The European Tour returns this week to Royal Greens G&CC, King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia for the Saudi International powered by SBIA.
The course designed by European Golf Design plays to a par of 70 and a length of 7010 yards. The golf course is characterised by beautifully manicured playing surfaces, enhanced by the creation of wadi & lake features and colourful and maintained native landscaped areas. Regular shaped bunkers, set within the manicured grassed areas, contrasts with freeform desert waste bunker edges. The creation of bold contouring, contrasting with the odd subtlety and ‘imperfection’, not only creates intrigue, but also ties all golf course features seamlessly into the neighbouring leisure facilities.
Inspired by the surrounding Saudi Arabian desert landscape, numerous wadi features, which meander through the golf site, play a significant strategic & functional role on numerous holes. These features help to alleviate storm drainage from both the golf course and adjacent residential neighbourhoods and each wadi terminates in one of the four salt water lakes, all of which have been created for strategic challenge, aesthetic enhancement and habitat creation. As well as enhancing the course’s visual appeal and challenge, these ‘drainage’ features, along with the spectacular views of the Red Sea, will further characterise the course setting and compliment the perfectly manicured green, tee & fairway edges.
Complimenting the golf course is a premium golf academy featuring a state-of-the-art teaching facility with extensive practice areas including a full length driving range with swing studios, as well as extensive putting, chipping and bunkers greens complexes. The Academy will open in early 2017, offering instruction and practice facilities including special facilities for women and children to learn the game.
The following images follow the journey in creating the high-end international 18 hole golf course.
January 30 – February 02 Saudi International – Royal Greens, King Abdullah Economic City
The end of January sees The European Tour return to Royal Greens, King Abdullah Economic City for the Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers. The course, designed by European Golf Design, boasts panoramic views with the Red Sea coast as the backdrop and is the first European Tour event to be played in Saudi Arabia. Dustin Johnson returns as defending champion.
European Tour Destinations Senior Classic – PGA Catalunya Resort, Girona, Spain
The third edition of the European Tour Destinations Senior Classic will take place from July 12-14 at the home of Spain’s no.1 course, PGA Catalunya Resort, as part of the Stadium Course 20th anniversary celebrations. The Stadium Course design by European Golf Design in association with Ángel Gallardo has hosted three editions of the Open de España and was the setting for European Tour Qualifying School Final Stage for nine consecutive years until 2016. In 2019, the Stadium Course, will host The European Tour Destinations Senior Classic, an event that has been on the Staysure Tour International Schedule since 2016. European Golf Design are currently planning the renovation programme for the Stadium Course.
July 23 -26
Evian Championship – Evian Resort Golf Club
The Evian Championship is one of the 5 major tournaments in Ladies golf, and his held every year on the of the world women’s golf held every year on the French shores of Lake Geneva, at within the Evian Resort Golf Club, in Evian-les-Bains. The 26th edition of The Evian Championship will be held from 23 to 26 July 2020. Having completed the redesign and renovation of the existing course we are now in the process of making changes to the short course at the Evian Academy.
August 27 – 30
Omega European Masters – Crans-sur-Sierre
The Omega European Masters is one of the most prestigious golf competitions and indisputably the most spectacular course on the European Tour schedule. Originally hosted at Golf-Club Crans-sur-Sierre in 1939, this years tournament shall take place from the 27 to 30 August. As in previous years, European Golf Design have been overseeing renovation works through this past winter, with noticeable changes being made to the 2nd and 3rd greens, as well as an enlarging of the putting green.
September 03 – 06 Porsche European Open – Green Eagle North Course
Top stars return in September to Green Eagle in Hamburg for the sixth edition of the Porsche European Open that will be played on the Porsche Nord Course from 3 to 6 September 2020. A delighted Paul Casey was the winner in 2019.
Opened in 1997, the North Course was designed by its owner, Michael Blesch. At 7165 metres, it is one of the longest courses in Europe. During the discussions and negotiations that led to the course being awarded the rights to host the 2017 Porsche European Open, it was agreed that some features of the course needed renovation. A programme of changes was started and completed within seven weeks in the autumn of 2016. This included the redesign and construction of six green complexes, all of the physical work for which was undertaken by the Club’s own staff. Further work is ongoing to improve the course even more prior to future European Tour events.
