He tells us how his love affair with the game started back in his native South Africa, his unconventional start in course design and the growing importance and role that sustainability plays in all aspects of golf course architecture.
He pays tribute to the people working behind the scenes to make the Ryder Cup happen, including Golf Course Superintendent Lara Arias and her turf team.
Finally, Dave tells us about the importance of accessibility, creating designs so that customers can play 3, 6 or 9 holes if they wish to, and assesses the rising prevalence of golf entertainment venues.
Join the debate Share your questions, opinions and comments with Syngenta Growing Golf on Twitter, LinkedIn or by writing to us: firstname.lastname@example.org
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As the stunning Marco Simone Golf & Country Club prepares for the Ryder Cup in 2023, let’s take a walk around the golf course in the words of Course Design, Dave Sampson.
Located just 17km from the heart of the Italian capital Rome, the course has seen a major redevelopment. This series of posts will take you through individual golf holes including construction images.
We start this with the 332m par 4, Hole 16.
Following on from the two hardest holes on the back nine, the downhill driveable par 4 16th is a true risk-reward hole with multiple options off the tee depending on pin position.
Like the tee shot on 12, and on one of the other high vantage points, this tee location offers the best views of Rome from the course. Playing to green site set some 25m below and protected by water down it’s right side and bunkers at the front and left, the player is posed with numerous options off the tee;
– Layup short of the central fairway bunker leaving either a 9 iron or wedge in.
– Take on the central bunker but leave the tee shot short of the stream which crosses the fairway perpendicularly at 260m, leaving a short 70 – 80m flick in, or:
– Try and thread the ball onto the green through the front left opening.
Depending on setup, both holes 11 & 16 could be driveable. Hole 11 plays uphill requiring a draw shot to access the green, while 16, playing downhill, favours the fade.
Natural embanking and multiple hospitality units will frame all sides on this most pivotal of golf holes, where anything from eagles to double-bogeys are possible.
The spectacular photos were taken by Jacob Sjoman (@sjomanart)
(Golf & Travel Inspiration International Photographer/Cinematographer)
2022 World Golf Awards – the leading authority that recognises and rewards excellence in golf tourism – has revealed this year’s best golf courses at its 9th annual Gala Ceremony in Abu Dhabi. We are very proud that courses designed by us here at European Golf Design were presented with Gold Awards in the following countries.
Bahrain’s Best Golf Course 2022 – The Royal Golf Club – Montgomerie Course (see below)
Bulgaria’s Best Golf Course 2022 – Lighthouse Golf Course (see below)
Greece’s Best Golf Course 2022 – Costa Navarino – The Dunes Course (see below)
Netherlands’ Best Golf Course 2022 – The Montgomerie – The Dutch (see below)
Middle East’s Best Golf Course 2022 – Royal Greens Golf & Country Club (Saudi Arabia) (see below)
Switzerland’s Best Golf Course 2022 – Golf-Club Crans-sur-Sierre (see below)
Turkey’s Best Golf Course 2022 – Antalya Golf Club – PGA Sultan (see below)
Wales’ Best Golf Course 2022 – Celtic Manor Resort – Twenty Ten Course (see below)
Dave Sampson was busy packing for a flight from the UK back home to South Africa when a golf magazine landed in front of him.
A competition to design a golf hole had caught his friend’s eye, and he urged Sampson to enter and indulge a passion that had until that point been nothing but a distraction from the more traditional building architecture work that was paying his bills.
As he hastily sketched out some designs before making a dash to the airport, little did he know that he was laying the foundation for a career gear change that would eventually propel him to centre stage at the 2023 Ryder Cup.
“I’m a qualified building architect but got into golf course design, which is where I always really wanted to be, by winning a design competition, which was run by Golf World magazine in collaboration with European Golf Design,” recalls Sampson, sitting beside the Marco Simone course in Rome that he has completely redesigned and which will host the eagerly-awaited match play showpiece this time next year.
Sampson not only left his mark at the Linna Golf Resort in Finland, where his competition winning design eventually became the 487-yard, par-5, 15th hole, but also on European Golf Design (EGD), the course design arm of the broader European Tour Group.
“I eventually came back over to the UK, and I took a job as cricket analyst for Surrey Cricket Club as I knew it would also give me quite a bit of time to pretty much teach myself and learn the trade of golf architecture,” added Sampson, who joined his current employers in 2004 as a design associate.
“I had already had that introduction with EGD through spending some time with them and going through some exercises with them. They were really great in helping me develop what is my passion.”
