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These 'Boots' Are Made for Walkin……

It may have been a big hit for Frank Sinatra’s daughter, Nancy, but for those of you who have been to New York New York, with the wife or girlfriend, will fully appreciate the amount of ‘Walkin’ that takes place. The architecture, the museums, ‘Top of the Rock’, Central Park, the ‘Sex and the City’ tour (no comment), Statue of Liberty, Time Square (not last Saturday thankfully)……..and the shopping, the shopping, the shopping!!!
It’s a pulsating and energising place, but come the end of our five day stay in the Big Apple, both of us were very ready to put the ‘boots’ up.

The wife’s ‘boots’ were up for a bit longer than mine, as it was straight from Heathrow Terminal 3 to Terminal 4 to catch a connecting flight to Moscow for the first construction visit of year at the Zavidovo project.

Work has only recently recommenced on the PGA National Russia course and the site has come out of the winter well. Erosion has been minimal and it’s great to see that the course is draining pretty well. Conditions since the winter thaw have been favourable and in less than three days on site, we were able to approve shaping work and mark out grassing lines on five holes. Irrigation has also been staked on these holes so if all things go well we should have some seed in the ground in June.

A tiring, yet fun and rewarding nine days away from home, where the ‘walkin’ boots, were replaced by the ‘site’ boots, and upon return……….the ‘cricket’ boots!

  • Dave outside the Guggenheim Museum, New York
  • Construction underway on the 10th Hole at the PGA National Russia course.

Golf Green Design

To me, at least, green design makes the difference between good and great golf courses. From big to small, flat to undulating, round to square (ish), heavily bunkered or no bunkers, they should all get the golfer thinking about the approach shot they are about to hit.

Drawn and designed at a 1:200 scale because of their complexity, they are accountable for a big chunk of time in the design process. One project for example could easily have 40 or more greens (including practice facilities) to design, each a different size and shape with different borrows to fit the golf hole that is laid out before it.

Every green design is painstakingly drawn with a high degree of detail, up to 6 contours per meter. The drawn design is not by any means set in stone, more often than not the Golf Course Architect will tweak (sometimes more than tweak!) slopes, humps and bumps when they are on site.

One thing that must be considered as a part of the green design process is creating areas that are flat enough to be ‘pinned’. There should be at least 5 suitable areas on a green for the pin, if, for nothing else, to cover the 4 days of a big tournament. To meet European Tour standards for example a pinnable area will generally have a gradient of less than 2%.

Along with Pin positions another aspect to be considered is the type of grass being used on the putting surface, the mowing height and potential Stimp reading as this will have an impact on the slopes and shaping. Generally Greens will be cut between 3-5mm depending on the time of year and during the summer they may be cut twice daily to keep the greens fast. The Stimp meter is a device that allows the Golf Club to gauge the speed of their greens. For Championship Golf they are normally a minimum of 10 feet on the Stimp. 12 feet is usually as fast as a professional golfer would see, Augusta’s Stimp however can run at 13 feet.

Now for some very basic construction information. Typically European Golf Design build greens to conform with the USGA recommendations for greens construction. Starting from the bottom upwards; The first job is to shape the green subgrade so that the contours in the subgrade reflect those of the finished shaping. A series of drainage lines are trenched into the subgrade, these will contain the perforated drainage pipe and be backfilled with washed gravel. Above this is a 100mm layer of the same washed gravel. Finally on top of this sits the seedbed mix which is a 300mm mixture of sand and organic matter. Occasionally a plastic membrane is installed around the green perimeter which is used as a barrier between the subsoil green profile edge and the gravel blanket and rootzone mixture.

One aspect I have not covered is grass seed. There will be a blog to come on this, so to find out more on Bent or Bermuda, Pencross or Penneagle watch this space!

  • Herringbone drainage which forms the lower layer of the green construction. Perforated plastic pipes in the herringbone trenches to facilitate drainage of water. Around the green perimeter is a plastic interface membrane used as a barrier between the subsoil green profile edge and the gravel blanket and rootzone mixture.  Photo taken at Euphoria Golf & Hydro in South Africa.
  • Spreading the washed gravel layer across the green area which forms a drainage base for the seedbed mixture above. The washed gravel layer is usually 100mm thick. The gravel is smoothed out using rakes. Photo taken at The Dutch in The Netherlands.
  • The seedbed mixture forms the top layer of the green construction. Typically 300mm thick and a mixture of sand and organic matter. Photo taken at Navarino Dunes in Greece.

