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Santiago – Cape Verde Islands

A trip to a new project is always something to look forward to, especially if it’s located somewhere new. So, last week’s visit to Cape Verde islands was one I had been looking forward to for a while.

We’ve been invited by a developer there to design the golf courses to be included in a huge development on Santiago. With a land area in excess of 3000Ha, there’s plenty of space. More importantly, the development team want to achieve a resort development that is inclusive – no guard gates/fences/exclusions here – the land is part of the local economy and community now; the brief is that it should remain so after we’ve all left. With a design team including master planners, economic planners and environmental consultants, we spent several days on site trying to get a feel for the land, and the island as a whole, in order that when the planning starts we can give the resort some authenticity. The last thing any of us want is yet another themed, Disney-esque, plastic resort.

Getting a feel for the island included visiting Praia, the main town, as well as eating out at some of the local restaurants. All serve really good, simple, food with local fish and meat high on the menu. The beer (Strela) is local too. And not bad at all. The wine is better than good and the local population very friendly.

While the islands have great history (the first European settlement outside Europe, the first ‘African’ town to have a paved street, the centre for west African slave trading to the new world), they are incredibly undeveloped and ‘native’ (in the best sense of the word). So, there’s an added responsibility to make sure that whatever we do is appropriate.

On the last evening, we went to the top of the mountain. The day had become quite cloudy at sea level, so it was quite a sight as we climbed through the cloud to view the top, which is the view in the image.

  • On the last evening, we went to the top of the mountain. The day had become quite cloudy at sea level, so it was quite a sight as we climbed through the cloud to view the top

On Site and On Course

Sometimes you’re in the office for days – and sometimes you’re not. Variety is the spice of life!

Monday 1st June
9.00 – Sunningdale. On holiday last week so I spend an hour in the office checking emails and then it’s off to the airport to catch a flight to Amsterdam. ‘The Dutch’ is a course we’re building with Colin Montgomerie near Gorinchem. 6 or 7 holes have been shaped and hopefully I can approve some areas for drainage and irrigation.

14.00 – Holland. Arrive Amsterdam, hire car and drive south. It’s a public holiday today so for once the traffic in Holland is fine.

15.00  Arrive at The Dutch. Only the shapers working today and we spend several hours walking the course and discussing the style of the shaping which is going to be something quite different. We all agree that there will be nothing in Holland like this!

Tuesday 2nd June
7.30 – Back on site working with the shapers and putting our thoughts into practice. The guys are working really well together so I leave them to it and meet with the Contractor and Project Manager. We discuss the programme of works and try to come up with some solutions to one or two problems which have arisen.  The site is below sea level and has its own particular challenges.

12.00 – I check tee sizes and inspect drainage and irrigation installation then head to the 9th green which has now been roughly shaped. It’s not bad but something isn’t quite working. I ask the machine operator to dig out a huge chunk on the right side. He looks at me as if I’ve gone mad but plunges the bucket into the subgrade. It certainly doesn’t look plain now!

16.00 – Another meeting where we discuss the work that has been approved and what will be done before my visit next week. 5 mins before I’m due to leave our irrigation designer turns up. He’s had a nightmare drive from Amsterdam. He wishes me the best of luck as I head off for the airport. I make it, just!

Wednesday 3rd June
9.00 – Sunningdale. Two hours in the office and then it’s off to the Twenty-Ten Course at Celtic Manor Resort for the Wales Open which starts tomorrow. I’m looking forward to seeing how the players handle the course this year prior to next year’s Ryder Cup on the same course.

13.30 – Wales. Meet up at the 18th green with a BBC crew to film a piece for their Raise Your Game programme, which is aimed at inspiring and motivating people from all walks of life. We discuss why I became a golf course architect and what it takes to become one. Afterwards I talk to Jim Mckenzie, Director of Golf at Celtic Manor Resort and David Garland, Director of Tour Operations at the European Tour. We discuss the set up of the golf course and particularly the work that has been done on the course since last year’s Wales Open. Jim has been working on firming up the greens and we have added one fairway bunker on the 4th and a new back tee on the 14th. Apart from that the only changes have been to the fairway outlines and David already has some thoughts about making another tweak to the mowing line on the 16th hole. I’ll go out tomorrow and see how the players tackle it.

15.30 – Meet up with another film crew from European Tour Productions who are filming a promotional piece to be shown next year before the Ryder Cup. We talk a little about how the course was built and I point out the work we did on the 18th hole. I agree to meet them again tomorrow so they can film more with the crowds on the course.

