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Shooting at The Marquess

Early mornings are not an infrequent part of life here but, even for us, this past Wednesday was unusual. We are in the middle of shooting a new company video and, as part of that, wanted to get some film of everyone together on a golf course. The nearest one that we’ve designed to the office is The Marquess at Woburn Golf Club so, at 5:30am, we all met in the office to drive the 90 minutes or so up there such that we’d be on the course at sunrise.

All the way, the weather was looking good – scattered cloud with a real possibility of a beautifully red sky as the sun peaked over the horizon. As it turned out, the clouds thickened by the time the sun did appear, but we still got some good footage of the team on a dewy morning.

In order to get some close-up shots, Ross was the ‘stunt double’ and spent about an hour or so putting on a glove, taking off the glove, walking up to a tee, putting a ball on a peg, practice swinging, addressing the ball and, finally, hitting a shot or two.

The completed video should be ready by Christmas (what a perfect gift for a loved one!).

Here come the Men (and Women) in Black

Golf in 2010

Another golfing summer has passed by and yet again glorious golf opportunities have not been made the most of. From the outside, people may assume that as a golf design company, we get countless rounds of free golf, play four times a week and all play off single figure handicaps…….that is not, and never will be the case.

My main excuse for not playing as much golf as I would like are weekends packed with cricket (that may be changing soon) however, I have been able to play a couple of glorious courses which I would strongly recommend.

The first one is the famous Portuguese course, Praia del Rey. A links course set on the cliff tops overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, the course has two very distinctive nine hole loops. The inland front nine predominantly meanders through the mature pine forest, while the back nine makes the most of the fantastic ocean views with many holes framed by some mighty dunes. The wife and I went there for our summer vacation and thoroughly enjoyed the entire resort……..great weather, accommodation and golf. I was only able to get in one round at Praia but it was definitely worth it!

Praia del Rey

The second great course played this summer was this past weekend at The Addington, just outside Croydon in Surrey. Designed in 1912 by John Abercromby, the heathland course is a masterpiece of inland golf. Some say that the opening six holes are a ‘taster’ for what is to come, but nothing can prepare you for the fantastic rollercoaster ride that you are taken on from holes seven to seventeen. Woods, heather, topography, great green sites, ravines, bridges – The Addington really does have it all.

The Addington

However, even if I did make more of the potential golf opportunities, the highlight of golf in 2010 was always going to be, The Twenty Ten. As the course designers, the entire company is going down to Celtic Manor to watch the Ryder Cup…………….it’s going to great! Come on Europe!!!

"Keeping my eye in" – Ally McIntosh

Having graduated from the EIGCA education program but as of yet not working full time in golf design, I know the importance of keeping my eye in. So I was extremely grateful that the guys at EGD accepted me in to their office for a week to set me a challenging task, based on one that they had faced themselves a few years prior.

The project at hand was to redesign a new eighteen hole golf course from the remaining land available from two previous courses. Although the work had been undertaken by Ross McMurray, it was Robin Hiseman that would be my primary host and whilst he explained the brief to me, it immediately became clear that it would not be entirely straightforward: Firstly, the land had some of the severest elevation change that I had encountered. Secondly, redesigning golf holes over a site where existing holes are in place creates a very different set of problems than at a green-field location, not least because it is harder to visualise the land without what is there already.

Still, with a bottom line objective of routing the “best members’ course available on the land”, I stuck at it, going through countless iterations of possible outcomes and trying to fit the most pleasing jigsaw together from the options available. Finally I made some fundamental decisions which left me with two solutions, one of which I opted to develop in to an overall master plan.

My final day in the office was spent putting some shape, strategy and life in to the golf course and I’ll spend some further time back at home creating some detail to the design with some grading plans and green designs.

The week culminated in a visit down to the course for a match of the utmost seriousness. I think it better not to reveal the magnitude of my loss against Mr. Hiseman but the fact that we were shaking hands at the furthest point from the clubhouse perhaps hides a clue. Fortunately, I’ve had to invent a whole host of new excuses to account for my recent erratic golf; so it was pleasing to inform my opponent that I had been spending far too much time comparing the as-built course with my own routing from the drawing board. How was I supposed to concentrate on winning the game as well?

Needless to say, my warmest appreciation is due to Jeremy, Robin, Ross, Alex and all those in the office that gave their time up to help me. Go raibh mile maith agaibh.

By Ally McIntosh

Ally McIntosh on the 3rd Tee at The Montgomerie, Celtic Manor

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

Golf Course Bunkers

Having just been updating our project images I was struck by the different character of the many European Golf Design courses. These differences are particularly evident in the bunker styles which can come in all shapes and sizes. They range from small pot bunkers which are deep and round with steep faces, to large expanses of flat waste bunkers and many other types in between.

Bunkers are defined as hazards and are one element used by golf course designers to determine the strategic test of a golf course. They can be placed to direct play, to penalise wayward shots or to provide protection. They also have an important aesthetical value.

Bunker positioning has been a subject of debate ever since the earliest golf course architects. Alistair McKenzie, the foremost designer of his time, stated that “No hazard should be placed which has not some influence on the line of play of the hole. On many courses there are far too many bunkers“, while Donald Ross the other pre-eminent architect from the same era considered that “There is no such thing as a misplaced bunker“.