Team Work – Monty, McKenzie & McMurray prove the value

With the Wales Open only six weeks away, and the Ryder Cup a little less than five months after that, the finishing touches have now being made to the Twenty Ten Course at Celtic Manor Resort.

Last week some of the staff here at European Golf Design had the opportunity to visit Celtic Manor and see first hand what has been going on.

Over the winter Ross has been working closely with Jim McKenzie and his staff as the final few tweaks were made to some of the bunkers on the original holes to ensure that their style was consistent with those on the new holes. One of the most important aspects for us during the development of the Twenty Ten Course has been to ensure that there is a seamless progression between the nine new holes and the nine holes retained from the previous course. At the outset we were determined to make the bunkers on the new holes deeper and more penal with rolling grass faces blending into the flashed up sand to improve the visual aesthetics. As a result all the bunkers on the old holes have been remodelled in the same style by Jim’s team. Many have also been repositioned to improve their strategic value or reshaped to resolve other maintenance issues.

European Ryder Cup Team Captain Colin Montgomerie has also been involved. Following a course inspection last autumn Colin suggested some improvements to the par 5 11th hole and subsequently Ross and Jim have coordinated some major revisions to the green surrounds. The bunkers have been made more penal and the entrance into the green tightened. In addition a drop off on the left side of the green has been carved out which will kick any ball missing the target on that side down and away from the putting surface, towards the water. As a consequence this relatively short par 5 will now have a couple of much tougher pin positions and the approach to the green will need a great deal more thought.

Following other comments from Colin and feedback following the last Wales Open the opportunity has also been taken to adjust some fairway and rough outlines around the course to enhance the playing strategy.

With the completion of the Ryder Cup practice area and the opening of the bridge across the River Usk which will link it to the golf course, as well as the installation of numerous new tarmac roads and pathways to facilitate easier access for spectators and vehicles, the last 12 months have been another hugely busy period at Celtic Manor Resort. The Wales Open which starts on June 3rd will be a great opportunity for players and spectators alike to see what’s in store before the big event in October.

Michael 'Queenie' King – Golf Monthly

Michael King has always been one very English golfer, who won on tour and played in the 1979 Ryder Cup. But after severe arthritis forced him to retire, he has helped design some of the best courses in Europe. Bill Elliott meets the man whose friends call him ‘Queenie’…

In these days of pre-prepared golf professionals, of young men who are already battle-hardened and media savvy before their short game is complete, it can pay to reflect on the way it used to be on the European Tour.

Believe me – if in this mood – there is no finer companion with whom to reminisce about the good, daft old days than Michael King, or ‘Queenie’ as he is affectionately known to friends and foes alike. Yes, even his foes usually confess to an instinctive liking for the tall Englishman who blossomed briefly but well on the European circuit between 1974 and the mid 1980s.

Interesting bloke, Mike. Along with a small waterfall of hair that seems to grow thicker as he ages, he always has carried himself with that easy charm so particularly accessible to a certain type of Englishman. My own early memories of him are of a pro golfer who stood out because he always seemed happy and he appeared to own a wardrobe consisting exclusively of the finest cashmere.

When I mentioned this to him, he laughed: “Oh, I’ve always had a champagne taste for life no matter how much I’ve actually been earning.”

These days Mike earns his living pressing the flesh of potential clients for European Golf Design, the course design experts owned jointly by the Tour and IMG and whose glittering portfolio of completed projects includes this year’s Ryder Cup venue at Celtic Manor. King himself has been signature designer on two of EGD’s projects, Ribagolfe II in Portugal and Marriott Worsley Park near Manchester.

How he got to where he is today, however, is a story of good luck, bad luck and debilitating illness. It is also not quite as posh as many of us once suspected.

Born in Reading to an estate agent father, he initially flew in the face of his insouciant image by attending state schools before heading off to the sports-mad Millfield School in Somerset. Here his dormitory head boy was JPR Williams (who, of course, became a legend of Welsh Rugby), while next door a certain Gareth Edwards plotted his own ascent of the old, biff-bash game.

