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Carton House bucking the trend in Ireland

One of the great pleasures of this job is going back to see old friends and clients from time to time and seeing how things have progressed. We had the opportunity to do that with Carton House Golf Club a week or so ago and, although the weather was absolutely shocking (I was with EGD’s very own Rain Maker, Ross), it was so good to see both courses there, The Montgomerie and The O’Meara, looking in such great condition – the Course Manager, John Plummer, and his team are really at the top of their game. Since the courses opened in 2003 and 2004, the hotel has opened, the houses around the course have been built and the golf club has gone from strength to strength. Developed originally and now led by the Mallaghan family (who are also at the top of their game), Carton House is bucking the trend in Ireland by staying busy, retaining members, and generally providing some bright light in what can look quite a gloomy economic environment.

We were there to talk about revising the course layout to take advantage of some changes to the original planning restrictions which means we can now provide a much more logical and attractive link between the golf course and the clubhouse. If you’ve never been, and find yourself in Ireland, make sure to visit – you’ll not find a warmer Irish welcome anywhere. Just don’t go when Ross is there.

Above: 18th hole on the Montgomerie Course.

Above: 15th hole on the O’Meara Course.

The Royal Golf Club at Riffa Views

Here is a before and after shot from the par 4, 6th hole at The Royal Golf Club, Riffa Views. We worked with Colin Montgomerie at Riffa Views and the course opened at the end of 2008. It’s a links style golf experience in the desert, with fast running fairways and open approaches into huge, firm contoured greens.

Above: Here is the 6th hole as it looks today.

Above: Here is the 6th hole during construction in 2007.

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.

A new challenge for Sarah

Forgive me for writing to you en masse, but there are so many of you to inform that I hope you’ll understand it is impractical to do so individually.

I’m writing to let you know that Sarah has decided that, after thirteen years with us, it’s time for a new challenge in her professional life. She has been offered, and has accepted, the role of PA to Colin Montgomerie. As you may know, we have been working on Colin’s design work in Europe, Africa and the Middle East for many years, as well as designing and managing his web site more recently. As such, Sarah already knows a great deal about his business activities which will stand her in very good stead for the future.

Because of the close link between Colin and us, we’re not saying farewell to Sarah – we’ll be in touch with her on a regular basis on both design issues and for the web site – but we are saying goodbye and, on behalf of everyone here, thanking her for all her efforts over the past thirteen years. As importantly, we’re wishing her much success for the future.

For the future, if your contact with Sarah was as a supplier, your contact now will be Shara Reedman (sreedman@egd.com). For all other matters, please send any emails to me.

Kind regards,


Five EGD designs in Top 100

Forgive us if we blow our own trumpet on this one, but with the announcement this week of the new list of the Top 100 Courses in Continental Europe, we’re thrilled that five of our designs have been recognised. We don’t design projects with the sole intention that they make such lists, but it’s always reassuring when independent experts acknowledge the quality of the work we’re doing. So, with thanks to the panel at Golf World, we’re delighted that PGA Catalunya, The Faldo Course at Sporting Club Berlin, The Sultan at Antalya Golf Club, Navarino Dunes and Linna Golf have all been rated as worthy of inclusion in this year’s list.

With five courses in the Top 100 (and two in the top fifteen), we are joint second (with Cabell Robinson) of the currently active design firms in the rating of the most prolific designers on the list with Robert Trent Jones Jr leading the way with seven courses (although, admittedly, he’s been at it rather longer than we have).

5th Hole at Navarino Dunes, Greece

A date with Monty

What do you say when the eight times winner of the European Tour Order of Merit asks you if you want a date? In Marrakech? Luckily, having momentarily wondered how our relationship had blossomed so much without me appreciating it, I realised that he’d seen a plate of dates and was asking if I wanted one.

That minor confusion aside, the past couple of days I’’ve spent with Colin Montgomerie in Marrakech have been great fun. We were there for the official public launch of a project we’re working on with him within sight of the famous walls of the old city, La Mamounia Hotel (where Winston Churchill used to stay) and the Koutoubia Menara. The location, in terms of access from the airport and to the city, couldn’’t be better. The project is being developed by a company called Prestigia, based in Casablanca.

The launch started with a reception for about 100 people on the site and then shifted to Royal Golf de Marrakech, a beautiful and historic course set close to the royal gardens of Jardins de l’’Agdal. A nine hole scramble, starting at dusk, meant that the fairways and greens were lit with lanterns and the players were all given luminous balls to play with –as much as he was interested to see it, Monty somehow doubted this was going to ever be a feature of European Tour events. Then, back to the project for a buffet dinner and musical extravaganza before the prize-giving which started at about midnight.

