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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

Well played DC!

Along with most of the rest of Britain and Ireland, I spent Sunday July 17 2011 glued to the TV with my fingers crossed, hoping that Darren Clarke was going to make it across the line and win his first major championship. As a fellow quadragenarian, it was nice to see that ‘one of us’ still has what it takes to take on and beat the young pups.

Before he moved back to Portrush, Darren was frequently seen on the streets of Sunningdale, usually at the gents outfitters across the road from our office here at EGD. But it was in Bahrain this January that I got a chance to chat to Darren and it was because of the circumstances of this that I was that bit more pleased than I would already have been to see Darren win the claret jug.

The Volvo Golf Champions, on the course we designed with Colin Montgomerie, had concluded an hour or so beforehand; the crowds had largely dispersed and the tour players were back in their hotels or on their way to the airport. Only one pro remained to chat with the fans and that was Darren. He wasn’t in the private clubhouse bar, but was outside at the public bar and for an hour or more was happy to spend time chatting to all and sundry. He and I spent a good ten minutes chatting about the course, the event and golf design in general. It was a good, open discussion and we even disagreed over a couple of points. When he said he didn’t like the hump in the centre of the 15th fairway, because he couldn’t get his drive past it, I told him to “hit it harder next time!” Well, he’s now qualified to play in the next Volvo Golf Champions, so here’s hoping that the event returns to Bahrain to give him the chance to put my tip into practice! I was too polite to mention his double bogey on the last hole of the tournament, which cost him €21,000…but I think he’s probably got over that by now!

It was nice to see one of the leading players on the tour prepared to kick back with the fans in such convivial surroundings and I know that everybody who was there that night, as we celebrated the end of a very successful event, will have been that extra bit pleased to see Darren win the big one. Well played DC!

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.

The 2011 European Tour Shot of the Year

Graeme McDowell has won the European Tour Shot of the Year award for his dramatic putt on the 16th green during his Ryder Cup singles match on the Twenty-Ten Course at The Celtic Manor Resort.

McDowell collected the award from 2010 European Ryder Cup Captain Colin Montgomerie at the prestigious European Tour Player Awards Dinner, held last night at the Sofitel Heathrow. The ceremony was attended by the whole Ryder Cup team who also presented Monty with a present of their own as a thank you for his outstanding leadership. In all six of the top seven players in the world were present at the awards as well as all four current Major title holders.

European Golf Design’s Ross McMurray, who was responsible for creating the Twenty-Ten Course and was also a guest at the dinner, gave his support to McDowell’s award; “On a personal level Graeme’s putt on the 16th green during the Ryder Cup was easily the highlight of the year. The atmosphere after his approach shot found the green was unbelievable and the noise from the thousands of watching spectators when he holed that putt was amazing. It was a truly unforgettable experience for all of us at EGD who were present that day.”

Graeme McDowell celebrates on the 16th green at the Ryder Cup

Sport Venue of the Year

The Celtic Manor Resort has been named as Sport Venue of the Year at last nights prestigious Sport Industry Awards 2011 in London. The lavish ceremony was attended by many of sports top industry executives and a host of sporting celebrities including Andrew Strauss, AP McCoy, Rory McIlroy, Jack Wilshere, Joe Calzaghe, Petr Cech, Michael Vaughan and Dame Kelly Holmes.

Celtic Manor Resort was the venue for last years dramatic Ryder Cup, the biennial competition between the best golfers in Europe and the United States. The matches were played over the challenging Twenty Ten Course at the Resort, which was especially created for the event by golf course designers, European Golf Design. Ross McMurray, lead designer for EGD on the project commented;

“I am delighted that Celtic Manor Resort has been recognized for staging what was one of the most exciting and dramatic sporting events of 2010. Despite the appalling weather the venue shone through and delivered what was undoubtedly one of the most successful Ryder Cup’s ever held. My congratulations go to everyone who was involved. European Golf Design is proud to have played a part in its success.”

The Sport Venue of the Year Award, sponsored by the evenings hosts Battersea Evolution, was received on behalf of The Celtic Manor Resort by Marketing & Commercial Director Gareth Rees Jones and PR Manager Paul Williams. The trophy was presented by sporting great James Cracknell and Sky Sports presenter Charlotte Jackson.

Seve, thank you so much. You inspired me.

Having just heard the news that Seve died this morning, I’ve spent the last few minutes reflecting. I watched him play many times, but I never met him. All the same, in some small way, I (like many people I suspect), felt that I knew him a bit because he was an open, honest character: what you got with Seve, for good and bad, was transparency – you knew, just by looking at him, how he felt and how he was playing.

I started playing golf in 1976. The first tournament I ever watched on TV was that year’s Open from Birkdale, where Johnny Miller held off the challenge of this young, frighteningly talented Spaniard. I will never forget his chip over the bunkers to the final green and the massive ovation that he received – for someone who thought that it was only footballers that were idolised by the masses, this was a moment of revelation for me. From that point, the first name I looked for in any tournament summary was Seve’s. There were many triumphs, there were almost an equal number of disappointments – whatever happened, the one thing you could never say was that following him was dull.

But, for all the victories he had, the one event that stands out as a testament of his passion, fire and competitiveness was a defeat. His match in the 1995 Ryder Cup against Tom Lehman was to be his final match as a player and, if the truth were to be uttered, he really should not have been playing, such was his form. To watch someone so utterly outplayed by his opponent, but managing to remain in the match for so long through nothing else than inspiration and determination, in equal measure, was mesmerising. Even though he lost, for me it was a most unbelievable feat of sporting competition.

Now, he has finally lost his fight for life. Many more eloquent epitaphs will be written than this, but from this fan – Seve, thank you so much. You inspired me.

KPMG Golf Business Forum in Dubai

The eighth KPMG Golf Business Forum in Dubai recently took place, attended by Ross and I. European Golf Design were one of the Sponsors and for the third year running the event took place at a European Golf Design course, Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club. Previous venues being the Montgomerie Maxx Royale in Belek, Turkey and The Celtic Manor Resort in Wales.

An impressive line up of speakers included Colin Montgomerie along with the Chief Executive of The European Tour, George O’Grady. Over 300 delegates from 45 countries took part making it one of the industry’s biggest networking events of the year. Debates and Q&A panels took place over the three days discussing new business opportunities and key issues affecting the world of golf.

His Highness Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, CEO and Chairman of The Emirates Group and Chairman of Dubai World, was guest of honour on the opening day and a KPMG Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Dr David Chu, one of the driving forces behind the growth of the game in China.

Away from the conference there was time to meet up with delegates at a couple of social events, including golf at the Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club. For both Ross and I it was our first trip to Dubai and it was fantastic to see one of our courses that Stan from European Golf Design worked on back in 2004. I was intrigued to see the floating tee on the 6th I’d heard so much about. Ross played the course and was relieved that instead of scorching hot temperatures Dubai received its first rain in 3 years during his round, me on the other had who taken a couple of hours off to see Dubai, not so happy!

Over the three days it was a great opportunity to meet up with a diverse group of people all working in the golf industry, as well as meeting old friends who I’ve worked with in the past. The delegate list was a Who’s Who of Golf and it was a great opportunity to see what others are doing and plans for the future of golf.