Despite such neighbouring peers, Mike’s game of choice was golf. He was good too, playing twice in the Walker Cup (1969 and ’73) before heading off to the City to play at stockbroking.

His future, however, was rudely mapped out for him when he lost everything in the great crash of 1974. At 24 years of age he was broke. It was then that someone suggested he make use of the one skill he appeared to have, playing golf. So with the help of friends – names like Steven Evans, Eddie Healey and the late, great photographer Laurence Levy spill out of him as he reflects on the men who helped forge his life – he joined the circuit where, inevitably, he stood out and not just because he was over 6ft 2ins tall. Whereas the majority of pros back then seemed to have come from the hard world of club golf, King seemed to have lolloped his way onto the tour.

Nothing, however, could have been further from the truth. For a start he had an overdraft of £800 the day he turned pro and he had also just been diagnosed with the cruel beginnings of ankylosing spondylitis, an arthritic condition of the spine. The fact is that right from the start, Michael King knew that as a top-flight player he was going to face the end sooner rather than later.

“I always knew that, yes, but I was also determined not to let it stop me trying to enjoy myself. And I did quite well I suppose. I was quite a good golfer, certainly a good striker of the ball. That said, I was also probably the most mentally inept player in the world. If I was doing well I’d start making a speech in my head but by the time I’d completed it, I’d finished sixth.”

This was not always true, or at least once it wasn’t. In the autumn of 1979 he finally got to make that speech when he won the impressively titled SOS Talisman TPC at Moor Park in Yorkshire to finish the year the fifth ranked player in Europe. The previous week he had played in the Ryder Cup in West Virginia.

“Ah yes,” he recalls. “The Ryder Cup… I only got to play in the singles, sadly. John [Jacobs, the captain of that ill-fated venture] kept telling me I was due to play but then he kept putting me back so I had little else to do but practise and that meant I was really ready to go when we got to Leeds the following week.”

Five years later the arthritis had really kicked in and so reluctantly he had to give up his life as a touring pro. It was a tough time – and certainly tougher than he even now lets on – but once again a lot of friends rallied round. “You know, the friendships one forges on the way up are vitally important because you need those friends when you are moving in the opposite direction.”

These friends include the likes of Sam Torrance, David Feherty, Nick Job, Greg Norman and so many others. “These pals encouraged me out on to the golf course to partner them even though back then I struggled to knock the ball 150 yards off the tee. It meant a lot and it still does.”

By the time his arthritis hit hard, he had been a member of the players’ committee and the Tour’s board of directors. Behind the Roger Moore image lurks a more serious and thoughtful man than he would ever wish you to know but the Tour hierarchy had indeed noticed this and so offered him a role that involved meeting and, as always, effortlessly charming potential sponsors. It is from this role that he has segued into his job at EGD and a position he now clearly loves.

He still plays golf too. These games take place at Sunningdale, the club he first joined in 1968 and which offers him the sort of vaguely PG Wodehouse environment that he relishes. He joined as a young amateur because Gerald Micklem, the first gentleman of English amateur golf, told him it was a good idea. Not for the first time, Micklem was spot on.

His hero was Jack Nicklaus and one of his biggest thrills came when he was paired with the great man over the opening rounds of the 1981 Open at St George’s. Unfortunarely their afternoon three-ball – Jumbo Ozaki made up the trio – hit the mother of all Channel storms that day. Nicklaus returned 81, Mike hit 82. When I bumped into him that evening he grimaced and said: “I’ve dreamt of beating Jack and on the one day he shoots over 80 I lose to him by one.” The following day saw Nicklaus shoot 65 to make the cut. Queenie missed out.

Did I mention that Michael ‘Queenie’ King could charm for England? What is also true is that we won’t see his like again on the pro circuit, let alone feel that quality of cashmere.

by Bill Elliott, Golf Monthly.


Jack Nicklaus and Michael King during the 1981 Open at St George’s

Light and Shade – Trees on the Golf Course

One of the perks of this job is being able to return to a golf course we’ve designed and see how it has grown and matured over the years. I recently had the pleasure of returning to Woburn Golf Club to look at the Marquess Course which we designed in 1998. Opened on 4th June 2000, The Marquess made an immediate impact on the golfing world by hosting the 2001 and 2002 British Masters and receiving rave reviews from the tournament professionals. Since then the course has gained a reputation as one of the top 18 hole tracks in England.