Sampson has spent the last 20 years helping design and shape some notable courses around the world with his portfolio including Crans Montana in Switzerland, the Golf Evian Resort in France and Royal Greens in Saudi Arabia.
“Every golf course architect has worked on projects at various stages from concept through to construction but unfortunately not that many of them result in getting the excavator in the ground,” laments Sampson. But the Marco Simone course on the outskirts of Rome was one such job.
The original course was designed by Jim Fazio and David Mezzacane before opening for play in 1991, but a complete redesign was a fundamental element of their bid to host the Ryder Cup.
EGD had previously worked on the redesigns of the Ryder Cup layouts at Le Golf National in Paris (2010) and Celtic Manor in south Wales (2008) , so the firm was an obvious partner for the project.
ROME, ITALY – AUGUST 03: A scenic view of the 16th hole prior to the 2023 Ryder Cup at Marco Simone Golf Club on August 03, 2022 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
With the key support of course owner and fashion designer, Laura Biagotti, and subsequently her daughter, Lavinia, following her mother’s passing in 2017, the new-look course would eventually take shape.
“EGD was part of the group that put together the bid for the Italian Golf Federation, and I was assigned the job as lead architect,” explains Sampson, fresh from guiding European captain Luke Donald and vice captain Edoardo Molinari around the course.
They won the right to host the 2023 Ryder Cup in 2015, seeing off the challenge of bid rivals Austria, Germany and Spain, and Sampson began work on the project in 2017 by putting together the layouts and the design.
Construction would not begin until the following year with the back nine holes redeveloped in phase one of the project that took another 12 months. Those holes opened for play in late 2019 when work also began on the front nine and these were finished in early 2021 – just in time for last year’s Italian Open.
ROME, ITALY – AUGUST 02: A scenic view of the ninth hole prior to the 2023 Ryder Cup at Marco Simone Golf Club on August 02, 2022 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
However, the journey to that point was not as smooth as the perfectly-presented greens that now adorn the course.
“Not every project is a straightforward process and I think it would be fair to say that this one’s been quite challenging,” Sampson reflects with the smile of a man clearly delighted to have emerged from chaos.
“We’ve had to work in unprecedented times with the COVID pandemic, which made things really difficult, especially trying to get out here – not only for us, but the people on site building the golf course.
ROME, ITALY – AUGUST 03: A view of the 18th hole overview prior to the 2023 Ryder Cup at Marco Simone Golf Club on August 03, 2022 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
“Then you throw in electrical pylons, gas mainlines and a bit of archaeology, so it would be fair to say there has been the odd challenge’” added Sampson, who was forced to tweak his design due to some archeological discoveries.
“We knew we couldn’t get that close to the castle, but there were two other zones within the project site, which only became evident as we progressed through the job. So we had to be a little bit flexible with a couple of holes to avoid certain areas. You know, this is Rome and you just never know what you’re going to find when you put the bucket in the ground.”
Sampson revealed that he approached the project from a different perspective to his previous work due to the unique nature of the Ryder Cup.
“Normally you get a blank site and you’re trying to find the best 18 golf holes for that piece of land,” he explains, “whereas with the Ryder Cup you’re factoring in many other things. You’re not only trying to find the best holes, you’re trying to find the best holes for the spectators, the best holes for infrastructure, for hospitality, so there are a lot of other factors. So the scale of this job is incomparable to pretty much anything else.”
A reported 270,000 spectators attended the 2018 Ryder Cup, and similar numbers are expected again for the first staging of the event in Italy where the hosts will be looking to bounce back from a 19-9 mauling at the hands of the United States at Whistling Straits last year.
“One of the things we are blessed with on the site is over 50 metres of elevation change across the site and we’ve tried to maximize those opportunities, not only from a golf and playing point of view but also for the spectators,” explains Sampson.
“I think that’s the one thing that the spectators are going to notice, those great long distance views across the site where you get to see four or five golf holes from certain vantage points. I think that’s what’s going to make the event special.”
Following last year’s Italian Open, there were some concerns expressed by some players about certain elements of the design, but Sampson remains confident in the finished product.
“We’ve worked on quite a few tournament golf courses so we have a good understanding of what is required and what works, what doesn’t work,” he explains, “but, I dare say, you’re not going to please everybody.
“I think the people whose opinions are most valid are the captains and that’s where we’re going to be guided from here on in.”
