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Spending a week with European Golf Design

By Charlie Jones

I was very excited to hear the news that on the 16th of November I would start a weeks work experience at European Golf Design. I have always been a keen golfer and I currently work at Dale Hill Golf Club so I was looking forward to seeing the design aspect of the golf industry.

Work experience is normally associated with photocopying paper and filing notes but this definitely was not the case! Monday morning came around quickly and after meeting the team I was put under the wing of Designer, Gary Johnston. My task, design a golf course! I was given a plot of land in Berlin and after getting familiar with the constraints and contours I set to work. I went home that night wishing golf courses only had 17 holes; it was proving a lot more difficult than I anticipated!

By Tuesday morning I had a good outline of where all my holes would be placed so that they were within the boundaries and complimented the land. I decided on an inner and outer loop design, with my front 9 as the outer loop and the back 9 as the inner loop. 

Now that my routing was set it was time to add the design features such as fairways, bunkers and greens. I learnt all about the different types of golf hole such as natural, strategic and penal. I tried to stick to a strategic design so that the golf course could be enjoyed by golfers of all standards. I continued my designing into Tuesday evening and had it ready for a big day on Wednesday, competition day!!!

Gary had informed me on Tuesday night that there would be a competition between me and another work experience student. We had to present 6 finished holes to him and fellow EGD designer Robin Hiseman and talk through all the reasoning behind the holes. Brian, my competitor was an experienced golfer studying golf science so I knew I was up against it! I kept my cards close to my chest and although I was slightly under prepared on technical issues of the course I was quietly confident going into the presentation room. Brian and I competently pitched our 6 holes and awaited a result. However, Like France vs Ireland a controversial decision was to follow! Gary and Rob called a draw! I was initially disappointed but a very worthwhile exercise, giving me a great chance to see how Brian had set about his course and what he’d done differently to me.

The week was going quickly and by Thursday I was on to grading the course. This was a concept I struggled to grasp straight away but Gary remained patient and did his best to show me the way. At this stage you have to focus in on one of your golf holes and add all your slopes, mounds and depressions. I managed to get two holes completed with all the interesting mounds and slopes I wanted whilst taking into account how the drainage would work. It’s easy to have the idea in your head but putting it onto paper for someone else to understand is quite a task!

Friday came around much too quickly for my liking but I had a great time working on my golf course and working here has made me even thirstier to pursue a career in the golf industry.

Lastly I need to say a few thank you’s:

To everyone for making me feel very welcome.
Gary – for teaching me everything I know about golf design
Jeremy – for setting everything up and allowing me to come here!


Charlie, hard at work
Charlie hard at work.

2016 Olympic Games!

Following the recent announcements from Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman, we’d like to formally confirm our availability and desire to design the course for the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil.

Football Mugs and Football Thugs

Football is well represented at EGD; it is often at the heart of a heated discussion especially on a Monday morning.

Starting in the back of the office we have Gary, a Glasgow Rangers fan, I don’t have much to say about Rangers apart from Gary could probably get in that team at the moment. It also helps getting tickets when your uncle is the Chairman!!

Robin and Dave are Spurs Fans. One would be too many. Sleeping Giants? I think they are in a coma. We mustn’t also forget Rob’s first love Halifax Town who languish in the Unibond league.

The Man Utd Mug belongs to Matt, he doesn’t like the diving that has come into the modern game and hates Ronaldo’s greasy hair, he was glad to see the back of him. His Favourite Utd player? I would say Wayne Rooney, of course, the toffees taught him everything that he knows.

Jeremy is a Gooner, he has not forked out for a mug though. Maybe he is not very proud. Or is it us? Maybe we haven’t seen it like Mr Wenger.

Sarah is a part time Liverpool fan, when they lose (quite often this season) she cheers on Fulham. I think she fits in better with the fans in South West London rather than the Merseysiders. She does own a pair of highly one sided Liverpool goggles though.

Shara, as far as I know the only team she supports is the one that her sons James and Sam play in. She is probably the most sensible of all of us.

Ross – he is a Hammer, currently they are in the relegation zone, the team that put them there last week with a win at Upton Park? Everton , that happens to be my team. The Pride of Merseyside.

Stan also likes football, his favourite team? The Chicago Bears. Huh.

Come on you Toffees!

Whistle While We Work

Paying a visit to European Golf Design can be a musical extravaganza. As you walk through the office a diverse array of musical tastes can be heard as you pass from office to office.

At EGD peoples doors are always open. First you pass by Stan Eby’s office, you’ll find him listening to classic 60’s & 70’s Rock, one of his favourites being Little Feat. Next you swing by Ross McMurray’s room, he’ll be generally sat at his drawing board tapping his foot away to the Blues.

