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Haan-Dusseltal G.C., Germany

The company have recently been awarded the review of the Haan-Düsseltal G.C. The course is a relatively recent design but there are a number of design issues which the Club have recognised need to be corrected. The company have prepared a report which is currently being assessed by the Board of Directors

Eaton G.C., Norwich

This is a highly respected golf course in Norfolk and has been subject to changes over the years by the noteable architect and professional golfer, J.H. Taylor, and also by Arthur Havers. Like many a golf course the Club were concerned that recent improvements to golf equipment and the general shortness of the course had reduced the challenge of the course for the lower handicap golfer. In addition extensive tree planting over the years had altered the character of the course from one of heathland to parkland / woodland. The company prepared an extensive report to respond to these issues. Construction works affecting some of the fairway bunkers is due to take place 2008/2009

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

The company have been asked to prepare a Masterplan for a major golf course proposal in Dubai. The project will consist of three 18 hole golf courses, one 9 hole executive course and a 9 hole par 3 course, Academy facilities and two practice ground areas.  The project is part of a major urban development prepared by DAR Urban Designers for Dubai Aviation City Corporation which was launched at Cityscape, Dubai in 2008.

Collingtree G. C., Northampton

Proposals have been formulated to reconfigurate the Collingtree golf course, Northampton and for some holes on the front nine to be resited to make way for mixed use urban extension. The course has held a number of major championships over the years and the aim will be not only to extend the course over 7000 yds. but also to retain the same style of greens shaping and bunkering that exists on the remaining holes. The integrity of the existing course will therefore not be lost during any of the redevelopment works

Al Zorah, Ajman,United Arab Emirates

The company have recently been instructed to prepare a masterplan of an 18 hole golf course and practice facilities for the new City Centre sustainable development in Ajman. This massive development was recently unveiled at Cityscape 2008 by his Royal Highness Sheikh Humaid bin Rashid Al Noaimi. Covering an area of some 12 sq. Km and costing DHS 220 billion the project will be by far the largest in the history of the Emirate. The golf course itself is laid out over existing coastal sand dunes and mangrove swamps and will be a fine example of ecological conservation and ultimately ecological creation.

Abuja G.C., Nigeria

Golf is fast expanding in Nigeria and despite the current recession golf courses are being proposed for a number of new towns. Abuja itself is the legislative capital of Nigeria and a private developer is keen to provide facilities for those new to the game. The company have prepared detailed plans for a 6 hole par 3 course, driving range and academy facilities. It is expected that works will commence in 2008 and be completed in 2009.

Updating our old courses – Restoration or Renovation?

Restoration – act or process of restoring – not very helpful- let’s try “to restore”

Restore – to repair: to bring, put, or give back: to make good: to reinstate: to bring back to a former state

Renovate – to renew or make new again: to make as if new: to regenerate

Restoration – to bring back to a former state – is this really a serious choice for our older courses? One only needs to look at some of the early plans of these courses to realise that they often played as 6000 yd courses, with hazards placed at 170 –190 yds from the tee and landscapes which were quite often immature and undeveloped. Golf club members, I would suggest, do not want to go back to those times.

 

Bear in mind too that many of our older course have gone through a number of reincarnations. As such it is perhaps worth asking how far back in time would one go before settling upon which layout to restore? Would St. Andrews go back to the pre 1850’s when it was played on the same route going out as in again? Definitely not. Would Shinnecock Hills one of the greatest of inland courses go back to pre Toomey and Flynn days? One hopes not. These are perhaps absurd examples but the point needs to be made that golf courses have evolved and changed, they are living landscapes that change in response to the demands of equipment, the ambitions of the membership and the popularity of the game. Whether or not they have evolved in the right direction is another question – but I do not know of any of our older courses that have done nothing and have still survived.

 

If a golf course stagnates it dies. Pinehurst no. 2, one of Donald Ross’s greatest legacies, has holes some of which he altered as many as three times. Not many of us have clients so willing for constant change but Donald Ross knew that his course had to adapt to change both to his own ideas and to developments within the game. I doubt that Pinehurst would have been the great course it is today had Ross not made those fundamental improvements.

