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A Fleeting Glance – How the island hole came to JC…be. Part 1.

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.

To be continued…

The Big Dig…

Creating the 1st hole at JCB Golf & Country Club

The 1st hole at EGD’s new JCB Golf & Country Club, is one of the most dramatic opening holes in golf. It has been likened to an inland version of the iconic 1st at Machrihanish, with its tee shot across an Atlantic beach, except here you play across the deep, still waters of Woodseat Lake. It is a tranquil and seemingly permanent vista. The truth is somewhat different. JCB guests, poised over their opening drives, could never imagine the radical transformation that took place to create this hole. Thanks to the photographs I took throughout construction, we present a time lapse of its evolution, from the first site visit in 2012 through to its full opening in 2018. So, let’s begin with what we first encountered…

Above: November 6, 2012

Looking down the hole from behind the future tee. This already had the feeling of a golf hole thanks to the mown, lawn grasses in the field. The meadow sloped steeply downhill from the road to a rare, remaining section of the disused Uttoxeter canal. The road signs highlight the ‘JCB Arena’, which was a machinery demonstration area sited in a deep cutting, complete with air-conditioned grandstand. You can see how domed the field was, by how little you can see of the distant trees, in front of which the green will be sited. Our task was to make this green site visible from here. Woodseat Hall, the envisaged future clubhouse, sits amongst the stately trees to the right. It’s location here had a significant influence on the hole’s design.

Above: From above – 2012

Long ago, residents of Woodseat Hall were able to gaze out of their front windows over the steeply descending meadow to the canal at the foot of the hill. After the hall fell into ruin and JCB bought the estate, this meadow was infilled with spoil excavated from ‘The Arena’ and a wide road, suitable for heavy goods vehicles, built on top. The view from the ruined hall was no longer important to anyone. With the prospect of reusing the hall as a clubhouse, our client, JCB’s Chairman, Lord Bamford, felt, quite reasonably, that it would be nice to restore a view of the water for clubhouse guests. This was no small design task, given the terrain, but we did cross-sections to figure out what would be involved. I felt that seeing a thin sliver of distant canal would not be suitably impressive, so proposed creating a broad bay between the tee and fairway, which lined up nicely with the main viewing axis from the clubhouse. The cross sections helped generate a plan, which involved relocating the Arena access road, dropping the ground level by up to 10 metres and creating a wide, deep lake. We calculated an excavation of 90,000m³ in this one small area alone. We also had a golf hole to design, which as the future 1st, would need to serve as an inspiring introduction to the course. Detailed design work commenced in 2013 in readiness for the planning application in January 2014. Site work started in August 2014.

Above: May 22, 2015

This photograph shows the early part of the excavation process. The cut area was so deep that it had to be excavated using a terraced, strip-mining technique for safety reasons. The height of the hillside can be gauged by how the slope dwarves the big trucks at the top.

Above: June 18, 2015

The fairway sub-grade level has been reached and the new road is in place. The JCB excavators are starting to dig out the lake. In the distance, you can see the tall staking poles for both the fairway turning point and the green. All the spoil was taken through the gap in the trees in the background to shape up holes 2 to 4.

Above: June 24, 2015

One week later and the outline of the bay is taking shape, with the safety ledge being cut in. At this time, I was thinking it looked an awfully long way to reach the fairway from this, the daily play tee.

Above: July 10, 2015: 13:45

The conclusion of the lake excavation and it’s a properly deep hole now. The inland edge of the lake is 10 metres (33 feet) below the original ground level. The canal is perched about 3 metres above the level of the lake basin. They knew how to build a watertight canal back in the 18th Century; the embankment never leaked. Aquatic plants, taken from the canal edge are piled up, ready for planting on the new lake shore.

Above: July 10, 2015: 17:32

Later the same day and a landmark moment for the project, as we breach the canal embankment and start to fill the lake. Notice that we didn’t artificially line the lake. The subsoil around here is a heavy clay and we were confident it would hold water. Once we were certain it would, we excavated the rest of the canal embankment. Shaping is underway to build the fairway bunkering and green complex.

Above: August 24, 2016 – We were right. The lake didn’t leak!

After a flurry of activity in 2015, the 1st took a back seat whilst we cracked on with other aspects of the project. Here we see the topsoil returned, with a light fairway sand topping to follow. Irrigation and drainage are installed and the lake edges have been hydroseeded for stabilisation. The aquatic plants moved a year previously are starting to grow and our resident ducks are settling in. The lake is also full of huge carp, which lived in the canal and were fished by the local club. The fairway and green shaping is showing up well and I was delighted that the entire green and surrounds bunkering were fully visible from the tee. Doing those pencil-drawn cross sections proved to be wholly worthwhile.

Above: July 19, 2018

The finished, 368-yard 1st hole, framed with a fescue flourish. I wanted the shaping to be complimentary to the tranquillity of the setting, so the philosophy was for long, soft slopes and few lumps. The central fairway bunker has a magnetic attraction and is placed exactly where you want to aim. The best driving line is to the left of the bunker, where the ground is fair and flat, but with Woodseat Lake close by. Playing safely to the right is the cautious choice for the opening shot, but the ball will come to rest on a side-slope and with more water to deal with, both in front of and to the left of the green, this awkward side camber shot may see you aiming too far to the right, bringing the large approach bunkers into play. It’s an action packed first hole, which sets the tone for an exciting round to follow. With all that went into its creation, this may be the JCB hole design I am most proud of. It is a lovely spot to linger and take in the scenery. It may be entirely created by man, but we’d like to think you cannot tell.