September 10 – 13
BMW PGA Championship – West Course
Almost needing no introduction, the West Course has featured prominently in the European Tour’s schedule for many years and, as such, is known to golfers and spectators around the world. Originally designed by Harry Colt, the course has been changed several times with over the years, the most recent being in 2009. It would be fair to say that those changes did not meet the approval of either the Members or European Tour players and as a result, plans were put into place to renovate the course during the summer of 2016 to reintroduce style, strategy and enjoyment. Working with Ernie Els and his design associate, Greg Letsche, along with a European Tour Advisory Group, including Paul McGinley, Thomas Bjørn and David Jones, Wentworth’s Director of Courses, Kenny Mackay, and Chief Executive, Stephen Gibson, we were tasked with liaising with each stakeholder to prepare a cohesive plan that addressed all of the stated concerns.
To design an 18 hole golf course in association with Colin Montgomerie, in the resort of Belek, near Antalya in Turkey.
Set within 104 hectares of picturesque, mixed pine forest and sandy ridges, the feel of the natural environment has been maintained, thereby enchancing the particular characteristics of the golf course.
With one of the most impressive clubhouses in Belek, views of the course and surrounding area are available from the 30 meter tower of the clubhouse.
The course forms part of a new 200 million-euro golf and hotel complex. To complement the 18-hole championship golf course, there is a flood-lit nine-hole short course and a golf academy, as well as a 600-room five-star hotel and 31 holiday villas.
Turkish Airlines Open
After a three-year absence, the Turkish Airlines Open has returned to the Montgomerie Maxx Royal course in Belek, which first staged the tournament in 2013. This year, many big names will be chasing a first prize of $2 million, from a $7 million pot.
When Colin Montgomerie along with European Golf Design began designing the Montgomerie Maxx Royal on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, he hoped that it would become a well-respected course and bolster golf in the region.
From the moment it opened in 2008, the design was immediately recognized by many professionals as one of the country’s best. It took just five years for it to stage its first big event, the Turkish Airlines Open, part of the European Tour. It attracted Tiger Woods in its first year, when he famously shot a 63 (9-under-par) in the second round.
In the two years that followed, big names came to Turkey. Brooks Koepka of the United States, who made his name on the European Tour before winning multiple majors, won in 2014 and Victor Dubuisson of France, who won in 2013, triumphed for a second time in 2015. When the tournament moved to the nearby Carya Golf Club in 2016, Thorbjorn Olesen of Denmark took the title, while Justin Rose of England won in 2017 and 2018.
Now a part of the Rolex Series, its importance is emphasized by its place in the calendar. After Turkey, there is just one more event, the Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa, before the DP World Tour Championship, which will decide the final standings in the season-long Race to Dubai competition. Last year it was won by Francesco Molinari of Italy.
The Montgomerie Maxx Royal has a par-72, 7,132-yard layout, with undulating fairways within about 260 acres of mixed pine forest and sandy ridges. The course begins and ends with par 5s, offering the chance for a good start and a grandstand finish, when the lead can change hands in the closing holes.
Dubai Hills – the most recent course by Berkshire-based architecture firm European Golf Design – has been named the ‘World’s Best New Golf Course’ at the prestigious World Golf Awards.
Dubai Hills was chosen ahead of seven other nominees from around the world to land the title at the annual awards, with contenders including Jack Nicklaus’ Michlifen in Morocco, spectacular Hoiana Shores in Vietnam and JCB Golf and Country Club in England.
The JCB course in Staffordshire was also created by European Golf Design, which is the design company of the European Tour and IMG.
EGD’s architect Gary Johnston laid out Dubai Hills, which opened at the end of 2018 and has already made a significant impact in the emirate’s golf scene.
It enjoys views of the famous skyline of downtown Dubai, most notably on the par-5 5th hole, which Johnston has routed so that it plays directly towards the iconic Burj Khalifa.
The course, whose paspalum grasses ensure it is in immaculate condition all year round, incorporates three phases.
The front nine plays through a series of deep wadis (valleys) whereas there is a more open, desert feel to the back nine. Both halves end with challenging holes dominated by the large lakes.
“To have Dubai Hills recognised as the World’s Best New Course, given what it is up against both regionally and internationally, is hugely satisfying,” says EGD’s managing director Jeremy Slessor.
Above: Dubai Hills Designer, Gary Johnston.
Three of the firm’s other Middle East designs were also winners at the awards: Dubai Creek was named Best Course in the Middle East; Royal GC the Best Course in Bahrain; and Royal Greens the Best Course in Saudi Arabia.
