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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.

A Great Team Effort – Madrid 2018

Robin Hiseman, the architect of the new golf course designed for Madrid’s bid to host the 2018 Ryder Cup, gives a personal insight into his work as the winning bid announcement looms.

The wait is nearly over. On May 17 2011, Ryder Cup Europe will announce which country has been awarded the rights to host the Ryder Cup in 2018.

My involvement with the process is as the golf course architect for the Spanish bid, through my position with European Golf Design.

We were engaged by the Spanish Golf Federation to appraise a selection of potential sites around the capital Madrid, once they had determined that the existing stock of courses were not capable of hosting an event of the scale of a modern Ryder Cup.

We quickly settled on a quite magnificent plot of moorland, adjacent to the town of Tres Cantos, some 15 kilometres north of the city. This outstanding property encompassed 230 hectares of lightly vegetated, open grasslands, with spectacular views towards the Sierra Guadarrama mountain range. It reminded me immediately of the beautiful glaciated terrain of Gleneagles, in Scotland, where the 2014 Ryder Cup will be staged. Indeed, it looked almost like there was a golf course there in the past, so perfectly suited was the terrain to the requirements for a world-class golf course.

It’s all very well having a beautiful site, but the Ryder Cup is about far more than that. Future Ryder Cup venues have to be able to combine a thrilling golf course with the capability of hosting 50,000 fans a day, following just four matches, together with immense merchandising, catering, hospitality and media operations within the confines of the course. At the beginning and the end of the day’s play, these 50,000 people need to be moved into and away from the course quickly, efficiently and comfortably.

Our task in Madrid has been to accommodate all these varied and demanding requirements, without compromise.

After much planning and a fantastic effort from a dedicated and very close-knit team, we believe we have presented a bid package that ticks all of the boxes and will, if selected, be the best European Ryder Cup venue in the history of the event.

My focus has been on the design of the golf course, which, if we get the nod, will for a time be the most scrutinised, analysed and dissected golf course on the planet. So no pressure there then!

Helping me out immensely is the sheer quality of the site at my disposal. It is the most attractive inland golf course site I have ever seen. I love it as it is now, in its raw state, full of wild herbs, broom bushes, Spanish oaks and grazing sheep. I want the golf course to be draped gently over the existing terrain, with the minimum of artifice. We are only going to move earth if we have to. For the most part we will follow the natural contours and preserve the indigenous vegetation outside of the playing corridors.

It is not untypical for a new championship golf course, developed on agricultural or ex-industrial land, to require an earth moving volume of several million cubic metres to reshape and sculpt the land for the purposes of providing an attractive ‘golfscape’. At Tres Cantos, we will move just 200,000 cubic metres and that is mostly accounted for by the construction of the lakes in which we have to store our irrigation water. This is a Ryder Cup venue that has the preservation and enhancement of the natural environment at the very core of its ethos.

Our design has already passed a rigorous Environmental Impact Assessment and our innovative water capture and recycling scheme quite literally defies gravity to ensure that we get the most out of every drop of rain that falls on our land.

Madrileños are passionate about their city and passionate about sport. Madrid’s 2018 Ryder Cup bid reflects this passion. It has been put together by a wonderful team of people who really care that the show they hope to be entrusted with staging is better than it has ever been before. Our work is done for now and our bids fate is in the hands of the Ryder Cup committee. All of us involved can look each other straight in the eye and know that everybody has done the best they can. No stone has been left unturned. No avenue unexplored. May 17 is going to be a big day.

Featured first on www.sportindustry.biz

Golf Course Design – The Price of Progress

If you transported a footballer from 1880 to 2011 he’d recognise his sport as essentially unchanged in the last 130 years. The same sized muddy pitches, goal posts and nets. He might marvel at the light-weight Jabulani ball (which is more than can be said for the players during the last World Cup) and be scornful of the latest kangaroo skin boots, but in all other respects he’d be quite familiar with the sport. And if W.G. Grace walked out to the crease at Lords this summer he’d be hard pushed to see any changes at all to cricket. He might huff and puff about sponsors logos and helmets and he probably wouldn’t see eye to eye with Hawkeye or understand why they’re referring decisions to a third umpire, but the game as it is played today is pretty much the same. I suppose in tennis Fred Perry might struggle today with his wooden racket and long trousers but, like football and cricket and almost every other sport you could mention, at least the dimensions of the playing area have remained pretty much the same.