Returning to The Marquess for the first time in three or four years I was struck immediately by the fine condition of the course. The greens in particular have really come on and despite it being only mid-April the putting surfaces were firm, fast and true. The fairways were also in great shape and the winter had seen a programme of restoration on the bunkers. I have no doubt that, come the 10th anniversary celebrations in June, The Marquess will be in its finest condition yet.

An important part of the golf course maintenance programme on The Marquess is the tree management programme. Like Woburn’s other courses, The Dukes and The Duchess, The Marquess is laid out within mature woodland of pine, oak and sweet chestnut, with every hole lined by tall trees. While the trees add so much to the setting and strategy of the course, they do require a specialised management regime both to maintain the health of the woodland and also the condition of the turf, so there is a continual process of felling and removal of dead or diseased trees, planting of new trees and general tree surgery.

However, while at Woburn the need to carefully manage trees seems obvious almost all other golf courses would benefit from having a similar tree management programme. Many courses start out with relatively few trees, but over the years begin to plant trees usually for aesthetic reasons as part of a beautification process, but sometimes for practical reasons to screen or protect certain areas. Often it is ornamental trees or exotics which are planted rather than native species, and sometimes there is little thought given to the impact of tree planting on the golf course in the long term. A golf course can very easily become overplanted with consequent negative impacts on turf, playability, strategy and views.

Not long ago I visited a golf course where the committee wanted to re-bunker the golf course as the original bunkers were “out of play”. Well they were right, most of the bunkering was out of play because it was hidden in the trees. About 20 years previously the club had instigated a tree planting programme of which they were clearly very proud. To give them their due they had used native species, but they appeared to have forgotten what the impact would be when the trees grew. Consequently the bunkers which had previously been on the side of the fairways were now surrounded by trees, the fairways were all about fifteen metres wide and the quality of the turf on the fairways was getting progressively worse as the light became more restricted and the tree roots sucked the moisture out of the soil. What the course actually needed was a policy of tree removal but it appeared that every tree on the course was now sacred! So the club went on with their re-bunkering plans and consigned themselves to poorer turf quality, higher maintenance costs and reduced playability.

Nearly all courses with trees would benefit from having a proper review of their planted areas to assess the following criteria;

1 – The health and life expectancy of each tree, including any potential safety issues.
2 – The potential size and form of each tree.
3 – The suitability of tree species.
4 – The impact on turf health, including an analysis of shade at different times of the day and year, the effects on air circulation and root system types.
5 – The impact on golf course playability and strategy.
6 – The impact on golf traffic and wear.
7 – The impact on aesthetics of the golf course and also the broader landscape.
8 – The impact on views, both within and outside the course.

Obviously, the most direct impact of trees is on the condition of the course. Grass needs sun, air and moisture and if trees block any or all of these elements then turf is really going to struggle to stay healthy. And the problem will only get worse where grass is closely mown and gets more wear, such as on greens. However, while most people are aware of these problems, and indeed are familiar with them in their own gardens, it often seems that golf committees are slow to understand the impacts on their course.

A good tree management programme will identify trees which are to be cleared as part of a selective thinning operation. Often removing a number of trees improves the growing conditions for those which remain while alleviating shade and air circulation problems at the same time. But it’s not all about tree removal. The programme should also give advice on the locations and varieties of any new planting, taking into account the impact on turf quality and strategy, as well as the need to replace individual specimen trees.

As at Woburn, trees on a golf course can provide a majestic backdrop. They have many environmental benefits, they help to divide playing areas and provide definition and, if properly planned, play an important role in the enhancement of both the golf course and local landscape. Ultimately however, trees and tree planting need to be managed so that they don’t inhibit the growth of the healthy turf on which the game is played and relies, especially at a time when sustainability is such an important part of the future of golf.


The signature 7th hole on The Marquess Course at Woburn Golf & Country Club

A Classic Links Course

As I sit here working on the Staging plan for the 2010 Senior Open Championship held at Carnoustie I cannot help but think about the characteristics of classic links golf. Undulating fairways, sandy soil and dunes, wispy long rough, the smell of the sea from the coastal wind, thick gorse, firm well-drained ground and yes deep revetted pot bunkers.