The victory for Dubai Hills is vindication for Johnston’s emphasis on playability rather than on another tournament-standard course for the Middle East.
“Like The Montgomerie and Arabian Ranches, Dubai Hills was always going to be a members’ golf club and, while it may sound obvious, we wanted to create a facility members would enjoy playing,” says Johnston.
“We tried hard not to fall into the trap of making it too difficult or too long, so deliberately made the fairways that little bit wider but added interest by making them very undulating.
“The greens also have plenty of movement but knowing how quick they were likely to get once open, we made sure we didn’t go overboard.”
The award – which was announced at a ceremony at Saadiyat Beach Golf Club in Abu Dhabi – adds to the firm’s already stellar reputation in the Middle East.
EGD – who have also been involved in the Ryder Cup courses of 2010, 2018 and 2022 – have worked in the region for well over a decade on projects in Dubai, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
“The Middle East is an incredibly dynamic region,” adds Slessor.
“Everywhere we have worked, we’ve come across different cultures, techniques and challenges. We would like to think that experience has paid off in the success Dubai Hills is enjoying now.
“Equally, it would be wrong for us to take sole credit for that success – this has been a collaborative process: working with Emaar to define the brief in the first place, through to design work, construction and now maintenance, the entire project team deserves enormous credit.”
Johnston is already working on another new course in Dubai for Emaar, which will be located close to the new Al Maktoum international airport.
Emaar’s brief included firm ideas of what they wanted from Dubai Hills – and the result is a course unlike any other in Dubai.
“The client wanted us to take the best bits of their other courses and add a bit of extra ‘wow’ factor,” says Johnston.
“We managed to do this by creating some significant elevation changes on the front nine – something you don’t tend to get on many Dubai courses.
“We also used the corridor layout to keep the focus on the hole that is being played and limit opportunities to see what is coming up ahead.”
This aspect, allied to the promise of outstanding year-round conditioning and the emphasis on playability, has meant Dubai Hills has enjoyed a successful entry to the Dubai golf market.
“Golfers of all abilities took to the layout and challenge immediately,” says Dubai Hills general manager Elliott Gray.
“It was incredible to see so many golfers in the UAE who had not been part of a golf club in the past four years join the club in early December 2018.
“The friendly ‘stadium like’ fairways have ensured membership sales targets were exceeded in the first six weeks of preview play.”
The World Golf Awards are part of the World Travel Awards, which are now in their 26th year. Voting on the awards is done by golf travel and tourism industry professionals and also by the public.
For further information or to arrange an interview, contact Jeremy Slessor on 01344 870300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: The attached images are free to use, with a credit for Kevin Murray.
To design an 18 hole golf course in the Pirin Mountains, Bulgaria, in association with Ian Woosnam.
Located close to the Bulgarian Ski resort of Bansko, the resort has been designed to be a year round destination, guests are able to play golf in the summer months and ski during the winter.
Situated in a valley the course has views of snow-covered peaks. Lakes and mountain creeks come into play with greens guarded by towering pine trees. Residential properties, a state of the art academy and clubhouse compliment the golf course.
Designed in association with: Ian Woosnam
Client: Pirin Golf Holiday Club Ltd
Course: 18 Holes
Length: 6210 metres, Par: 72
Pirin Golf & Country Club
After more than twenty years of planning Royal Norwich has finally relocated to its new home at Weston Estate, a few miles outside the city. The golf course, created by European Golf Design, was officially opened for play by Ian Poulter, who took time out from his BMW PGA Championship preparations to play the course on Monday 16th September.
The move for Royal Norwich comes after 125 years at its Hellesdon site and after selling that property to Persimmon Homes.
Speaking about the project European Golf Design MD, Jeremy Slessor, said: “I first visited the site in 2006 and knew immediately that it had the potential to become a fine golf course. The mature parkland with its many specimen trees sets it apart from most other sites. After all this time I’m thrilled that we have played a part in creating an exciting future for Royal Norwich and I wish the membership the best of luck in their new home”.
Ross McMurray was the lead designer on the project for European Golf Design and he commented: “From the start our design goals have been inspired by the wishes of Royal Norwich. The club developed a clear vision for its future and set strategic aims which helped us to define the design requirements on the Weston Estate. ‘Acknowledge our heritage and embrace the future’ was one of Royal Norwich’s fundamental objectives and so we have gone to great lengths to design a golf course which is very modern in its outlook but respects and responds to the existing landscape. I wanted the course to possess an immediate sense of maturity so that it sat comfortably within this fabulous parkland and I’m delighted that this has been achieved.”
