Having turned fifty last year (I know, it’s almost impossible to believe!) I have found that the last 12 months has been a fairly hectic time with numerous parties and reunions of old friends celebrating the same milestone. Another particularly memorable reunion was a recent celebration with university friends marking 30 years since we started as students and it was amazing how we all seemed to gel together again, as if we had only been apart for a few weeks rather than for over twenty five years. Of course the one thing that we all agreed on was the fact that none of us had changed a bit!
I had similar thoughts a few days later when I was invited to visit a golf course I had not seen for the best part of twenty years.
One of the great joys of being a golf course architect is to be able to return to a course which you have designed years after it was first opened. Our official involvement with most projects ends on the day the golf course opens for play, although often you are invited back if there is a special event or you need to check on the golf course set up.
At EGD we normally maintain a close relationship with our clients and often return to our courses over the years, sometimes even with our clubs! However, inevitably clients and personnel change, and like an old friend you sometimes begin to lose touch. Add to that the remoteness of some projects and it is easy for both sides to find themselves ‘moving on’.
So it was with a mixture of surprise and delight that I received an invitation to join in the 20th birthday celebrations of Schloss Wilkendorf Golf Club in Germany, near Strausburg, about an hour’s drive east of Berlin.
Schloss Wilkendorf was a large project we designed in the early 90’s with 36 holes and extensive practice facilities, including a three hole academy course. The championship course was designed in association with Sandy Lyle.
I well remember my first visit to Schloss Wilkendorf in 1992, only three years after Germany’s reunification, and driving seemingly miles along cobbled streets to get to the site. I thought it quite unlikely that golf would be considered as a serious sport in this part of the world. Yet how wrong could I be? Before construction even started a short course was mown out in a meadow alongside our course and it was soon filled with children going around with borrowed clubs, quickly reaching a very good standard.
Returning to Schloss Wilkendorf I was delighted to see that, like my friends from college, the golf courses had hardly changed, and one other thing had not changed at all. I was amazed to find that the head greenkeeper was still Gordon Smith, the man who had grown in the golf course for the contractors, Southern Golf, all those years before. Gordon has matured and developed the course without losing any of its character and I thoroughly enjoyed our day as we toured every hole.
Schloss Wilkendorf is a lovely, secluded place, with both golf courses totally enclosed by woodland. The region is well worth a visit and it now boasts some fine golf courses. Not far away is Sporting Club Berlin at Scharmützelsee which boasts two EGD courses created by our former colleague Stan Eby, including the Faldo Course, which he designed in association with Nick Faldo, and the Eby Course, named in Stan’s honour.
Inevitably, at the end of all the reunions and 50th birthday celebrations we all make promises to meet up again soon and to not leave it so long the next time. Similarly I resolve to visit Schloss Wilkendorf again before I’m invited to their next 20 year anniversary. Certainly I want to make that visit before I am doing the rounds of 70th birthday celebrations!