The reincarnation of this proud old site holds an interesting and satisfying backstory.
Every project a golf designer becomes involved with has a backstory. Sometimes it is lengthy and complex, particularly if it is a renovation or redevelopment of an existing course in which, the time taken to design, gain approvals and complete the construction can represent a substantial portion of the designer’s life. Bringing a new course to fruition can also be a lengthy process, often involving regulations that can potentially take decades to satisfy before construction even begins. – Graham Papworth
In some instances the situation is combined where an existing course is to be reincarnated as a totally different beast. This scenario frequently involves the addition of residential or resort components to boost the club’s coffers and make the ongoing golf operation more sustainable.
Occasionally the golf architect will join a project at a time when progress is in the offing and we were fortunate to find ourselves in that situation with the redevelopment of the Geelong Golf Club site, although that certainly wasn’t evident at the time.
However to convey the backstory first; the Geelong Golf Club was founded in 1892 and before falling on hard financial times in 2001, was the oldest golf club in Victoria still operating on its original site. The club continued trading under the management of PGA links financed by the Links Group who purchased the site in 2002. The course closed in July 2004 after a proposal for a nine-hole course and residential development on the site was knocked back by the local authority.
The site located in North Geelong is slightly less than 45 hectares in size and was very tight for an 18-hole layout. The presence of Thompson Road, a major thoroughfare, bisecting the site into separate east and west land parcels added another major constraint to any form of land planning. The reincarnation of this proud old site holds an interesting and satisfying backstory.
Our involvement began in April 2010 when Linksliving Ltd (the rebranded Links Group) asked us to investigate the potential for a short nine-hole par-3 course within the open space remaining from a new residential layout on the west land parcel, prepared by others. The east parcel was committed to commercial development and both sites had to accommodate floodway’s and or water quality control ponds.
The resulting course layout (see Figure 1, page 63) had nine par-3s ranging from 55m to 150m length with short-game practice greens and 10 screened driving bays. Although we were generally spared the political machinations of gaining authority sanction for the proposal we did receive regular urgent messages to make changes as a result of negotiations between the client, consultants and council.
Further planning refinement resulted in the conversion of some of the commercial land to a golf driving range, practice green and undercover bowling green with clubhouse. It became evident however that to garner further support the golf course itself needed greater integration with the residential lots and to act as an open space buffer to the roads and properties surrounding the western land parcel. Although the residential layout had to be revisited, this option retained a nine-hole par-3 course, which functioned by utilising an existing underpass from the proposed clubhouse and practice facility on the east side of Thompson Road to the course on the west. (See Figure 2)
This concept gained support in many quarters and we went on to prepare a series of drawings in August 2010 representing the Master Plan, Landscaping, Urban Design, Staging and Fencing principles envisaged for the estate for submission to Council. The outcome showed that there was opposition to the bulky goods and commercial precinct on the east land parcel and this along with the notion that a par-3 course was something less than had been anticipated became a sticking point for some councillors and like-minded public.
Although all changes to the concept to this point had been incremental, it required a change in approach to satisfy council’s wishes. As a result all commercial land use was removed from the plan and the east site was given over wholly to golf, including a clubhouse and other sporting activities.
Allocating the east site to golf also allowed it to be used for a practice range and maintenance facility as well as the par-4 and par-3 opening holes and the two closing holes being a par-3 and par-4. This in turn meant that only five holes were now required on the west side and consequently they could be lengthened to increase the par and challenge of the course thus enhance its overall acceptance.
Having agreed with the client that we now had a concept that should generally satisfy the needs of the interested parties, all that remained was to satisfy the client’s financial model with appropriate lot sizes and yield to ensure the project was viable before going back to the authorities. Initial finetuning indicated that with 320 varying sized lots their aim was achievable and by the start of 2011 we essentially had the concept that has since materialised on site.
The project had spent five or six years of failing to launch before the opportune timing of our involvement and less than nine months of concept development later we had a genuine project to pursue, but of course the real work had yet to begin.
Our first task was to perfect the concept design to become the Master Plan for the development which, on the tight west site included exact road and allotment layouts and sizing so as to best share the available land while providing adequate clearances between the golf course and future housing. Of course in these residential golf estates we understand that unless the subdivision is attractive to buyers and represents a good return for the developer we may not have a project at all.
Thankfully given that the feasibility of the modified plan of development met the client’s expectation we did have a project and began the Design Development Phase. By the end of March 2011, once the refined Master Plan was agreed to by the client and consultant team, we prepared another set of drawings to submit a Development Plan Overlay to the City of Greater Geelong. (See Figure 3)
The project team was formalised from the existing consultants most of whom, like us up until then, had been working on an as directed basis. The size of the project, being a small subdivision with a boutique, nine hole golf course did nothing to diminish the line-up of the professional specialists required to perform the design tasks and participate in the reporting processes required to bring the project to fruition.