“The club wanted the course to be long enough to challenge the best golfers if required, but most importantly it needed to be a course which was playable for higher handicaps and short enough for golfers of all standards to enjoy. The course measures over 7,200 yards from the back tees but only 5,330 from the forward tees, so there should be a course length that is suitable for everyone. I’m sure the members will find it great fun.”
As well as the new 18 hole course at Royal Norwich, European Golf Design has also created a six hole Academy Course. Built to the same standards as the main course it provides a much shorter golf experience with three par 3s and three par 4s and should take no more than one hour to play. The Academy Course has been an important part of the proposals from the start and it fulfils another key objective for Royal Norwich, to ensure there is a clear members’ journey in place from junior through to senior.
Ross McMurray continued: “I must say I am full of admiration for what Royal Norwich have done. To relocate their golf course and also change the whole structure and strategy of their club has been a magnificent achievement. They deserve every plaudit and I hope what they have done provides a template for other golf clubs to follow.”
Especially when the trees being felled were those concealing a view of the island upon which the 17th green at JCB Golf & Country Club was to be built.
It had taken two years to get to this point, but by November 2014, we were well underway with the clearing and bulk shaping and had reached the 17th hole. Within the space of a few hours, the narrow tree belt through which I had first glimpsed the waters of South Lake was gone and we could, for the first time, stand at the top of the hill and behold the full panorama. What we saw confirmed our initial findings. It was going to be a spectacular outlook, but we had a lot of grading work to do to create the perfect view.
Above: November 12 2014: From the future back tee we could see the central part of the island, but very little of the lake in front.
Above: November 12, 2014: From the lower tee site a clear view of the entire island was possible. The remaining trees between the tee and the island would soon be felled.
Work continued through the winter months to clear away the undergrowth from the hillside and the island. This brought to prominence the fine specimen trees retained to frame the new green. They had been swamped by towering laurel bushes, but now stood clear and proud, especially a lovely oak and a shapely, pyramidal Dawn Redwood.
Above: March 10 2015: The big willow tree in the middle of the island is down and looking to the north along the thin axis we can now see the lovely outline of the oak which will become a feature tree to the left of the green. Notice how the green centre staking pole is at the back edge of the island, indicating there would be plenty of filling into the lake behind it. The line of play is from the left to right.
With the undergrowth cleared, the opportunity came to try a first golf shot. It was a thrill to finally hit the shot I’d first imagined more than 2 years previously. I succeeded in putting one on the island, but never saw the ball again, as there was still no way of getting over there!
Above: June 25 2016: First shot to the island.
We lowered the water level in South Lake and built a wide stone causeway to get machinery to the work site. The lake was still full of fish, so we could only take the water down so far. With the undergrowth removed and topsoil stored, we began the process of building the island extension. Truck after truck of hard, angular aggregate was laid in thin layers, before being compacted. This process continued until a stable base layer was achieved, upon which the subsoil shaping could proceed, without fear of settlement.
Above: August 12 2015: Unloading aggregate into the lake for the island extension. Marker posts in the lake demarked the extent of the fill.
Above: September 4 2015: Showing the access causeway and subsoil shaping on top of the rocky island extension. The much-lowered water level is very evident.
The benefit of detailed design preparation meant we were very confident the earth shaping design would create the perfect view we required. It was with a sense of great anticipation that the machines moved in to start re-contouring the hillside for the tees. Our design plans had been converted to three dimensional GPS files, which were loaded into the onboard computers on both the dozers and JCB excavators. The in cab visual display showed the operator the current ground level alongside the required design level and they pushed, dug and filled until the basic design sprang magically from the ground.
Above: September 4 2015: Early in the process of shaping the 17th tees.
Whilst the bulk shaping was done with the guidance of GPS, the artistic final shaping was led by our vastly experienced Canadian dozer shaper, Bob Harrington, along with JCB excavator shapers, Mark (Stan) Awbery and Mik Wells. These guys took the basic subsoil shape and gave it character. As we neared the end of 2015 and prepared to bed the project down for the winter break, we could observe the subsoil skeleton of the hole, with everything in place to have it grassed the following year.