 

This was a matter of renovation rather than restoration. Renovation is nothing new. Indeed one only has to look at the careers of some of our earliest architects like Colt, Mackenzie, Fowler and Willie Park jnr to realise how much remodelling work they undertook. Colt for example started his career in golf as secretary at Sunningdale Old Course – originally designed by Willie Park jnr – and spent much of his early days moving bunkers, adding trees in strategic places and creating other features on the course. Mackenzie was remodelling Royal St.George’s, Lahinch and Blairgowrie; Fowler – Ganton, Royal Lytham & St.Annes, Royal North Devon and so the list goes on. These modifications came about partly in response to the need to create a full 18 hole golf course but more often as a result of major improvements to the golf ball and dramatic changes in the philosophy of the game as it moved from the penal to the strategic schools of architecture.

 

On the question of strategy, history and equipment generally, it is interesting to note the effects this has had on modern design. In the past great emphasis was placed on the location and angle of approach bunkering. Golf was played with the 1.62 inch ball to firm (non irrigated) greens and to stay on the green it was critical to play short and allow the natural contours of the approach to direct the ball toward the flag. Accurate driving to a certain opening in the fairway and equally accurate second or third shots to a point on the approach was the hallmark of a good golfer. Hence the value of the approach bunker. This approach to golf strategy is less relevant these days. Golfers of all handicaps now expect to hit a ball through the air directly onto the green and for the ball to stay on that green. Thus the modern approach to designing greens is to angle the greens away from the centreline and to protect the surface with more hazards both to the front as well as sides of the green.

 

But many of our older courses have an abundance of approach bunkers well short of the green. They don’t often come into play these days but they do set up the approach to the green beautifully, and whatever we may say about the exact location of bunkers, who could forget Ross’s timeless comment; “there is no such thing as a misplaced bunker …It is the business of the player to avoid it.”

 

Every architect will have their own view on this issue – but my own? Well, much will depend on each hole and the strategic influences of the hole. But as a principle I prefer to retain the original concept and framework. By all means move the bunkers forward and narrow the green approaches, slightly, but the spirit of the original design should be retained. I suppose my answer to the question of renovation is – what would Harry Colt or Herbert Fowler or Abercrombie have done to their courses had they the chance to remodel their own creations 100 years later.

 

When one visits these established, properly designed, courses it always surprises me how well they have fared through the years. Whilst the fundamental principles of golf design have not really altered over the years, nevertheless green complexes are mostly as challenging now as when first built and the location of hazards around the green still demand thought and precision. Equally the layout of the golf holes rarely needs to be changed in a Braid, Colt, Simpson layout unless perhaps it is due to development encroaching close to the boundaries of the course. 

 

So golf is a game that has changed and evolved and in response restoration of these old courses to a former self is not really a serious alternative. But renovating an old course to it’s original style is an entirely different matter.

 

Like all creative people, these early architects had certain styles and traits which characterized their courses. Yet, when one visits many of these older courses it is amazing how easy it is to detect the amateurish additions that have been added over the years. Changes, inspired by personal taste rather than course philosophy often leave a course bereft of its original strategy. Bunkers and other hazards have been taken out and others put in for no obvious reason. As a result many of our older courses lack design continuity as every participant attempts to leave their own, often ghastly, stamp on the course. What a course needs is unity not a jumble of ideas and statements. Above all else when renovating, these “carbuncles”, as Prince Charles might have called them, need to be re assessed and invariably removed.

 

To date, I have tended to concentrate on golf courses with some kind of architectural heritage and the issues related to the remodelling of these courses. But there are many older courses with no such heritage. These courses, though by no means all, tend to have certain inherent weaknesses. Sometimes these problems can be fundamental with holes laid out poorly – I still occasionally come across holes that cross each other, though these have often been removed in previous changes. However more often it is simple things like small greens, bunkering that does not challenge as perhaps it should and mounding that needs modifi cation. But a wholesale approach to change is still something to be avoided. These courses may not be of architectural signifi cance but they are of enormous importance and affection to the members that play the course. The little nuances of the course, the strange shapes, the grassy hollows and knoles are all significant. This after all represents the character of the course.

 

But both from an agronomic and architectural viewpoint changes need to be made. The greens will invariably be clay based and often closed for parts of the winter, unlike their new, recently built neighbours and tees will be too small and bunker faces worn and sub-bases not drained. From an architectural viewpoint basic golfing principles and shot values may not have been addressed at all in the original layout or simply need to be reviewed. Trees, planted many years previous, now encroach onto the playing surface casting shade and leaf litter, and how often does one find these golf courses lined with totally indigenous planting – a mass of dark pine, larch, cupressus and poplar with little thought given to long term indigenous planting. Despite these inherent weaknesses the charm and character of the courses are an all-important asset that need to be retained.Members want their courses upgraded, the specifi cation of greens and tees improved, hazards moved to a more appropriate position and they might even want a little water incorporated to add to the heroic nature of the course –but above all else members want the character of their course retained.