Looking at the revetted bunkers in more detail not only are they inevitably a one-shot penalty but they are also labour intensive to construct and maintain. Construction involves stacking thick turf strips (approx 40mm thick) in layers. Each layer is set back from the one below depending on the steepness of the face. The turf is generally a bent grass / fescue mix which are more tolerant to wind and drought conditions. Maintenance is an ongoing process with a typical turf renewal every 4-5 years, although the life expectancy of the bunker face will be affected by exposure to the sun and wind which can cause the face to dry out and crumble. Additional Sprinkers are sometimes installed to include coverage of southern facing revetted bunkers exposed to the sun to try and prevent the faces from drying out but generally these bunkers need to be rebuilt more frequently. To accommodate the constant turf rotation links courses generally have large turf nurseries.

Thinking back to Carnoustie who cannot recall Padraig Harrington’s memorable first Open victory in 2007 when he defeated Sergio Garcia in a play-off.

  • EGD's Gary Johnston assisting the greenkeeping team with the renovation of a number of the revetted bunkers at Princes Golf Club.
  • EGD's Gary Johnston assisting the greenkeeping team with the renovation of a number of the revetted bunkers at Princes Golf Club.

World Forum of Golf Architects

As followers of twitter will probably know several EGD designers attended the World Forum of Golf Architects in St Andrews last week. Typically these types of events provide an ideal chance to debate current issues affecting the industry and last week was no different.

One of the key points that resonated with me was the ever increasing conflict between environmental sustainability and the continual advances in technology. As well as creating a sporting venue good golf design usually incorporates habitat areas for wildlife and creates an area where people can interact with the environment.

In a world where environmental issues are becoming evermore prevalent we, as designers, are required to put more emphasis on designing courses that provide more natural habitats, have less irrigated areas and integrate with the local communities. Unfortunately advances in technology are making this increasingly difficult. As the distance the ball travels has increased so too has the length of courses meaning more land is required for golf, and a larger area needs to be irrigated, in turn this can lead to reduced area for natural habitats. Longer golf courses also mean longer rounds which is seen by many as having a negative impact on the game as leisure time becomes increasingly precious.

There is no easy solution to this problem but the most positive thing to come out of last weeks conference was a general agreement between the European Institute of Golf Course Architects, the American Society of Golf Course Architects and the Society of Australian Golf Course Architects to work together to try to find a solution. Ultimately though the answer to this will probably lie with golf’s governing bodies the R&A and the USGA who control the laws governing equipment.

"So what shall we do now?"

“So what shall we do now?” said Dave, as our project meeting ended a mere eight hours before our flight back to London. The options of sitting in the hotel, or the airport, for that length of time were instantly ruled out. Sitting in a bar for that long was ruled out too, although not quite as quickly (or unanimously) as the previous ideas. Finally, we agreed to hop on the Aero Express, the train from Sheremetyevo Airport to Moscow, to spend the afternoon as tourists.

Given that neither Dave and I speak Russian beyond the standard phrases of “hello”, “thank you” and “may I have two glasses of the finest Russian beer, please, Sir”, we were left with the international language of signing and grunting when faced with a ticket agent who spoke nothing other than her mother tongue. But, we managed to get tickets and seats on the right train and thirty minutes later were in Moscow at Belarusskaya Station, where we needed to change to the Metro to go to Teatralnya, the nearest station to Red Square. If there is a Metro system with worse signage than in Moscow, I’d hate to see it – as far as we could tell, there is one name sign in each station so you have to count your way along the network.

Emerging unscathed, and triumphantly in the right place, we turned into Red Square – the Kremlin and Lenin’s Tomb on one side (funny story about that: one of the shapers from the US working on our project north of town was asked last summer if he wanted to see Lenin’s Tomb – his response was of wonder that one of the Beatles should be buried in Russia!). Anyway, Kremlin/Lenin on the right side and the biggest department store you can ever imagine on the other side. Capitalism strikes the heart of Socialist world!

Despite the bitter cold, we had a good wander around, even taking time to go inside St Basil’s Cathedral (which is the multi-spired church at the end of the Square) – don’t bother. A fairly ordinary, over-priced lunch was had in a bar just off the Square and then, after a little shopping for Dave, back on the train(s) to the airport.


That would look good in your house Dave!