Above: October 20 2015: Bob and Stan have put in the fine subsoil shaping on the greens and Mik has fine tuned the tees, ready for the drainage and irrigation. That is Course Manager Euan Grant in the orange and shaper Stan Awbery in the yellow far below on the island. The red stakes below the tees denote the line of the main power cable supplying the JCB factory. This curtailed our plans for the forward tee.
Above: January 28 2016: Deep midwinter and South Lake is full to the brim. The island is cut off until the springtime. I thought it looked alarmingly small as I took this photograph, but this is how I had hoped we could keep it, without an umbilical connection to the mainland. It would never look like this again. The fisherman couldn’t care less…
With its position in the shop window, close to the main road to the factory, the project team decided to accelerate the final preparations for the 17th and get it grassed first. By early August 2016, all of the materials were in place, the irrigation was primed and the Riptide Creeping Bent grass sown. Within a few days in the summer heat, the first tinges of green started to show and we could see the contrasting colours and tones emerge which would define the island.
Above: August 15 2016: The grass seed just starting to pop.
Now we had to commit to a permanent means of accessing the island. We’d all got used to the causeway, so I suggested raising its level to a metre above the maximum water level and leave a bridged gap to allow the water to circulate. I found a photo of the lovely Island Line Trail in Vermont and proposed we did the same, growing trees and shrubs along the banks.
Above: The Island Line Trail in Vermont. We considerd building a scaled down version of this.
Euan and Steve Dewhirst then came up with the clever idea of using pre-cast concrete box culverts, lined up on the levelled foundation of the submerged causeway, to form a multi-spanned rectangular bridge. It would require no more filling material and could be bolted together in a matter of days. Initially, I was a bit reticent, as it seemed a utilitarian solution, but came around once I’d seen the mock up set out on the shore. The bridge went in during the winter months and was clad with timber, giving it an oriental character. It looked very smart.
Above: February 24 2017: The new bridge created a permanent link to the island. The roof of JCB Headquarters is just visible in the background.
Above: March 3 2017: Euan’s drone shot of the completed hole highlights the width of the lake and the 70-metre long bridge.
The bridge was the last piece of the jigsaw. The 17th was finished. Well, nearly… One final flourish was the design of the drop zone tee, which we decided to make out of Huxley All-Weather Artifical Turf, so that everybody facing the pitch onto the green would have a perfect lie. We expected it to be well used!
Above: July 27 2017: The all-weather drop zone tee down by the lake shore. Just over 110-yards from here, but a tricky approach angle over the bunker.
It doesn’t matter how green or manicured a new course looks; it is only complete once you put in the flagsticks. During the summer of 2017, we were excited to stand up on the high tees and look down upon the island, with a flag fluttering in the breeze. The task was over. The island hole was born and ready for play. It was a very proud moment.
Above: July 27 2017: Looking down upon the green with the hole cut for the first time. Now it’s a golf hole!
I knew 17 would be a controversial golf hole. You don’t build a green in the middle of a lake without expecting some kickback from those who proclaim that forced water carries are beyond the capabilities of novice golfers. It’s true. You need to have a reasonable level of competency to attempt the hole. To have made it playable for all would have been impossible without destroying the essence of what makes it unique. It was the right hole to build for the project and for the client. It’s a tremendously fun hole to play, even if you come second in the contest and the potential commercial value of the hole to JCB is immense.
Like its numerical cousin at TPC Sawgrass, the 17th is this mighty challenge that has to be overcome before the round is complete. You know its coming, but aren’t even afforded a glimpse until it explodes into view as you step onto the tee. The anticipation rollercoaster has been slowly ratchetting to the top of the incline and now you experience the visceral plunge of the big, fast drop.
Happily, guests are playing the 17th with the same spirit of fun and adventure with which it was created. They’ll often chuck a ball down on the 255-yard back tee and see if they can possibly pull off the shot of a lifetime, before heading down to their tee of the day to play the game ball. They may not conquer it, but they will never forget it and want to keep coming back for another go. Smiles, laughter, selfies and happy banter have become synonymous with playing the hole.