Bunker play requires a different approach depending on it’s location, shape and size, they are usually categorized as either fairway bunkers, greenside bunkers or waste bunkers. Commonly fairway bunkers tend not to be that deep and have a lower face which allows the golfer to advance the ball at least some way towards the hole. Greenside bunkers are usually deeper with a steeper face and are one of the most difficult shots to play in golf for the average player. Waste Bunkers are typically unmaintained natural sandy areas which may run alongside the fairway and could have rocks and vegetation within them. According to the rules waste bunkers are not considered a hazard so golfers can ground a club and remove loose objects from around the ball.

The style of bunkers is often influenced by environmental factors such as wind, rain and sun. Bunkers with high, flashed up faces can be a problem to maintain in areas which receive a lot of rainfall as the sand is often washed into the bases. Long, flat bunkers can be effected by wind whipping up the sand and removing it, while south facing steep grass faces in hotter regions might need additional irrigation to prevent stress damage to turf.

At European Golf Design we have designed golf course’s with every type and style of bunker and here are some examples:

  • Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club, UAE
  • Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links, Ireland
  • Riffa Views, Bahrain
  • Papillon Golf Club, Turkey
  • Twenty Ten Course at Celtic Manor, Wales
  • The Montgomerie at The Dutch, Netherlandss

Emperical knowledge by Tim-Ole Michel

From an early age I have always been fascinated by the game of Golf, but I have developed an even more keen interest in the actual architecture and design of golf courses over the years. Therefore designing and constructing single golf holes became one of my favourite spare time activities. I really wanted to get closer to this profession in some way. Therefore I am very thankfully to have had the chance for a 2-week visit at EGD.

At the office of EGD I felt very comfortable the second I entered it the first time. This was certainly due to the friendly welcome of the team but also because I was positively surprised in a way that this kind of work, the architecture and design of golf courses, really existed the way I imagined it would. As this was my first visit at a golf course architecture company my entire image of this profession was based on research and theory. People also have always deflected me from this profession before, who doubted the existence of this profession, and when I finally could convince myself of the contrary this made me even happier.

At EGD I was learned about the whole processes happening in the build up of a golf course. By designing my own golf course project I was learning about fundamental skills and techniques a designer encompasses. The first of many things I have learned was, the appropriate line up of golf holes to form an 18-hole golf course appropriate to the given landscape. Movement of contours/earth to form a difficult but fair golf course for every golfer belonged to the more challenging and exciting tasks. Another important aspect I was taught is that there is not just this sporting challenge, consisting of a combination of fun and creativity; there also is responsibility to and awareness of Nature to care about.

Apart of working on my project, I was also able to have a look around inside the office and get some views on the work of the designers. A range of little conversations gave me a deeper understanding and made me gain vivid impressions of golf design and the individual tasks everybody has in the office. It was especially exciting to see how plans get implemented into reality and how the individual steps are undertaken until the actual golf course is ready to be played. To get an idea of the periods of time the individual work stages take was equally impressive.

The designers of EGD were working on projects in different countries all over the world. I noticed that the design has to adapt to the individual conditions according to the location. The atmosphere within the team was easygoing, relaxed but truly serious and professional. I felt well-integrated in the office and with all those details and empirical values I could pick up here, I was given the inspiration to continue working on my dream of becoming a golf course architect one day to come true.

Additionally being invited to trips to social events like cricket matches or rounds of golf for building site inspection, made me feel being part of this unit during my stay and provided me a closer look into the work of a golf course design company.

It has really been a great time at EGD. There was a great atmosphere in the office which I really enjoyed, sharpened through the FIFA World Cup on television with myself as a German surrounded by a crowd of England supporters…

Tim-Ole Michel.

Tim playing out of a bunker at Princes Golf Club during his visit to European Golf Design

Monday morning………..

Having done the normal chores at home before leaving for work (well some of them -actually not many of them) I made my way into work.

On a good run I can do door to door in 12 minutes.

What a result – forgot the schools were on holiday so my journey through Chobham was a breeze.

Arrived at work in 12 minutes and what a result found a parking space straight away. No double parking. Then remembered how few of us would be at work today. No not because it was just a Monday morning – this was going to unusually quiet…just Matt, Stan, Gary and myself.

Matt is already here “Morning Matt”, Stan follows shortly and then Gary wanders past my desk eating his obligatory bowl of cereal. I finish my blueberries in the hope they will make me feel healthier!

Now for tea. I offer to make it -what a result. Gary doesn’t drink tea. Stan always makes his own coffee so it’s only Matt and I. Tea no sugar for Matt and a rather large mug of green tea and nettle for me (in the hopes that this too will make me feel healthier)!

Now to check the bank and see who has paid……………… to be continued……………

PGA National of Russia gets ready for grassing

It’s amazing what a few good weeks of weather can do. The previous visit was pretty much a damp squib, very similar to the conditions encountered during the whole of late May and early June, and construction progress was slow and very stop-start.

However, the middle of June has seemed like a defining date where glorious sunshine and unseasonably high temperatures have dried the site substantially and allowed for quick and quality progress to be made. So much so that the project is now ready to ‘sow its first seeds’!

The topsoil has been replaced on four holes and seedbed preparation is virtually complete on two of them. The irrigation system is up and running, sand is being spread in the bunkers and the heather has been planted around them. A few final tweaks to the seedbed prep and grassing will be ready to commence next week……. something we have all be striving towards.

Long may the good weather continue!

The short par 4, 10th Hole at the PGA National