Significant changes to the layout are not likely between now and the Ryder Cup but expect the hosts to leverage everything they can as they bid to return to winning ways.
“As home captain you’re always looking for advantages for your team and to make the course fit our players better than their players,” explained Donald when quizzed on his thoughts about the course.
ROME, ITALY – SEPTEMBER 16: Luke Donald of England plays out of a bunker on the 16th hole on Day Two of the DS Automobiles Italian Open 2022 at Marco Simone Golf Club on September 16, 2022 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
“We have a sense of what the Americans are good at, what we are good at, and you obviously try to shape the golf course to give ourselves a small advantage. The teams will be very similar on paper but you try to get small advantages that can make a difference in the end.”
It is a layout that Sampson is clearly proud of and believes it will help deliver the action that has become synonymous with the Ryder Cup.
“There are some really key points across the site,” he explains. “I mentioned the elevation change that we have but what we’ve also tried to do is to get a lot of the risk reward holes on the back nine where the drama of the Ryder Cup really is.
“Coupled with that, you’ve got some great long distance views over Rome. So it’s taken in those key views, and factored in some real match-play golf holes that’ll have a lot of drama. So you’ve got holes 11, 12, 16, those are going to be some of the real key pivotal holes where there are going to be birdies and eagles mixed in with double bogies. I think from a spectator point of view, that’s going to be great to watch.”
It is a view that was recently echoed by Rory McIlroy who is set to spearhead Europe’s challenge once again next year.
“The front nine is like the first couple of chapters of a book,” commented the Northern Irishman during the most recent staging of the Italian Open. “It gets you into the book a little bit and sort of sets the story, but the real juicy bits come on the back nine. That’s where you really get into it.”
Does Sampson have a favourite hole that has really brought his design to life?
“I think there are a couple of really good driving holes. So you’ve got the 12th, which is a short par-5 where the players are really asked the question as to how much of the corner do they really want to take on?
“It plays over a valley and it’s quite a dramatic tee shot. I think holes two and 15 are very similar and if I was to pick probably one, I’d probably say 15, it just comes right. It’s a really tough par-4 played from a raised tee to a lower landing area and then back up to a raised green.
ROME, ITALY – AUGUST 03: A scenic view of the 15th hole prior to the 2023 Ryder Cup at Marco Simone Golf Club on August 03, 2022 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
“I think during the Ryder Cup, you have got a really good natural amphitheatre around the back of that green. It’s a tough hole, but, you know, not every golf hole can have birdies and eagles. I think this one is one where the players have really got to know to take a par and walk on and I really, really like the way it sits in the land.”
Sampson also believes those lucky enough to witness next year’s match – in person or on TV – will be treated to something really special.
“Golf National was a brilliant Ryder Cup but this one will be different because we have that elevation change,” he enthuses. “I think that’s what the spectators are really going to love about this place. Everything is pretty compact, and they’re going to be able to see many golf holes and have multiple vantage points which for a spectator is really important.
“On top of that, we have got holes 1, 7, 16, and 17, which are in a natural amphitheatre and I think a lot of spectators will gravitate back to that.”
With work all but complete, how does Sampson gauge the success of a project?
“I think we’ll know if it has been a success or not in the first week of October! “ he jokes.
“Like every project, at the end of the day you want to please your client, they’re the ones that have given you the responsibility of creating something special. You obviously want Ryder Cup Europe to be pleased with what you’ve done too – but I guess a win.”
Check out EGD’s Robin Hiseman talking (23:30 mins in) on The Rick Shiels Golf Show called “The man with the BEST job in golf!”
Comments like, “What a superb episode!! Could have listened to this for hours!! Mega interesting!!” and “What an outstanding insight into golf architecture. One of my favourite podcasts I’ve listened to! Awesome!” make this a must listen.
With a spectacular location on Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast and boasting three eighteen-hole courses, Portstewart Golf Club has appointed European Golf Design to develop and improve its three contrasting layouts and practice facilities.
Portstewart’s Strand course is ranked in the Top 100 of all three main GB&I course ranking lists. The links, popular with international golfing tourists, was originally laid out by Willie Park Jnr. and currently features one of the most spectacular opening stretches of holes anywhere. It notably hosted the 2017 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, with victor, Jon Rahm, commenting: “The golf course is amazing. It’s probably one of the most beautiful golf courses I’ve ever seen, if not the most.”