These two blogs have told the story of the hole from my perspective here at European Golf Design, but everybody who had a hand in the project owns a percentage of the credit. It would never have happened without the vision of Lord Bamford and his project management team at JCB, or the hugely talented team of construction experts and JCB greens staff who put in the hard yards out on site. The story of the 17th hole at JCB Golf & Country Club is a microcosm of what makes the golf architecture profession so rewarding. From the seed of an idea born on a cold, grey Staffordshire hillside in November 2012, we had the opportunity, willpower and collective talents to nurture this bold thought through the complex processes of design and construction until it became the physical reality we see today. We all believed in the concept and have delivered on our promise to build JCB a unique and iconic golf hole. We lived out our best daydream. Life doesn’t get better than that.
I hate it. Absolutely detest it. The term ‘signature hole’. The suggestion of one hole above all others. And yet, for the JCB golf course, we designed a par 3 17th hole, which could serve as the definition of the term. Understanding it would be the ‘signature hole’ actually helped with the design of the other holes, as it was essential the 17th sat comfortably within a strong, thematic composition, rather than being encountered as a maverick, aesthetic freak. It’s the hole everyone talks about and looks forward to playing, but there are plenty of engaging and strategic golf holes to enjoy before reaching this spectacular finale.
This is the story of how the 17th hole at the JCB Golf & Country Club was discovered, designed and built and how a fleeting glance led to the creation of a unique and extraordinary golf hole.
Part One: Discovery
The late 1960’s was a period of rapid growth for JCB. Since 1950, when founder, J C Bamford set up premises in an old cheese factory, in Rocester, the company HQ had expanded massively to accommodate flourishing production lines. Mr. Bamford also bought up the land surrounding the factory and created a series of large ornamental lakes, around which landscaped pathways were routed, where employees could relax during their lunch breaks. In the middle of South Lake, he created an island, upon which ornamental tree saplings were planted, including Weeping Willow, English Oak, Norway Spruce and an exquisite Dawn Redwood. For decade upon decade this island sat quietly, with the trees slowing maturing and adding beauty to the landscape. Birds nested on the peaceful islet and fishermen gazed idly upon it, but for the most part, nobody gave it much thought.
Above: South Lake and the island being built in the late 1960’s. The trackbed, buildings and goods yard of the disused Rocester railway station still evident in front of the expanding JCB factory. No trace of the railway remains today.
It was the briefest of glances. No more than that. It was November 2012 and I was at JCB to check out the routing plan for EGD’s new and at that time, highly secret golf course proposal. Standing on the proposed 18th tee, I glanced to the left and noticed a tiny sliver of water through the autumnal foliage. I took a photograph, thinking it would be nice to lift the canopy and give golfers a view of the lake. Wandering over, I peered through the branches to take a closer look. Beyond the trees was a steeply descending grass bank, overlooking South Lake far below. In the middle of the lake, perfectly lined up with my viewpoint, was a wide, shallow island, covered in mature trees and laurel bushes. This demanded closer inspection. I climbed over the fence, ducked under the branches and took in the full, unobstructed view. Instantly, the thought popped into my head, ‘I reckon I could hit one onto that island’. An instant later, ‘that would be an amazing golf hole’. Right before me was the raw material for one of the World’s most spectacular par 3’s and I was the first person to ever see it in this light.
Above: November 2012: The intended tee view for the 18th hole, which would have played to the end of the distant field.
Above: And this is the sliver of lake I saw through the trees…
Above: November 2012: That first view of the island.
There was a problem. The island was beyond the project boundary. JCB would have to be persuaded to let us expand the development site. Fortunately, we were dealing with people in the factory who had the vision of creating a world class golf course with which to boost JCB’s global profile. Presented with some sketches and a bit of blarney, they appreciated how the stars had aligned to offer us this island in the perfect location and the perfect point in the round (the 17th), to create an iconic, unique hole. They signed off on the concept and we were up and running.
Above: An early sketch, which helped us get the concept approved.
I asked to visit the island. With the golf project being top-secret, I adopted the identity of an ecologist doing a tree inventory, just in case our boatman, Mick, asked as to why he was ferrying me over. Half way across the lake, the boat engine cut out and we started to drift away from the island on the breeze. We had an oar for such an emergency, but Mick, who is a big, strong unit, wasn’t going to let a puny little engine get the better of him. For minute after minute he thrashed away at the pull cord, boat rocking and sweat flying off his ham pink brow. This was furious, 2-stroke CPR and Mick was going to resuscitate it, or die trying. Finally, almost miraculously, it spluttered back into life. Mick sat back down, his long exhalations misting the cool, winter air and wordlessly steered us back on course. The oar remained stowed.