But in golf it’s different. The equipment manufacturers spend millions working out ways that we can hit the ball further and that’s creating a bit of a problem. In 1980 Dan Pohl led the US Tour driving averages with a measly 275 yards. In 2010 Bubba Watson topped the list with a much more impressive 315 yards. If we assume that the best players are hitting their iron shots at least 10% further as well then it’s no wonder par 4’s are creeping over 500 yards.

Twenty years ago if a client asked how much land he’d need for a tournament standard golf course we’d confidently say about 150 acres, and that would include room for a decent practice area, a clubhouse, a course of about 7,000 yards, a maintenance building and plenty of room for the club president to park his Bentley. Nowadays that figure is probably closer to 200 acres and often more. And guess what – bigger sites and longer courses cost more money and I’m not just talking about the purchase of the land. It’s been estimated that each additional 100 yards on the length of a golf course costs an extra 2% to maintain and longer courses need more irrigation, more fertilizer and more chemicals, at a time when we are trying to improve sustainability and environmental awareness.

What’s more, while we all might be hitting the ball further more often we are not necessarily hitting it any straighter. With larger sweet spots it is possible to hit the ball considerable distances even when the strike is not out of the centre of the club. Consequently the safety margins golf course architects are using are increasing and again that means more land is needed. I am sure that many golf clubs around the country are familiar with increasing litigation from adjoining home owners as those living next to courses find their peace being shattered by errant golf shots.

So what can golf course architects do? Should we try to reign back the length of courses by taking the driver out of the golfers hands and putting more premium on accuracy? Or should we make them more strategic, perhaps with trickier greens and more bunkers? Well it seems to me that we should be designing courses that test every facet of a players game. So yes, I want to see golfers of all standards given the opportunity to use their driver, but there needs to be a suitable penalty if they don’t use it correctly. And courses need to be more strategic; we would all benefit from having to think about our game a bit more and being rewarded for the correct placement of our golf shots. However, we also need to recognise that even courses built to hold tournaments must be playable for average golfers 99.9% of the time, so we can’t go over-board with hundreds of deep bunkers and wildly sloping greens. And length should play its part. If par 4’s need to be in excess of 500 yards so that a pro has to use a long iron for his second shot, then so be it, but let’s put in enough forward tees to make it enjoyable for everyone else.

While advances in technology do make the game easier and more fun for most of us, the real shame is that many of our great courses will soon be unable to hold major championships as they simply run out of room for expansion. On the Old Course at St Andrews they are now placing tees outside the golf course boundary, as we saw on the 17th hole this year. Can that continue? We shouldn’t be surprised if Open Championships on the Old Course become a distant memory, just like those at Prestwick and Musselburgh Links. I suppose it’s what they call “the price of progress”.

An edited version of this blog first appeared in Today’s Golfer.

An Unforgettable Week in Bahrain

When one sets out upon a career as a golf course architect there are a number of goals that one seeks to accomplish along the way; a first green to be built, a first entire hole, 9-holes, 18-holes and so on. But to be associated with the design of a course chosen to play host to the World’s finest golfers with a major European Tour event, which was shown on TV screens in more than 140 countries is about as thrilling…and nerve wracking as this career can get.

It has been my privilege to work with Colin Montgomerie on the design of the Montgomerie Course at The Royal Golf Club, Bahrain, which hosted the inaugural and highly successful Volvo Golf Champions this past week. The tournament was won in thrilling fashion by Paul Casey with a score of 268, 20-under par. Paul was the highest ranked player in a very strong field and all of us associated with the tournament were delighted that the course truly did identify the best player.

Now, with a 20-under winning total you might be thinking that the course was something of a pushover, but this was far from the case. Indeed, it would be fair to say that we’ve had to deal with a degree of criticism about the difficulty of the greens. Tour pro’s have earned the right through their skill to voice (or tweet) their opinion on the courses they play and with the Royal Golf Club being a brand new, untested tournament venue, designed by one of their peers, it was inevitable that it was going to prove to be more of a talking point than an oft-frequented tour venue. Comments were anticipated…and welcomed. It would have been far, far worse if the week had passed by with palpable indifference. The Royal Golf Club is a visually striking, intensely strategic and delightfully quirky golf course, that was designed to bring out a spirit of adventure in the golfer. The club members, our clients, love the course with a passion. Even after two years of play they are still finding new ways to navigate the course, such is the rich vein of ‘local knowledge’ secreted away throughout the holes.