17.00 – I speak to a couple of the pros and also to some of the participants in the pro-am. Everyone is very positive and comment on the improved condition of the course now that it has had an extra year to mature. The only minor issue is the thickness of the rough which is a bit inconsistent, mainly because of the warm dry spell we have had in the weeks leading up to the tournament. I see a couple of old friends in Wayne Sheffield and Jason O’Malley from Wisley GC and Woburn G&CC respectively. They have just played in the pro-am together. Wayne has played well and knocked it round in about 75, a fantastic score. I tell him I obviously need to make it more difficult. No one else seems to agree!

19.00 – It’s a beautiful evening so I go out on the course and take some photos.

Thursday 4th June
10.00 – I’ve driven to Marriott St Pierre near Chepstow, a few miles down the road from Celtic Manor. We’ve been carrying out an extensive upgrade to both the courses here over the last two years and I want to check the two newest greens which opened for play on Monday. They look in fine condition but I make some suggestions regarding the edging of the bunkers to Stewart Wood the Golf Course Manager. We also discuss the last phase of the work, programmed to start in the autumn.

13.00 – Back at Celtic Manor I meet up with Jonathan Smith of Golf Environment Organisation. The GEO is a non-profit organisation working to maximise the social, environmental and economic benefits of golf and they are currently working on the 2010 Ryder Cup Environmental Action Plan. We discuss how this is going and also about GEO’s involvement with two of our other projects. 

15.00 – More filming with European Tour Productions then I can finally watch some golf. I meet up with my colleague Matt Sturt and we follow Colin Montgomerie as he plays the last 6 holes. It’s been another beautiful day. Let’s hope it stays like this for the weekend.

Friday 5th June
12.30 It was a late night! I spend a couple of hours catching up with emails and sending reports and then see a little bit of golf before having lunch with Russell Phillips from CMR. Many of the people who were involved in the construction and engineering of the golf course are also on the table. We reminisce about the project and some of its peculiar difficulties but there is an underlying sense of pride about our involvement and what has been achieved. Gareth Edwards is another of our guests and he and Thomas Bjorn do an excellent question and answer session.

19.00 It’s just starting to rain! One last word with Chris Sentence at the Twenty-Ten clubhouse who, with all the team there, make’s everyone feel so much at home and then it’s back to the hotel. I’ve been invited to have dinner with the members of the Twenty-Ten Course. It’s a great evening hosted by Sir Terry Mathews. Corey Pavin, US Ryder Cup team captain, is also in attendance. Sir Terry’s enthusiasm for the Ryder Cup and the Twenty-Ten Course is clear for all to see and he is obviously held in much affection by the membership.

Saturday 6th June
06.00 A few hours sleep broken only by the noise of heavy rain thundering against my window. 35mm of rain fell in just three hours, the course is flooded and it is still raining. Another 15mm falls and play is inevitably delayed but it is a testament to the new drainage system and the hard work of Jim McKenzie and his greenstaff that only an hour after the rain stops play is underway and virtually all the rounds are completed. A tough test but one that needed to be seen to be passed. 

So that’s it for this week. Three hours in the office over the last 14 days. I need to get behind the desk next week – or maybe not!

  • Shaping on the 2nd hole at The Dutch
  • Crowds around the 18th hole on The TwentyTen Course at Celtic Manor.

Environmental Certification Programme

Good things are always worth waiting for. The industry has long needed a verifiable method of demonstrating to those within and, more importantly, to those outside golf the environmental value that well planned, well constructed and well managed golf courses can bring to communities. In short, the industry has needed a credible environmental certification programme.

And now Golf Environment Organisation has delivered just that. Launched last week, the GEO Certification programme has the one thing that all previous attempts have not had – independence. No longer will the golf industry be involved in self-policing. Now, with GEO Certification, golf courses will be verified by independent experts from outside the industry. It will be transparent. It will have credibility. It will have legitimacy. Registration is free and simple – start by clicking on http://www.golfenvironment.org/

It may be slightly melodramatic to suggest that the future of the golf industry depends on programmes such as this, but what is undeniable is that the industry is greatly strengthened by this. What kind of message would it send if every club in Europe was registered?

  • Flowers on and around the course at The Dutch
  • Flowers on and around the course at The Dutch
  • Flowers on and around the course at The Dutch

Big Thinking

If you always look at the same kind of problem in the same way, you’ll always come up with the same answer or, worse still, no answer at all. If, on the other hand, you are forced to look at that same problem from a very different perspective, it is possible to achieve the extraordinary.

Ross and I took part in a brain-storming session over the past couple of days to try to explore ways around what had been, for a long time, a situation apparently fatal to one of our client’s strategic plans. A room full of creative, energetic and intelligent people (and us) broke down the problem into it’s constituent parts and then, from a completely different angle, we were able to come up with ideas that took each of the situation’s negatives and turned them into incredibly strong positives.