Over the last 20 years, European Golf Design (EGD) has masterminded and created over 60 new golf courses and overseen remodelling and improvement works to a further 39 existing layouts. The company’s remit at Portstewart prioritises the development of fit-for-purpose practice facilities; enhancements to the Strand course with a focus on holes 16-18; and potential improvements to the Riverside course.
“We are immensely proud of our golf courses and heritage at Portstewart Golf Club,” David Lamont, Captain and Trustee commented. “Working with a company of European Golf Design’s international renown will help cement and enhance our championship Strand course as one of the world’s truly great links courses. Their input will also assist us in continuing the development and improvement of our other two courses and in providing a first-class practice facility for the benefit of our members and international visitors.” General Manager, David MacLaren, added, “We know that European Golf Design’s proven skill at improving already great golf courses will enable us to further refine the Strand course. We also have ambitions to build on our already rich tournament heritage, across both the professional and amateur ranks.”
“We are thrilled to have been given the opportunity to work with Portstewart to look at its three distinctive golf courses and practice facilities,” EGD Managing Director, Jeremy Slessor, enthused. “To have the chance to elevate the Strand course’s reputation to even greater heights is a genuine privilege. There’s enormous potential to add value to the Riverside course, too, by giving it even more of its own identity and character and we hope that the Old Course, with its dramatic, sea-edge location in town, can also benefit from a fresh, modern eye.”
For more information about the project please contact David MacLaren via email@example.com or on 028 7083 2015, or Jeremy Slessor via firstname.lastname@example.org or on 07711 629474.
European Golf Design, one of the world’s foremost golf course design agencies, this week celebrates its 30th anniversary.
Founded in 1992 as a joint venture between the European Tour group and IMG, European Golf Design (EGD) is responsible for 105 projects globally including three Ryder Cup venues: The Twenty Ten Course at The Celtic Manor Resort, host of the 2010 Ryder Cup; the redesign at Le Golf National, host of the 2018 Ryder Cup; and the redesign of the stadium course at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club, which will host golf’s greatest team competition in less than 18 months’ time.
In 2021, a two-man syndicate comprising European Tour Chief Operating Officer Keith Waters and businessman Robert Birmingham acquired 50% of EGD from IMG, with Jeremy Slessor continuing to operate as the organisation’s Managing Director.
Three of its projects – The Stadium Course at PGA Catalunya, The Montgomerie at Carton House GC and The Faldo Berlin at A-Rosa Resort – have previously been voted the best new courses in Europe, while Dubai Hills in the United Arab Emirates was named as ‘The World’s Best New Course’ in 2019.
Over the last 30 years, EGD has worked with 19 world-renowned players on Signature Design-branded courses, including Ryder Cup Captains Thomas Bjørn, Darren Clarke, Sir Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Colin Montgomerie and Ian Woosnam, as well as ten-time Major Champion Annika Sorenstam.
In all, 36 of EGD’s projects have hosted events on the DP World Tour, European Challenge Tour, Ladies European Tour, Legends Tour and LPGA Tour. This year, nine venues designed, or redesigned, by EGD will host events on the DP World Tour, Legends Tour, LPGA and Ladies European Tour.
Jeremy Slessor, Marketing Director of European Golf Design, said: “The story of EGD for the last 30 years has been one of collaboration, flexibility and creativity. Particularly given the past couple of years, we see those traits as being ever-more important to ensure that the company continues to thrive for the coming decades.
“We’ve been extremely fortunate to have had such strong support from our past and present shareholders, with the European Tour Group being particularly involved. Some outstanding clients have given us the opportunity to work with them, and the team here have delivered amazing courses time and time again. It’s been a privilege to have been part of the company for so long, and we all look forward to the future.”
At present, 16 new courses and renovations are currently being overseen by EGD, including projects in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
EGD is also currently taking steps to become a carbon-neutral company as part of its commitment to environmental sustainability and climate action. With support from the GEO Foundation for Sustainable Golf, EGD is tracking and measuring its carbon footprint across all areas of business operations, reducing emissions where possible and mitigating where necessary by credibly offsetting all unavoidable greenhouse gas emissions.
EDGWARE, LONDON, UK – – The Dye London is to be renamed The Legacy Club, and will be brought to completion by European Golf Design (EGD) following the deaths of pioneering golf course architect Pete Dye in early 2020, and his son Perry in 2021.
The project, which was originally announced in 2013, was set to bring the Dye family’s unique brand of creative golf course design to the UK for the first time, tempting golfers with a spectacular new challenge from the designer of iconic PGA Tour venues such as Sawgrass, Kiawah Island, Whistling Straits and Harbour Town.