The island itself was physically unremarkable, but there was an undeniable aura about it. Its time in the sun was coming. I ‘surveyed’ the trees for 10-15 minutes and we got back on the boat. Mick got it started immediately, much to our relief. We motored slowly around the island for me to take photographs and then set off for the mainland. Half way back, the engine cut out…
Above: February 25 2013: Mick backs the boat into the water before our memorable first visit to the island. Steve Dewhirst (in on the secret) looks on.
Above: February 25 2013: Approaching the landing stage, beside the sprawling Goat Willow tree that grew exactly where the green would later be built.
Above: February 25 2013: Looking back from the island towards the gap in the trees where I first stood and where the tees would be built. I still have no idea why this gap in the woods existed, but if it hadn’t…
With the island hole cemented into the routing, we had the opportunity to improve other aspects of the back nine, most noticeably the addition of the 18th tee to the south end of the island. Golfers would have to play off the island, as well as onto it. This idea transformed the closing hole into a 462-yard, uphill, monster par 4. With two holes now located where previously there was just one, we therefore needed one less hole elsewhere. This directly created the space for the colossal, 627-yard, 13th hole. The positive domino effect of the 17th brought the back nine to life and gave us a layout with character and stature.
We had to consider how to get to the island. My preference was for a ferry, like the one that drifts serenely across the river on the 18th at Brocket Hall, or takes golfers out to the floating green at Coeur d’Alene. I wanted to retain the island’s purity and physical detachment. Conceptual designs were commissioned, which would have involved two boats going back and forth in unison on a looped chain. The concept was defeated by a combination of costs and logistics, but not before I had designed Hole 17b, as a backup for when the ferry was out of action. This alternative par 3 played down the first part of the originally designed 18th hole, from a tee at the very top of the hill, which also, intentionally, lined up with the island green. When the ferry scheme was abandoned, we had no need for the alternative green, but we still built the tees, which is why the 17th measures 255-yards from the tips.
Above: This extract from the original hand-drawn Masterplan shows the ferry concept, Hole 17b and the 18th tee on the island. Note how the top two tees on 17 could be played to either hole.
17 is not an island green, it’s a green on an island. The former suggests something created artificially and specifically, whereas this is a found hole, exploiting an existing landscape feature. Many island green par 3’s are played from close to the same level between tee and green, but this hole descends 50-90 feet to the green, depending on which tee you play from and from a distance between 183-255 yards. Only the drop zone tee is at water level. Such a large difference in elevation offered the potential for an exceptional view, provided the contouring of the tees was correct. Often you get a great view from the front of a drop shot tee, but take a few steps backwards and all you can see is the sky. I set a minimum requirement of being able to see at least half the width of lake in front of the island and at least some of the water behind the green from any point on every tee. It was crucial to the aesthetic and the design psychology that the island looked like an island. We achieved our aim through the trial and error of many sketch plans and cross sections. These generated a well-conceived shaping and elevation plan for the tees and enlargement of the island, which would be lengthened from 22 to 60 metres deep. This was allocated entirely to the rear of the island, so retaining the full width of the lake and an undisturbed shoreline facing the tees. This ensured the maximum amount of water could be seen.
The island design features three bunkers, each of which emerge directly from the lake. I wanted the bunkers to imitate natural sandy shorelines, without the formality and artificiality of a narrow grassy strip or wall defining the water line.
The green design originally had a ‘velodrome’ style backstop to contain an overhit shot, but this blotted out a view of the lake behind from the lower tees. Instead, the green cambers markedly from back to front and is split into two halves by a spine ridge. An unnerving infinity line demarks the back of the green, with the beach bunker lying hidden beyond.
JCB commissioned model maker, Jeff Shuttleworth, to create an accurate scale model of the course, based on EGD’s detailed plans. It was made in time for a public exhibition, at which the project would be announced to the locals. It is an extraordinary piece of work, which served to show the public the concept scheme in a three-dimensional, tactile way. The main talking point was the island hole. Nobody could quite believe a hole like this was being built in rural Staffordshire. There was amazement at the ambition of the scheme and excitement it was happening in the neighbourhood. The model now takes pride of place in the clubhouse.
Above: Low level lighting highlights the brilliance of Jeff Shuttleworth’s clay model.
With the scheme announced and planning permission achieved, we were ready to turn this exciting idea into reality.