meetings relating to the 2018 Ryder Cup at Le Golf National. Planning has started in earnest for that now…after all, there’s only six years to go!

By the way, if you’ve not traveled by Eurostar before, give it a go – two hours and five minutes between the centre of Brussels and the centre of London, or about two and a half hours between Paris and London. It’s quick, convenient, relaxing and very altogether very impressive.


Reasons to look forward to 2012

As an antidote to the doom and gloom all around us at the moment, particularly in terms of the economic outlook for the coming year, I spent ten minutes this morning thinking of reasons why we might be looking forward to 2012. I surprised myself:

We’ve won, over the past few months, some really interesting work for the next year or two. We’re going to be working with old clients again and new ones, in countries we’ve worked in before and in places we’ve never been. We’re in the middle of pitching for other projects that are, in various ways, utterly fascinating. We’d love to do them all, but would be happy if just one of them came our way.

The world is changing. We have to change too. We’re looking at everything to see how we can be better, how we can be more adaptive to the changing world. We’re trying to be more proactive in our approach – this has led to some potentially great strategic relationships with key partners, and in key regions of the world. There are new opportunities out there – we need to do all we can do to ensure that we are open to those. We’re looking forward to that challenge a lot.

Just as the world is changing and, as a company, we need to change too, so each of us is developing individually. One of the real joys of my job is seeing how everyone here strives to improve each time there is the chance to do so – I’ve never heard anyone say, of anything, that we’ve ‘cracked it’ and that we don’t need to try to make the next project/report/proposal better than the last. And, time and time again, they somehow manage to achieve just that.

Our work continues to gain recognition. We don’t set out to design courses to make ‘Top’ lists – our goal is to listen to clients, to understand what they want and then to deliver it. Flawlessly. But, it always helps when others do recognise what we’re doing – this year’s Top 100 Courses in Europe featured five of our projects, which we’re hugely proud of. It ranks us, along with Cabell Robinson, as the most recognised design group in Europe.

The market is tough, and it doesn’t look like it will be any less tough for the coming months, but we’re determined, we’re working hard and we’re very optimistic.

We wish you all a very happy Christmas and a healthy, successful year ahead.

Plage des Nations – Rabat

We’ve just started a new project outside Rabat at Plage des Nations for Prestigia, with whom we’re also working in Marrakech. The project itself is on a vast parcel of land about twenty minutes drive from the centre of Rabat which will, eventually, be home to about 40,000 people as Prestigia build what is, effectively, a new town on the edge of the Atlantic, with excellent road and rail links to Rabat. The site is gently rolling and sits on a cliff-top looking down onto one of the most pristine beaches you could imagine. Kilometre after kilometre of clean, uncrowded sand.

While I’ve spent a lot of time in Morocco over the years, primarily in Marrakech and Casablanca, I’ve never been to Rabat before. I have to say I was hugely impressed with it as a city. It is clean, organised and calm – the word that came to mind more than any other is gentile. There’s a new (less than a year old) whisper-quiet tram system throughout the city and it’s charming. As we were leaving our hotel on the way out to site, we realised that it was less than a five minute walk to the Tomb of Mohammed V and his son, Hassan II, the last two Kings of Morocco, as well as the Tour (Tower) Hassan, which was designed by the same person that designed the iconic Koutoubia tower in Marrakech. Towards the end of the day, I nipped down there at sunset to take in the sights, and a few pictures.

Above: Robin Hiseman looking at the impressive Plage des Nations model.

Above: Robin Hiseman on the picture postcard beach at Plage des Nations.