When you enter the main office you can hear more than the sound of keyboards tapping and phones ringing. Generally it’s a mixture of the radio or peoples playlists on Napster. There’s 6 of us so banging out Metallica all day doesn’t please everybody!! It’s a fine balance, something interesting, but not too distracting, but there are times when you can’t beat the good old sound of silence.

Going past the print room you come to Robin Hiseman and Gary Johnston’s offices. The doors are right next to each other and standing outside you can sometimes be greeted by a wall of sound. There’s a mixture of Indie from Rob and Dance/Rock beats from Gary.

Let’s us know the music that does it for you when you’re designing or need inspiration at work?

Designer Stan Eby’s favourite – Lowell George and Little Feat

Another Notch on the Rack

In 2001, long before employment with EGD appeared on the horizon, I used to write articles for the national golf magazines.  One of these, for the Scottish golf mag, ‘Bunkered’, dealt with the impact of modern technology on the design of our historic golf courses.  To highlight the point I devised an apocalyptic scenario, whereby the R&A were compelled to abandon The Old Course as an Open venue. I  described the last act of its humiliating demise at the hands of a brash, teenage prodigy, who upon receiving the Claret Jug, promptly declares that he is quitting ‘real’ golf to concentrate on the more profitable ‘Virtual Golf World Series’.  The article is reproduced below, so you can read it for yourselves, but in summary, it forecasted the gradual distortion and stretching of The Old Course to match the relentless march of equipment technology, until it is decreed that professional golf has outgrown the Old Course and must move on.

Bunkered Magazine – June 2001 (Click to view PDF)

And so we come to the issue of the day; the extension of the Road Hole by building a new tee on the driving range.  Taken in isolation, it’s a good idea.  It’ll bring the driving zone back by 35 yards and hence make the challenge of the second shot more like it was in ‘the old days™’.  Great!  Problem solved!  Well…hang on a mo.  Is this measure correcting the problem, or merely accommodating it?  We all know that today’s pro golfers are blazing the ball much further than they used to.  A quick scan of the official European Tour driving stats will tell you that 156 golfers average more than 280 yards with their tee shots and 11 top an average of 300 yards!  That is an immense distance to hit a golf ball.  Yet the governing bodies will present statistics that supposedly prove that the golf ball is going only marginally further than it did 20 years ago.  Well, maybe Iron Byron needs to head down to the gym, because that is where the top pro’s are going.  Their better conditioning and swing techniques, combined with better balls, clubheads and shafts are beginning to make the forecast mockery of the Old Course a distinct reality.  Tacking on the odd tee here and there is not tackling the issue that is insidiously corroding the foundations of golf’s most cherished venue.

Back in 1984, Uwe Hohn trotted up to the plate and hurled a javelin into the air. 104.80 metres away, it came back to Earth.  In that time and distance the history of javelin competition changed forever.  The IAAF officials looked at each other and concluded that if they didn’t do something pretty damn fast, they were going to face the possibility of a steeplechase competitor, or even worse, a member of the crowd being speared.  So they changed the technical specification of the competition javelin and at a stroke knocked 15-20 metres off the throws.  The winner remained the competitor who threw it the furthest.  The value of victory was not diminished by the rule change and the sport continues, 25 years on, to be contained safely within the infield perimeter of a 400-metre track. 

Golf’s governing bodies could learn a lot from this example…

Is the New Wentworth it!

While not suggesting that we’ve been sneaking in around the back like a bunch of stalkers to look at the work going on at Wentworth’s West Course this summer and autumn, as we’re just a few minutes up the road, we have to confess to having spent a little time in the evenings nipping over to see what’s been happening there.

Without getting into the rights and wrongs of what’s been done, you have to admire the ambition of the design. It would have been very easy to have treated the West Course with all due respect to the original designer Harry Colt, to its reputation and traditions. It would have been easy to simply upgrade the greens without fundamentally changing anything. But, someone has taken an incredibly bold decision to, effectively, abandon the old course and come up with something very new and very different, albeit on the same footprint as the old course. Visually it is stunning. Whether it is appropriate for the heathland setting, whether those that play it will enjoy it and whether it will be a commercial success will only become clear once it opens. But ‘tentative’ it is not.

Princes Golf Club

Princes Golf Club in Sandwich, Kent is a classic Links golf course set in the same stretch of coastal dunes as Royal St Georges and Royal Cinque ports. It is probably best known as the venue of the 1932 Open Championship where Gene Sarazen debuted his recent golfing invention, the sand wedge, which he used to great affect as he went on to win his first and only Open Championship. Unfortunately the original layout that hosted the Open was lost during WWII but the present 27 hole course, which was laid out in 1950, still poses a very good test and has hosted the Curtis Cup and is still used as Open Qualifying venue.