 

Marrying the two principles is a diffi cult though not impossible task. Green sizes can be enlarged to accept current volumes of play – but still be small(ish); bunkers shapes and designs can maintain their uniqueness – but be better placed; and grassy hollows, swales and mounds re incorporated – yet retain their historic style. Despite the awkwardness of some of these features to maintain it is surprising how rarely maintenance, or rather the improvement or ease of maintenance is given as a cause for renovation. The odd mound or deep sided ditch might be removed but on the whole the Club will have lived with these features and tend to accept and even enjoy these strange oddities.

 

In Britain the development of new golf courses in the late 80’s and 90’s has not only helped to satisfy the demand in popularity of the game but it has also made existing golf clubs reassess their own courses. Enlightened members, realising that they have been the beneficiaries of the previous generation’s foresight are often conscious of the need to pass on to the next generation of golfers a product that will last for the next 100 years. They know that unless they adapt and improve their own course, in time it too will fall by the way side and as a result many are taking the positive step to renovating their course.

 

Many of these courses represent a wonderful and valuable golfing heritage that have taken years to reach the degree of maturity so envied by newer courses. This heritage needs to be carefully adapted to the modern demands of the game, improved but not obviously modernised, renovated but rarely restored.

 

Simon Gidman

August 2002

Shinnecock Hills Golf Course – Hole 12

One of my early memories of college is that of the lecturer in historic landscapes repeatedly referring to gardens as palimpsests, knowing full well that us first years had no idea what he was talking about. Of course after the lecture we all scuttled off to the nearest dictionary to find the following explanation – “a manuscript in which old writing has been rubbed out to make room for new”. If the description of a palimpsest can be directed at a garden landscape it can certainly be applied to a golf course.

 

So many of our great golf courses have undergone transformations over the years; courses with often fairly inauspicious beginnings improved to become testaments to great golf course architecture. Shinnecock Hills G. C. on the eastern seaboard of America is certainly one of those courses.

 

Initially a reservation for the Algonquin tribe who roamed from the Shinnecock Bay to Montauk, the symbol of the American Red Indian is entwined into all aspects of the club, most notably on the club’s motif.The golf course, initially designed as a 12 hole layout by Willie Davis in 1891 always seemed to be the forerunner of golf in America, constantly introducing new ideas and forever moving forward. It was not the first course in America perhaps but the first, possibly shared with Chicago golf course, to have 18 holes; it was the first to have a clubhouse, the fi rst to be an incorporated golf club and was possibly the originator of the use of red for the ladies’ tees, when an additional nine holes, known as the Red course, was designed for the exclusive use of the lady players. This separate Red course was not an overwhelming success and soon after it’s opening the two courses were re-arranged to form a single 18 hole layout.

 

However perhaps the biggest changes to the golf course came in 1928 under the direction of then club president Mr. Lucien Tyng who not only purchased new land for development but also employed Dick Wilson and his constructors Toomey and Flynn to reorganise the layout. This was completed in 1931 and it is broadly this layout that forms the basis of the golf course today. These changes increased the overall length of the course from less than 5000 yds.to 6749 yds and since then a further 163 yds were added for the 1986 US Open to create the current layout of 6912 yards par 70.

 

There are so many great holes at Shinnecock Hill G.C. and normally it’s the 13th or 14th that receive the most plaudits, but to my mind it’s the 12th hole that typifies great architecture. Perhaps it is because it comes after the slightly disappointing short par 3 11th hole, or perhaps it was because I took a 5 on the 11th hole and a par 4 on the 12th, I don’t know.

 

But after a short walk uphill from the 11th green one is immediately impressed by the shape, scale and arrangement of the 12th hole. A straightish hole played in its own amphitheatre; the hole measures 472 yards and plays over naturally undulating rolls.

 

There is no unforeseen trickery about the hole – what you see is what you get. The architects have not needed to over-complicate or exaggerate the design. The hole is set in its own vast expanse with no other golf hole in sight, making the personal dual between the player and the game somehow seem more intense and personal. The 12th is a marvellously thought through and beautifully presented hole. The choices off the tee are almost unlimited. The easy drive is to the left of the central fairway bunker where there is the bulk of the rolling fairway until a distant fairway bunker beckons at 250 yard. The better or more challenged golfer will take on the central or right hand bunkers and gain as much length as possible to reduce the pressure on the long second shot.