If you’’ve never been to Marrakech, give it a go. It’’s an extraordinary place.

Colin Montgomerie at The Montgomerie, Marrakech

‘Ticking-off’ Huntercombe

EGD can thank my mother-in-law for the chance to experience Huntercombe. She doesn’t visit us very often, but on one weekend not so long ago her presence meant that I was able to steal away for that most precious of experiences, a Sunday twilight game. Not being a member of a club round these parts, I was looking at paying a green fee somewhere. The obvious choice was the local pay-and-play track. Perfectly adequate and a decent price, but decidedly unfulfilling. Nagging at my mind was the fact that for nigh on 20 years I’d been meaning to tick Huntercombe off my list of must plays. Ever since driving past it in 1992 with my former colleagues at Hawtree on our way to play Billingbear Park, supplemented by repeated reminders courtesy of the iconic photograph in Fred Hawtree’s golf design bible, this historic Willie Park Junior course had been permanently on my radar, but had never quite appeared within my golfing horizons. Finally, here was an opportunity to address this omission. It was a lovely afternoon and the pro had confirmed the course would take my green fee, so within 50 minutes of heading out of the driveway, I was teeing it up on the quirky par 3 opener. 5 minutes later, after what I’m informed is the customary 3-putt, I was well on my way. It was a good choice. Huntercombe is amazing.

Rarely have I played a course that was so involving for every single shot. There was always a decision to be made; a risk to be assessed; a choice as to how to play the next shot. Topping it off was a set of some of the most interesting putting surfaces ever conceived. This is a design that has remained largely untouched since Willie Park Junior laid the course out in 1900-01 at roughly the same time as he was designing Sunningdale. More than a century later the course is still a captivating experience for the modern golfer. All this on a course laid out over modest terrain on a compact site. There is a lot that the modern golf architect can learn from the study of a course like this, most specifically what is it about the design which has given the course an appeal so enduring that it has remained largely preserved for 110 years?

With this in mind I went back to the EGD design office the following day and suggested that we try to arrange a study trip to Huntercombe. Generally, getting more than two of us in the same place at the same time is a task akin to herding cats, but on this occasion and perhaps encouraged by the prospect of a decent round of golf, five of us were able to commit to making the trip. I made the arrangements through Huntercombe’s genial and very helpful secretary, Nick Jenkins and within a couple of weeks we were out of the door early one afternoon and heading up into the Chilterns. Nick had very kindly arranged for Course Manager Neil McCarthy-Primett to accompany us on a walking tour of the course prior to our game. Neil has been at Huntercombe for years and so was able to fill us in with a wealth of information to supplement our own study of the layout. It was the first time that either Jeremy, Ross, Dave or Alex had ever seen the course and I think I can safely write on their behalf that they were all wholly impressed with what they saw.

For me it is the intricacy of the design that sets it apart. Everywhere you look there are humps, bumps, pits and hollows. Often these hazards have to be hit over at some point on the journey from tee to green. Other times they jealously guard the flanks. Never can they be ignored. Longer hitters will often have to keep the driver in the bag to sacrifice length for precision, which is probably the main reason why it is still a relevant design to this day. The integrity and length of the approach shots has been preserved by the necessity to keep the ball out of the fierce hazards from the tee. It definitely has penal undertones, consistent with the time it was conceived. That is no bad thing. Neil recounted the fact that the club had had to reroute the 6th fairway away from a parallel road and how, in so doing, he had been forced, much to his regret, to fill in one of the chasms. This is a club that knows and honours the value of its course design. Some of the greens are classic museum pieces. The 8th is the obvious showcase example. A giant four foot tier separates the green into two distinct zones, with the narrow upper tier then sloping away to the back of the green. Check your indemnity insurance cover if you ever try to do that these days! Perhaps the only downside to the way the course has evolved is that it is now far too choked with trees and scrubby undergrowth. The specimen trees are beautiful but the thick colonizing clag in between makes it quite a dark, enclosed course in places. Late in the day, the sun burst spectacularly through the heavy, overcast skies, but the sunbeams never had a chance to illuminate the fairways.

We rounded off the day with a brisk pair of 2-balls. Jeremy dusted off Dave (against the odds) and Alex and myself shared a closely contested halved match. Huntercombe was a joy and an essential visit for anyone with an interest in golf course design. Any architect who can replicate the enduring appeal of Huntercombe in their designs is onto a winner. I am sure we have all got some ideas in our lockers as a result of our trip. Hopefully, more EGD study trips will follow. I’d like to take them to Painswick. Now that will be an eye opener!

Above: Course Manager Neil McCarthy-Primett (left) explains the strategy of Hole 18 to Dave and Alex.

Above: Alpinised mounding and bunkers surround the green of the long par 3 7th hole.

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