Above: May 26, 2017 – From Above

In comparison with the original masterplan, you can see we remained faithful to the concept. We dropped a couple of forward tees, but everything else is much as envisaged. The machine demonstration arena has now been decommissioned, so we have the widest cart path ever built! If you’ll indulge me a moment more, I want to share the before and after view from our 1st medal tee. Originally, I thought we would play everyone from the daily play tee, but it became apparent that strong golfers would likely tee off the 1st with an iron, which I thought was a false start for a supposed championship standard course. The problem was, there was nowhere to go back on line which would make it long enough for a driver. So, I took a look on the other side of the canal, where the old railway line used to run and thought, ‘this might just be possible, but it’s an immense carry first up’. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, we set about it and…it’s gone down a storm. You’re advised to hone your driving skills on the lovely practice range before you head down there. Otherwise, you’ll be swimming with the ducks!

Above: November 12, 2014

After the initial tree clearance, you get a real sense of the bulk of the hill we had to remove. Dane, from JC Balls, the earth moving contractors, stands on the far bank, wondering what on earth I’m contemplating!

July 19, 2018

The view from the 424 Yards Black Tee. It’s between 170 and 245 yards to carry the water, depending on the aim point. The fairway bunker is 285 yards away. It’s definitely given the experts something to think about, but it’s achievable. For us mortals, it’s a thrill to tee off down here and a real buzz to get a good one away. This hole flies in the face of the accepted wisdom of starting the round with a gentle introduction, but is consistent with the philosophy of making the best of the opportunities presented by a site. Sometimes, the two principles conflict, but I’m glad to have had the courage of conviction to favour the latter and sleep easy knowing we did justice to the project and for the client, JCB.

Work underway at Emaar South

Work on the new Emaar South Golf Course in Dubai commenced at the end of 2018. The new 18 hole golf development will be the second UAE Course we have designed for Emaar Properties, one of the region’s leading property developers, the first being Dubai Hills Golf Club which opened for play in November last year.

The golf course will form an integral part of the Emaar South residential community that is being built close to the new Al Maktoum International Airport and will provide both recreational and social benefits for residents, members, and visitors.

Prior to starting work the site was an untouched desert with an endless expanse of rolling sand dunes and our intention is to try and retain the feel of the existing landscape character within the finished golf course. There will be large expanses of desert waste bunkers and an emphasis on the use of native desert style plants that will have low requirements for irrigation.

Interestingly the waste bunkers have been designed to serve a dual purpose as they will also act as holding areas for stormwater on the occasions that it does rain in the desert.

The golf course is being built in two phases to coincide with the development of the residential components, with the first phase being scheduled for completion in 2019.

Emaar South will be the fifth European Golf Design project built in the region, following our work at Dubai Hills, the recent construction of Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in Saudi Arabia, Royal Golf Club at Riffa Views in Bahrain and a major renovation at Dubai Creek.

JCB Golf and Country Club





The European Golf Design course at The JCB Club makes the Golf Monthly 10 Most Exclusive Golf Clubs In The UK.

The JCB club is the newest venue on this list, having opened for play in 2018.

The club is the brainchild of Lord Anthony Bamford (son of Joseph Cyril Bamford) who is the chairman at the construction company started by his father, where the club gets its name.

The club is located in Rocester, Staffordshire which is the same small town where JCB is headquartered.

It features an island green par-3 and has some stunning countryside views.

Read more at www.golf-monthly.co.uk

Photos by Jeremy Slessor of European Golf Design

Top 10 Golf Architects in the World

Following on from the last blog, we were delighted to be included in Golf Inc Magazine’s list of the Top 10 Golf Architects in the World for 2017, published in their January/February issue out this month. We don’t do what we do to simply get recognition by others, but it’s incredibly gratifying when it does happen! To be associated with so many talented colleagues in the industry is more than humbling. The support of both of our parent companies, The European Tour and IMG, has been unwavering over the years, but without the faith that our clients place in us to carry out their dreams and aspirations, and to deliver great courses, none of this would be possible so, to each of you, thank you for the confidence and trust you have given us. It’s been a true pleasure to work with so many of you.


EGD Courses Acknowledged by Golfing Press

Everyone is entitled to an opinion and most of us are quite happy to share the benefit of our own infinite wisdom with anyone that will listen (a case in point…this blog!). So it’s hardly surprising that one of the more regular features in the media is lists of the ‘Top 10 this’ and the ‘Top 100 that’. Many of these lists are so subjective and arbitrary as to be meaningless. However, some of the better ones are put together by Chris Bertram and his colleagues at Golf World UK. Among the requirements for inclusion in their list is the obligation that the members of the panel actually have to have visited the course in question, which is a surprisingly rare necessity in many of the other lists.

With that in mind, we were especially pleased to see how some of our courses had fared in two recent lists published by Golf World. Their list of the Top 100 Golf Resorts in the UK and Ireland features no less than ten courses designed, co-designed or renovated by us, including seven in the top 50. And in the Top 100 Courses in Continental Europe rankings, we have been involved as designer or co-designer at five courses, with another two featuring where we have been involved in renovations.

We don’t do what we do to get included in lists, but can’t help admitting that it is reassuring when our work is recognised by others as having some quality.