With direction from the experienced representatives of Links Living, one of the only specialist golf residential developer/operators in the country, the project managers, civil engineers, landscape architects and ourselves were soon under way with the design and documentation of the project as a whole, assisted by others with expertise in agronomy, irrigation design and geotechnics.
The site was well timbered, there was a reasonable depth of sandy/silty topsoil overlaying a variety of highly compactable clays that were very sticky when wet. Water harvesting on such a small site was very problematic and as it transpired town water was available and the most practical option. The grasses chosen were MacKenzie Creeping Bent for greens and collars, Santa Ana for the tees and fairways while the roughs are a mix of Fescues.
Of course, consultant input and responsibilities on all developments are shared across many facets and they vary subject to which consultant will ultimately be signing off on the completed works. One requirement not unique to this project is that Authorities usually want what is referred to as ‘Water Sensitive Urban Design,’ which involves all run-off from the developed site being directed to ponds designed to settle turbidity and treat the collected water with introduced aquatic plants selected to strip nutrients. When a golf course is included as part of the development it usually contains the water quality control ponds as it did in this instance.
The engineers are typically responsible for calculating the volume of run-off from the residential development that needs to be held in the ponds during dry and wet periods and how much should be retained and released slowly during a 1-in-100-year storm event. The golf architect attempts to arrange the ponds so they receive the run-off as practically as possible and are placed sensibly in terms of golf play, whilst also making them look as natural as possible. The landscape architect then selects the wetland plant species and prepares the planting matrix for the varying depths of pond, as required to improve water quality.
One can see the advantages of this style of water treatment and why it’s been introduced as an environmentally sensitive alternative to heavily engineered detention ponds or manufactured interceptor devices. The ponds not only treat pollution and result in better quality water downstream, they can add habitat and conservation values amongst other benefits.
It’s a good initiative that could have better outcomes if given a higher degree of flexibility with its design and implementation.
These ponds are generally handed over to local authorities as stormwater assets and the macrophytes planted need to be harvested every four to five years when they reach holding capacity. The authority naturally wants easy access to remove the plants and collected silt with a large excavator and lay that out on hardstand areas to dry out before being taken away. 3.5m wide access roads, hardstand areas, piles of silt and wet ‘bull rushes’ are somewhat incongruous with the desired effect of a natural looking water body in a golf course setting.
In an effort to reduce the area of hard surface and soften the visual impact we used grass pavers when designing drying areas and path widenings. Fortunately however after much debate with Council, the client agreed to make themselves or any future golf course operator responsible for the ongoing maintenance of the ponds. The result is much more acceptable for the initial aesthetics and also reduces likely damage to the course longer term by using a small machine to remove the silt and wetland plants and transporting that directly by trailer to the composting area.
Being responsible for the residential layout and knowing the minimum acceptable residential limits, we were acutely aware of fitting the golf holes into the space available. As is often the case we were squeezed further in places to enhance the marketability of some blocks. The available space had already determined a par of 33 for the course during the planning phase and as a result of working through playing strategies to optimise safety we determined a maximum length of 2150m was appropriate.
At this length the course was never going to be about long holes, which are generally an overused way of making courses more difficult. Our unashamed objective was to design for the target market of the average golfer while making the course accessible and acceptable to the learner. At the same time we have created positional play options that require thoughtful and proficient shots to challenge the better player.
One of the joys for the average player to experience on this course is that with moderate play every green should be reachable in regulation. The four par-3s vary from 120m to 166m, while the quartet of par-4s range from only 256m to 307m and it is visually obvious that the penalty the hazards present increase as the hole lengths of both groups decrease.
Similarly the lone par-5 at 450m looks reachable in two shots on paper; however the decision to lay up or attempt to carry a little pond that runs from 220m to 250m from the tee will be a deciding factor in the tee shot. While a pinch point some 40m short of the green with water right and deep carry traps left will rule out reaching the green in two unless you have carried the pond.
This type of playing strategy is repeated throughout the course with sensible positions on all fairways that the average player will be happy to find. While the longer hitter will need to decide whether to leave the driver in the bag and share those lay-up zones, or try for more distance at much greater risk.
The construction works for the project officially got underway in June 2012 when the civil contractor commenced bulk earthworks for the golf course and subdivision. Specialist golf course construction and maintenance company Turnpoint began golf works on the east site in September 2012. In spite of delays due to poor weather, lack of access to west site holes and a variety of other impediments to a smooth flowing program, they were very accommodating and achieved an excellent result in construction standards and design implementation. Contractually they had the golf course practically complete by July 2013.
The growing conditions in the Geelong region during spring and summer of 2013/14 were extremely unkind and prudently the client has resisted any temptation to open the course before playing surfaces and surrounds are well established.
At the time of writing it is anticipated that the course will open late in 2014, which is by most standards a pretty good turn around given the climatic conditions. Having spent a decade or more on several projects that have either been written off or are yet to proceed, three years of involvement at Geelong from project introduction to the completion of physical construction is very satisfying.