“We will be realising the vision which Pete and Alice Dye originally had for the golf course, including the routing, but we will provide the detail” said European Golf Design’s Managing Director, Jeremy Slessor. “The Legacy Club will be enjoyable and playable for all golfers, but will also offer a challenge worthy of a Tour venue.”
The new 18-hole golf course in Edgware, north London, will be the first collaboration between the Menai-Davis family and EGD, the golf course design company of the European Tour Group.
Tony and Anne Menai-Davis plus their sons Ceri and Cae, co-owners of The Legacy Club, and creators of the Seve Ballesteros-designed The Shire London and the forthcoming The London Links, chose the new name in honour of the Dye family, and also after a family tragedy of their own.
“My eldest Ceri and his wife lost their young son, Hugh, to cancer in summer 2021” said Tony Menai-Davis. “This much-loved and extraordinarily brave young man left us at just six years old, but he filled our lives with enough wonderful memories to last a lifetime. We will think of him every day, and his favourite bird – the owl – will be in The Legacy Club’s logo.
Ceri Menai-Davis said: “The Legacy Club will honour the love we all share for this magnificent sport of golf, and also the love we all have for people who are no longer here.
“My wife and I have created a charity, It’s Never You, to help parents of children who have potential life-limiting illness. The Legacy Club and our other facilities will all help these parents who are going through an indescribable time.
“After many years working in golf and at The Shire London, which is itself driven by the legacy of another of golf’s true greats, Severiano Ballesteros, I can assure you that golfers will love The Legacy Club experience, even more so now we have the team at EGD to help us bring it to life.”
Tony and Anne’s youngest son, Cae, co-founded The Golf Trust charity in 2012 and has helped to bring the benefits of golf to thousands of children over the last decade.
“We are all somebody’s son or daughter, and when you become a parent you better understand the power of legacy, and what it means to provide a better society for our children” said Cae Menai-Davis. “When we met Pete & Alice Dye they could see that we were, like them, a close-knit family and we established a strong connection with them. It feels entirely natural, now, for Ceri and myself to help our family to create golf venues where people can discover a love for golf which might last them a lifetime.
“And doing it in a way which honours not only Pete Dye’s legacy but also Hugh’s feels like the most natural thing of all.”
The Menai-Davis family business now includes five golf facilities in the London area, but The Legacy Club will be their first venture with European Golf Design – creators of The Twenty Ten Course at Celtic Manor, the venue for the 2010 Ryder Cup, and Marco Simone Golf & Country Club, the venue for the 2023 Ryder Cup.
“I have known Jeremy for 20 years, and EGD is a world-class team of golf course designers” said Tony Menai-Davis. “I am a big admirer of the work they have done, and we are thrilled to be working with EGD as we guide The Legacy Club towards its opening a few years from now.”
“Pete Dye was one of golf’s true innovators” said Slessor, “and we have all been inspired by his designs. Although we didn’t have the opportunity to meet him and discuss his strategy for The Dye London, we will remain highly respectful of the foundations he and Perry laid here as we work hand in hand with the Menai-Davis family to prepare The Legacy Club for the changing demands of the modern sport.”
For more details contact Ceri Menai-Davis at The Shire London.
About The Bridgedown Golf Group and The Legacy Club
The Bridgedown Golf Group is a family-owned business which designs championship golf courses with a fresh approach. Venues include The Shire London (www.theshirelondon.com) in Barnet, West London – the only Seve Ballesteros design in the UK; the City 9 at The West London Golf Centre (www.westlondongolfcentre.co.uk) in Northolt, West London; Lost Jungle London Adventure Golf (www.lostjunglelondon.com) in Edgware, North London; The London Links in Northolt, West London; and The Legacy Club in Edgware, North London.
European Golf Design was established in 1992 and is the Golf Course Design Company of the European Tour Group. The company has earned a reputation for producing successful resort, members and tournament golf courses, on schedule and within budget. They are recognised for the ability to exceed their clients’ expectations and for the economic added value of their designs. Three of EGD’s courses have been voted best new course in Europe and two are named in the top 100 courses in the World. With views of the famous skyline of downtown Dubai, our course at Dubai Hill was named ‘World’s Best New Golf Course’ at the 2019 World Golf Awards. The company has won design commissions throughout Europe and beyond to Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean and Asia, working for private landowners, worldwide hotel groups, resort and real estate developers either independently or within a team of master planners, architects and engineers.