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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!

Bentley, Bugatti, Braid or Bust!

Some excitement for the car enthusiasts amongst us on Friday as a fleet of vintage cars passed by the office. Over 50 pre 1941 sports cars including Bentleys, Lagondas, Bugattis, Aston Martins, Jaguars and Mercedes trailed past on the first stage of the Flying Scotsman Endurance Rally 2010. Starting from just down the road at the famous Brooklands race track, home of the world’s oldest motor-racing circuit, the cars spent the weekend racing along remote country roads on a three-day charge to Scotland, stopping for time trials along a route which took in Henley on Thames, Stowe, Rutland, the Humber Bridge and the Yorkshire Moors.

Interestingly not only was the start of the race very familiar to us. The finish line was at Marriott Dalmahoy Hotel & Country Club near Edinburgh where we carried out major renovation work to the James Braid designed East Course in 2005 in order to develop and enhance the reputation of Dalmahoy as a popular golfing destination and to create a golf course that will once again be able to host international golf tournaments.

Winners of the Flying Scotsman 2010 were a Vauxhall 30/98 in the pre-1925 class and a Bentley Derby 4¼ in the pre-1941 class.


Vauxhall 30/98

Tools of the Trade

When it comes to my world working as European Golf Design’s Computer Guru it’s always important to have the right digital tools available for every job. I don’t think there are any boundaries in IT and that’s why I enjoy it so much, whatever you need to do there is a tool that can help you do it. I spend a lot of time testing, cursing and adoring a wide range of software, here is a list of my essential software apps (in no particular order).

1. Bentley Microstation/Powercivil – The bread and butter workhorse when it comes to plan production and terrain modelling. There is no better CAD system available today.

2. Adobe Photoshop – It’s the industry standard image editing package and is packed full with features. It is an essential tool for any serious photographer or web developer and integrates tightly with Adobe’s other products.

3. Google Earth – The professional version has changed the way we work. Being able to locate sites and view the terrain in 3D is truly amazing. Not only does it enhance plans it also helps design work when a detailed site survey is not available.

4. WordPress – This is a popular blog publishing application with a built in content management system. It’s used by 1000’s of people to create online blogs and best of all it’s free.

5. Adobe Dreamweaver / Flash – Dreamweaver is a highly extendable web development application and suitable for users of all abilities. Flash is used to add animation and interactivity to web pages, it also supports streaming of audio and video.

6. Abode Illustrator – This has become the standard application when it comes to illustration design. Artists, Illustrators and Graphic Designers use Illustrator to create vector-based graphics. Like Photoshop it’s not easy to master but the rewards are worth the effort.

7. PHP/MYSQL/Apache – If you want to build dynamic web pages with a database backend and all for free, look no further.

8. Windows Small Business Server – Being a Microsoft Qualified Engineer (MCSE) I’m in my element here. Without getting all techie this is an all-in-one server solution with all the features you’ll ever need from a server.

9. Napster – Online music file sharing service with more than 10 million tracks in every possible genre. If you need music while you work this is it.

10. Google / Web Browser – This is Daddy, use Google properly and you can become an expert in any subject in 15 minutes! Oh and don’t forget your trusty Web Browser you can’t use Google without it, Internet Explorer is still my choice.

Others worth a mention – Skype, QuarkXpress, 3D Studio Max, LSS, Spotify.

I’d be interested to know what your favourite applications are and why?


Who needs an office?

Great time at EGD!

Since a very successful cooperation with EGD in the Czech Republic during the design work and construction of Casa Serena, my professional relationship with Robin Hiseman, Jeremy Slessor and whole EGD group has developed into a warm, personal friendship. So, I was very happy to get the opportunity to come back to the office for a week again this year and meet the team. The previous visit was split into two parts, with office work experience and practical exercises on the golf course. As I come from a country without any coastline and where the golf tradition is short by comparison to the UK, my aim was to visit the classical heathland and links courses. This year, I was privileged to visit and play Swinley Forest and Hayling golf clubs, both of which were great playing experiences. I am proud also that my game, so deep in the winter, was good enough for me to shoot 77 at Swinley Forest! The usual match play competition with Robin was enriched with his very valuable golf course architectural observations. Robin´s focus on details, feeling for landscape and good will to share his golf architectural ideas during his work at Casa Serena started up my personal interest in golf course architecture. It has grown in time into a real passion for me. This time, I brought my current design project with me, to be reviewed by both Robin and Gary Johnston. Gary and Robin´s notes on the design strategy and technical details of the grading plan have been very helpful.

I am currently working as a construction manager and site surveyor on golf developments in both the Czech and Slovak Republics. Thanks to my job I have the opportunity to combine my technical construction knowledge with the differing design styles and working methods of the golf architects, notably the quality of the drawings and the attention to detail during the construction site visit. Let me say that the overall quality and professionalism of EGD is top of the class!

My week at EGD went too quickly, unfortunately, but the visit on Sunday, my last day, to the extraordinary Painswick Golf Club was a real cherry on the top of the cake.

I have to thank to everyone at EGD for making me feel very welcome!

Jakub Červenka, Czech Golf Development

Jakub Červenka, Czech Golf Development

Olivion Resort, near Belek, Turkey

We’ve been very lazy about posting blogs since the start of the year, so apologies to any of you who have checked in from time to time and found nothing new here. We’ve been busy, but somehow much of what we’ve been busy with is not blog material, at least for the time-being.

Anyway, Stan and I are in Turkey at the moment, with an ever-increasing design team, working on the Olivion Resort, near Belek. We had a pretty full-on day yesterday on site and then in a late afternoon workshop. The design team, which includes John Goldwyn and Lisya Sullam from WATG and Mike Wood from GEO, had collectively presented a draft master plan to the clients during meetings in London last month and this was their opportunity to provide feedback. What struck me was the way they approached this process.

There were a number of issues that, potentially, had quite significant impact to the master plan. We’ve all been in meetings where a client would have said something like “I don’t want it to be like this, I want it to be like that – go and do that” and sent the design team away simply to carry out his requirements. That’s fine, but it doesn’t leave any room for the design team to get creative. But yesterday the clients instead said things like “we think there is an issue here (for instance, they were concerned with the position of the proposed access road into the project) – what can we do to fix it?.” That’s a completely different proposition, allowing the design team the ability to creatively come up with a solution that meets the client’s concerns.

In the end, it’s two ways of asking the same thing, but invariably the solution will be better if the design team are given the opportunity to use their skills to come up with the best response rather than a response that just meets the client’s demand.


Stan Eby, Haluk Kaya and John Goldwyn