Although the longest combination of the 3 loops of nines is relatively long, measuring just under 7,300 yards, recent advances in technology have left a number of the revetted pot style bunkers obsolete. EGD were recently asked to assist the Golf Club formulate a long term strategy to update and improve the golf course. The first phase of this process began this week when I visited the course to assist the greenkeeping team with the renovation of a number of the revetted bunkers, a process which will be ongoing throughout the winter months.

  • Assisting the greenkeeping team with the renovation of a number of the revetted bunkers
  • Assisting the greenkeeping team with the renovation of a number of the revetted bunkers

The Basics of Drainage on a Golf Course

For some drainage might not be the most exciting subject, but when it comes to golf course design it really is crucial. Not only is drainage important during design and construction but also after the course is open. Surface and sub-surface drainage is an ongoing part of a good overall maintenance plan.

On a golf course drainage is needed to remove water away from the playing surfaces allowing it to remain playable following and even during heavy downpours. Good drainage will also help prevent damage to the turf which can occur when water accumulates into puddles and is left standing for too long.

From the outset establishing how and where surface water will be directed has to be defined. If water is going to enter existing drains or waterways permisions will have to be obtained. Depending on climate conditions surface drainage can run into millions of gallons per month/year. If the golf course is part of an overall development this can have major implications on cost and design. Climate change concerns that water resources will be limited in coming years is now also influencing design. Ideally water will be collected in lakes and then re-used as part of the irrigation system. 

The design process will begin with a site visit, following which a Site Analyis Plan is drawn up to establish low points, valleys, slopes, watercourses, wetland areas and existing services. Existing geology and soil types also need to be identified as they can affect how water will drain, flow and collect.

The designer will always be thinking about drainage during the grading of the course. Indicated by contour lines on a plan the design will allow for surface drainage while retaining the flowing lines that make a golf course visually pleasing. Drains will collect surface water and divert it to low spots, the drainage system, streams and irrigation lakes.

Water can be directed away from the line of play using swales which then run into depressions. Catch basins in the depressions are then used to collect the water and filter any debris before it enters into the drainage system. Another option is to use trenches and french drains to gather water along the fairway. An extreme option is pumping which can be used to lift water out of an area of low-lying land.

Most golfers will have experienced problems with waterlogged areas on the fairway. These areas not only make playing golf less enjoyable but also damages and scars the fairway turf. To reduce this problem slit drainage can be used to drain fairways. This consists of parallel sand slit trenches that run along the fairway perpendicular to the water flow direction to remove excess water before it has chance to pond. The slit drains connect to collector pipes laid in a lattice of lateral drains which then link to main drains that tend to run parallel to the fairway(except where slopes do not permit). The lateral drains consist of a trench with a perforated pipe at the bottom and backfilled with gravel. Turf is placed over a permable membrane which makes them almost invisible to the eye.

Gravel Sumps are another means by which to collect water in low areas. Gravel sumps are commonly used in out of play areas where the topography does not permit the use of a piped drainage system. A Gravel Sump is basically a pit filled with drainage stone material and often lined with a textile fabric to prevent the surrounding earth contaminating the stone. 

Sand Bunkers can be difficult areas of the course to drain as they are normally set lower than any other part of the surrounding course. Bunker drainage is notorious for becoming blocked and ideally surface water should be directed away from the bunkers. This can be done by shaping surrounding ground to divert water away. Typically the drainage pipes in bunkers are designed in a herringbone pattern.

Green drainage is especially important to avoid puddles and general wet areas which will impact on play. Green drainage consists of perforated pipes or drainage tiles laid out in a herringbone pattern. To make the green drain efficiently it’s important to lay out drainage pattern perpendicular to the flow of water across the slope.

Drainage maintenance is an ongoing process. Regular drainage maintenance may involve sand slitting, aerating, top dressing and clearing debris from ditches and the like. Catch Basins have to be regularly maintained to clear debris from the grate on the surface so that the drainage is not inhibited, and periodically the trap at the bottom of the catch basins have to be cleaned. It is proper maintenance practise to keep an up to date drainage works plan to record all repairs and maintenance to the drainage system.

The theory of Drainage is simple, it works on gravity…water always runs downhill!

  • Sand bunker drainage at Euphoria in South African
  • Laying Drainage pipes at Woburn G&CC in England
  • Slit drainage being laid on the fairways at Rowallan Castle in Scotland
  • A catch basin with grates ready for installation. In the background drainage pipes are stored