 

The approach to the green is protected by a series of bunkers, almost penal in nature, with sand either side of the fairway. Yet for those who have taken the easy option off the tee and played to the left of the fairway the second shot is a serious challenge. The golfer,assuming he cannot reach the green is left to decide whether to draw the ball into the very narrow space that is the approach or to drop it short of the road and chip on from there. For those who have braved the right side of the fairway and the narrow bunkering at the 250 yd mark the shot is, whilst shorter, equally challenging. You obviously have to avoid the approach bunkering and to hit an accurate shot to the green that tends to shed the ball into a series of hollows and swales off the putting surface. There is no let up on the hole, the decision off the tee needs to be carefully considered, the drive properly struck and the second shot demands both thought and accuracy of execution.

 

It’s been said often enough in the architectural world that great holes are a mixture of risk and reward and the 12th encapsulates all that is great in a golf hole, both from the playing of the hole as well as the visual beauty of the surrounds.

 

The featuring on the hole, and the course for that matter, is outstanding. No “fancy dan” bunkers on these holes, but large elliptical sand features set into strong grass faces. They  have a certain grandness about them that does not draw the eye to their shape or design but fit, as strong features should do, perfectly into the landscape – their scale and style matched to the surrounds into which they are set.

 

Each hole at the Shinnecock Hills is set into its own landscape prompting Ben Hogan to comment “Each hole is different and requires a great deal of skill to play properly. All in all I think Shinnecock is one of the finest courses I have played”.

 

Despite being British and loving almost all British courses my views are similar. It has been likened to British seaside courses, though the careful design of the holes contrasts with the often idiosyncratic challenges that characterise many British seaside courses. However the 12th has all the markings of a great hole; choice, beauty, scale and challenge.

 

I recall vividly the fi rst time I played the course in late summer. We had fi nished the round and a mist was beginning to descend on the course. We had a quick drink and were then ushered gently out of the clubhouse into the crisp evening air. We drove down the driveway and you had the sense that, whilst the golfer roamed the course during the day, the original inhabitants, the American Red Indian returned and reclaimed their mystical and spiritual home at night. Balance restored I think.

 

Simon Gidman

December 2003

 

Renovation and re-modelling of Existing Golf Courses

One of the interesting side effects of the golf course boom of the 80’s and 90’s has been the response of many of our older golf clubs. Recent and rapid developments in golf equipment have highlighted many of the weaknesses of these courses. This, coupled with what I believe to be a greater awareness of golf course architecture and its principles, has led many golf clubs to re-assess the playability of the course, both from the point of view of the modern day player as well as questioning the inadequacies of the original construction. Another aspect of renovation is the opportunity to correct the many years of changes made by “in house” committees and other well-intentioned administrators. Particularly in the 70’s and 80’s it seemed almost incumbent upon committees to make alterations to a course. Some well used bunkers were removed and others constructed – often with no regard to style and design. As a result some golf courses have six or seven different types of bunkering and the whole effect is a mish mash of ideas and values. Further, mass coniferous planting was often undertaken with little thought to any long term planting strategy. These mistakes now need to be corrected. 

Golf has changed dramatically over the past 15 years let alone the past 100 years when many of our older courses were  first built. But how does one combine the new with a respect for the old? A difficult question whose answer may vary from course to course. For example many of our older courses have an abundance of approach bunkers, but should they all be removed purely to reflect modern design – surely not? Equally some greenside bunkers, designed to catch the long iron/wood shot are now often redundant, except of course for the high handicap golfer. These can certainly be moved without altering the feel of the course. The playing characteristics of a golf ball now demand greater protection of the green than used to be the case and minor changes such as this can add greatly to a restructuring of the course whilst not affecting its individuality and special charm . Some courses have suffered major changes, and I can think of one course in America, originally built by D.Ross that changed so dramatically it led to calls for the preservation of our historic courses, and societies were formed with the express aim of safeguarding these historical golfing landscapes. Reconstruction in particular of greens, and to a lesser extent tees and fairway bunkers is an emotive subject and probably needs a specific response rather than in a general article on golf course architecture. However, no one can deny that specifications have improved enormously over the years and that these newly constructed greens and tees remain playable for much longer than the ones they have replaced. Equally I find discussions on maintenance of a difficult subject and one fraught with preconceived ideas. How many courses built in the 1900’s to 1930’s were characterised by “chocolate drop” mounding that, with most current staffing arrangements, is now impossible to maintain? But do they warrant removing altogether solely to make maintenance easier? Equally,  how does one reform old bunkers with mounding and lips raised by years of sand blast? They are often interesting features but invariably impossible to maintain. However, to remove the lip and associated moundwork altogether is too dramatic a solution. Too often I have witnessed extreme changes that have resulted in dull, simply shaped featuring which is often more reflective of a basic municipal course rather than a highly regarded and historically well designed course. 