EGD Twilight Golf

The first EGD twilight golf match of the year saw Alex, Dave, Gary and Robin take on the majestic Woking Golf Club, one of the acknowledged classics of golf course architecture. Despite an extremely murky and drizzly evening, it was clear enough to see that anyone with a professional interest in golf course design should be making a beeline to this outstanding heathland course. It is an object lesson in thoughtful, economic, strategic design, topped off by a simply wonderfully conceived set of greens. I have no doubt that we will be making several return trips as the summer progresses.

As for the golf, it was Gary who came away with the honours, with a very impressive 40 stableford points off a scarcely credible 12 handicap. So scarce is his credibility off that handicap that he is forthwith cut to 10 for EGD matches! Dave and Robin scratched around the 30 point mark and as for Alex….well let’s say he enjoyed the scenery.

  • The clubhouse at Woking Golf Club. The club was founded in 1893 and is the oldest of the Surrey heathland courses. Tom Simpson designed the course and it is currently 77th on the list of the top 100 courses in Britain.

Industry Observations

Having spent a large part of the past month visiting and speaking at conferences, I’ve learned a few things:

Observation 1 – Golf Inc. Conference, Florida USA
If you think things are bad where you are, go to the US. It might be an exaggeration to suggest that nothing is happening in the golf development world at the moment, but there doesn’t appear to be much happening at all. There are a lot of gloomy faces. And Gary Player, at 73, has more energy than people more than half his age. Remarkable.

Observation 2 – International Golf Conference, Denmark
The Danes are a clever lot. They managed to get the whole of the golf business together and spent a day discussing the challenges that they all face and how to deal with them. It was fascinating to hear how the national Federation, golf course owners, operators, professionals and suppliers plan to work together to grow and develop the game.

Observation 3 – Golf and the Environment Conference, Spain
No matter how much talk about “the environment” and “sustainability” there might be, there is still an incredible amount of head-in-the-sand thinking about golf’s wider impact and the need for the golf industry as a whole to stand up for itself when there is a good story to be told, but equally to stand up to bad practice when necessary. Remaining silent when it’s clear that rules/guidelines are being ignored does the industry no favours at all. We MUST speak up.

Observation 4 – Golf Environment Organisation – European Industry Forum, Scotland
The Golf Environment Organisation (GEO) is dragging us, in some cases not as willingly as we should be, into the right frame of mind for the future of the industry. They DO speak out when they see bad practice. They are giving the industry the tools to demonstrate future sustainability, through the Certification programme and the Development Guidelines, both of which are soon to be launched. But, as with every other not-for-profit organisation, funding is a constant source of concern. We cannot allow that to limit the work that they can do for the betterment of the game, and the environment, in the future.

  • Taken by Jeremy Slessor while in Edinburgh for the Golf Environment Organisation conference. North Berwick Links is a true links with commanding views of the sea, over great wide sandy beaches, across the dark rocky islets of the Forth estuary to the green hilly Fife coast, the volcanic grey and white streaked hump of the Bass Rock and distant May Island on the horizon.

A Day at Wembley

As a toffee I have been starved of trips to Wembley for many years. 1995 was the last time the blue half of Merseyside made the trip. Sunday saw a repeat of that years final.

The day got off to a good start, I managed to convince Alaina (my girlfriend) that a pre game trip to Ikea wasn’t a good idea. After being dropped off at the ground, my brother, his colleagues and I headed in for some food and drink. A few glasses and bets later (most of which were on a first goal scorer!) we headed to our seats for Kick Off. The wine helped with the nerves and seeing a under strength Man Utd team I felt quietly confident. The fans were as loud as I have experienced, my ears are still ringing two days later.

The first half was tight with chances few and far between. Getting to half time with it goalless I felt that Everton would not have better opportunity to get to the Final of the FA Cup for many years to come. The blues started well in the 2nd half and the fans were making themselves heard. Utd slowly took control after 60 minutes or so, Vidic and Ferdinand winning the aerial battle with Evertons 6’3” (6’7” including hair) Fellaini, the Reds were looking the more likely to break the deadlock. Mid way through the second half they were denied a clear penalty and I’ve never seen a man more angry than Alex Ferguson at the moment, his face was a new, undiscovered, shade of red.

With it still goalless after 90 minutes the game headed for extra time. Again not much action, but, Cahill was stopped in his tracks when through on goal having been adjudged to have fouled Vidic, another suspect decision from the ref! A few minutes later the final whistle went and penalties were to decide who would play Chelsea in the final. After Cahills rugby conversion my head was in my hands, however, Berbatov and Ferdinand both missed allowing Phil Jagielka to score the winning spot kick. A blue day it was, The red half of the stadium emptied very quickly!

  • Manchester Utd and Everton coming out onto the pitch before the 2009 FA Cup Semi-Final.