This last week we had 93 of the world’s golfing elite as our invited guests. It is fair to say that the playing agenda of a touring professional is highly refined. They are playing for their living, not for leisure like the other 99.9% of us. The examination paper they faced in Bahrain demanded that they test facets of their game not commonly encountered under tournament conditions. Our greens are highly contoured with hole location areas defined by changes in elevation. Some of these hole location areas are not especially large and can only be approached easily through the correct placement of the preceding tee shot. To give themselves good birdie opportunities the pro’s had to be aggressive and shoot at the pins. If they played conservatively they left themselves with some seriously challenging chips and putts. As the great scoring proved, they coped marvelously, either through hitting it close or through a breathtaking display of short game skills, which highlighted the talent gulf between these guys and the rest of us. It was compelling viewing at the course and produced some of the most stimulating TV coverage you could wish for. My appreciation for their talents has certainly gone up several notches, because I know just how tricky the course is. It was a unique challenge for them, to which some struggled to adapt mentally. As golf design is to a large part a psychological game, I would say that we, as designers were one-up on a few notable players before they’d even got to the 1st tee!

Professional golf is first and foremost an entertainment industry and by that measure the quality of the show the course drew out of the players was truly outstanding, both for those lucky enough to attend in person and for the millions who tuned in around the globe. I cannot conclude without mentioning the spectacular condition of the course prepared by my good friend, Mark Hooker and his dedicated team of assistants. I doubt that the European Tour has been to a more immaculate venue.

Golf Course Architecture is meant to be stimulating, exciting, challenging, beautiful and unforgettable. Monty’s course at the Royal Golf Club has proven itself to be all these things under the most intense scrutiny. All of us involved with the creation of the course are intensely proud of our ‘baby’ and we’ll be taking stock in the coming months to see what we can do to make the course even better for our return as the season opening, Volvo Golf Champions in 2012.

Robin Hiseman

  • Surprise Day 2 Leaders:  It was irresistible!
  • The bonny 12th:  Mark Hooker prepared the course beautifully.
  • With the Champ:  Well played Paul!  A worthy and brave winner.

Time flies…

It hardly seems twelve weeks, let alone twelve months, since we were getting ready for Christmas 2009 but here we are again at the end of another year. As it has been for many, this has been a challenging year but, ultimately, a successful one. The highlight of the year unquestionably was the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor. Having spent the past ten years watching Ross, Alex, Matt and Will work so hard on this, it was a huge thrill to see all their hard work finally be recognised. Despite the weather, the course challenged the best players in the world for four days and provided those lucky enough to be there some amazing viewing, even if it was a little muddy underfoot. Beyond that, we’ve been fortunate to sign a number of new projects which we’re very excited about – next year should see us working in some new countries, which always adds to the interest of a project. And construction should start on three or four sites over the coming year.

Here are some of the highlights of the year from the rest of us:

Robin: Hosting the Ryder Cup committee’s site tour of our forthcoming golf course at Tres Cantos, which is the proposed venue for Madrid 2018.

Sarah: Arriving at the top of the hill down to the Twenty Ten Course at Celtic Manor on the Tuesday morning. The sun was shining over the valley and I thought WOW, how lucky to be part of this.

Dave: Seeing Ross have his first ever hole-in-one……pity it was his second ball, off a mat and to a temporary green! Hole halved in three.

Alex: Cycling from the office in Sunningdale to Celtic Manor the week of the Ryder Cup.

Gary: The highlight of my year was getting to attend the final day of the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor to experience the electric atmosphere and dramatic finish as Europe were victorious again!

Shara: Standing overlooking the 16th green at Celtic Manor 2010 Ryder Cup – last few hours of play.
Atmosphere breathtaking.

Matt: Being lucky enough to be at Celtic Manor for the 2010 Ryder Cup and seeing my Site Map around the course and people actually finding it useful!

Ross: The last day of the Ryder Cup and a victory for Europe in the sunshine.

Stan: Having Mac, Alex’s Labrador, join us in the office

On behalf of everyone here, we wish you all a happy Christmas and a successful, healthy 2011.