The current climate of analysis should allow for a complete reappraisal of a golf course, providing an opportunity to bring the course up to date and providing a blueprint that will last for many years to come. Such reports should address the entire course, the size and condition of tees; the position, size and maintenance of bunkering; the shape, size and overall construction of greens; the tree planting and environmental and ecological value of the course. It is a document that needs to be discussed and supported by the whole club. One always hears the old cliché of a golf club representing 500 golf course architects and of course that is true, but this is a reflection of the personal interest each member takes of his or her course. Equally there may well be instances where an architect is not aware of certain sentimental features of the course, which would only be highlighted by discussion with the membership. The art of renovation is by its very nature a different discipline to the development of new courses. With new courses the architect will tend to impose his own views of design onto the site using current specifications and approaches. Not so with older courses. A respect of the previous architect’s philosophy and style, an understanding of the memberships requirements and a greater appreciation of the minor intricacies of the site will dominate the thoughts of the course architect. Proposals to enlarge tees to modern sizes i.e. 500-600 m2 or greens to 450/500 m2 are often impossible on small, heavily contoured or wooded sites. Such featuring would not sit well on most of our older courses, more likely it would probably spoil the course by changing it’s character. No – the architect has to be much more sensitive to the course than that.

New construction works on an existing course inevitably leads to much consternation within a golf club. Nobody should be deceived that the work will be painless, either
from a financial or disruptive point of view. Depending on the extent of the project, the ideal time for construction is late summer when ground conditions are favourable, though of course it assumes no play on the works in question until the following year. In terms of a timetable the works should be undertaken in one or two years. This may not always be possible but if works are extended much beyond five years or so, the membership will inevitably suffer from construction fatigue and as a result the works may not be completed at all. Once a timetable has been established it needs determination to see it through to it’s conclusion. The disruption may take place for two or three years but hopefully the results will last for many years thereafter. Renovation of an existing course is often a difficult concept to grasp for many members who are invariably satisfied with the course as it is and enjoy its frailties. 

However competition from newly designed and constructed courses require our older, established courses to review their assets and to consider renovation. 

This is an opportunity for this golfing generation to pass onto the next a course that reflects modern day approach  to the game that should last to the end of this century, whilst still retaining the charm and character of the original course as it was built at the beginning of the last century. From the architects point of view the art is to make these changes sympathetically and to leave one’s ego  firmly in the cupboard.

Simon Gidman
March 2003

Bunker Designs

As architects we spend a lot of our time visiting older golf clubs, keen to renovate and upgrade their courses. More often than not these courses have been designed by some well known architect from the 20’s and 30’s. An architect that would have had their own very specific style.

 

After many years of play and change this original style – particularly where bunker design is concerned – is frequently lost often replaced with a simple, easy to maintain design that does very little to present the course in the right light. Bunkers are often the most visually impressive of golf features. They are a different colour to their surrounds and as such can provide shape and scale to the course as well as providing the main challenge to the playing of the game.

 

Over the years some bunkers have become redundant whilst others have lost their original shape and become impossible to maintain. Work needs to be done to these bunkers – no question – both in terms of their position and their design. Sometimes these changes have already commenced with varying degrees of success. More often than not I find that what was once an interesting and challenging feature has been replaced with a dull simple to maintain sand trap that does very little to improve either the presentation or playing of the course. In terms of design it is in some ways the easy way out, the easy solution.

 

Bunkers of any kind need maintenance and the ability to maintain effectively will be important in the final design, but bunkers need to create interest and they need to be impressive visually. On some of our older courses this means understanding the previous architects work and reestablishing their ideas, on others the modern architect may have a greater say in terms of design and style. Whatever the design issues the final effect needs to be maintenance friendly, yet dramatic and effective.

 

Simon Gidman
March 2004