SAGCA’s two female members, Kristine Kerr and Lyne Morrison, got together for a Q + A session on the courses of their careers over the past 25 years. Though never having worked together, they both started with the same company at different times, have been based internationally and each now run their own design businesses. (– Lyne Morrison)
What attracted you to golf course design?
LM: I was a keen junior golfer and spent most of my spare time playing – after school, weekends and school holidays. From a young age, pre-teens, I was intrigued by the make-up of the courses; why they were set out in the manner they were, how they were taken care of, what made one course more appealing than another etc. There were times when I instinctively felt things could be better attended to, that certain greens or bunkers would provide more interest to the player if the shaping were better thought out, for example. I had no idea there was such a thing as ‘golf course design’… then as a young teenager my parents gave me ‘The World Atlas of Golf’ as a Christmas gift. That was the beginning of my exploring the subject further and that early connection with the course environment stayed with me.
KK: In that regard, we couldn’t be more different! I had been around golf for much of my life: my father was a scratch golfer and we moved to Australia from NZ when I was 10 as my parents were involved in the early development of Palm Meadows – Queensland’s first golf country club – and we spent time wandering the farm prior to its development. Growing up on the Gold Coast I was surrounded by new golf resorts springing up.
However, while I love it now, as a youngster I found golf a bit dull and I preferred faster sports and activities like tennis, gymnastics and sailing. Due to that, I have an understanding of what can be ‘not fun’ about golf and a goal is to design courses that are enjoyable for a broader spectrum.
So while I “fell into” golf design as a career, it followed on from my studies, and coming from a farming / construction / sporting background, I loved the combination of design, wide open spaces, creating something beautiful on a very large scale, and sport. I love a challenge and the opportunity to create them on a golf course.
Did you study something related to golf?
KK: Landscape Architecture / Urban and Regional Planning at QUT in Brisbane.
LM: Undertaking a degree in Landscape Architecture was a stepping stone to the profession and whenever I could I directed project work towards golf. For example, I studied the workings of the clubhouse environment for a major planning project. Later I completed my thesis in golf course design.
There was no internet in those days and research took time. I sent letters off to a handful of design firms requesting information with a bank cheque included to encourage a response. A few responded and provided planning material including Robert Trent Jones’ office, and Frank Hannigan from the USGA. Michael Wolveridge was very generous with time and materials; he invited me to his office, took me on a site visit and provided access to his library. In many respects Michael’s early input encouraged me to pursue things further.
How did you get into golf course design as a career?
LM: In 1988 the Sydney office of Belt Collins Australia was looking for a young designer with Landscape Architecture qualifications and golf knowledge to join their team and I began working for them a few weeks after completing my thesis. From there I moved to the Honolulu office of Nelson & Wright to work directly with ASGCA members Robin Nelson and Rodney Wright. In essence I began an apprenticeship of sorts, learning and practising the process and stages necessary to bring a course project together. These were busy times, long hours were the norm whether in the office, travelling through the Asia Pacific region or on site. I was learning every day, soaking in everything they had to share and remain grateful to Robin and Rodney for this opportunity.
The workload continued to increase and for practical reasons Nelson & Wright set up a base in Singapore. We were one of the early architectural firms to set down roots in Asia and I moved from Honolulu to support Neil Haworth with this initiative.
KK: In 1992 my parents were living in Singapore, so after completing my degree and travelling in Europe I moved to Singapore. With the Asian golf boom in full swing, I firstly joined Peter Dalkeith Scott, as a junior working on the masterplanning, golf and landscape of Pulai Springs and Austin Hills in Malaysia, and Song Be in Vietnam. Enjoying the golf side particularly, I went to work with Nelson & Wright in 1993 – somewhat following in your footsteps in Singapore as you had returned to Australia.
Entering the profession then was market-led with a strong demand for new courses in Asia and likewise I felt I served an almost ‘apprenticeship’, learning by doing. Neil Haworth and Rodney Wright were really great mentors, teaching me everything involved in the creation of plans and construction supervision.
In the early 1990s, all work – from graphic masterplans to grading, cut-and-fill and drainage – was hand-drawn rather than in CAD. Doing the cut-and-fill calculations by hand with a planimeter meant that with an area of 50-60Ha one got quite good at balancing earthworks! I still do my drawings by hand and have specialist golf CAD operators prepare construction drawing packages from there. (On smaller projects I don’t use CAD at all.)
As a sister company to BCA, we sometimes had the opportunity to work on the landscape design of our courses, which was also very satisfying.
Who have you worked with and on what sort of projects?
LM: In the early days with Robin Nelson I worked on a number of Hawaiian projects including Mana Lani. Our work ranged from resorts to housing developments. I learned to grade projects through varied and challenging sites including Hawaiian lava fields and Japanese mountains, we incorporated historic archaeological remnants into site works and honoured local cultures. I also worked on the Mangilao Golf Course in Guam and other sites in France, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Australia.
KK: The majority of projects I’ve been involved with are considered ‘championship courses’, often with associated real estate or resort facilities. Early on with Nelson Wright Haworth these ranged from 27- and 36-hole layouts of Tiara Melaka and Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Clubs and the gorgeous Shan Shui in Sabah with a river running through a former palm plantation.
Leaving Singapore in the late 1990s for London, as well as golf masterplanning, I worked with Gary Player Design, on resort / championship style courses in Italy, the Czech Republic and site visits to Soma Bay on the Red Sea in Egypt. Later I worked on site in China for Gary Player on the Nanjing Zhongshan International, which was constructed to host the 2005 National China Games and in 2014 held the Youth Olympics Golf.
Following Nanjing, I was offered the Pegasus Golf and Sports Club design in New Zealand, which became my first ‘own’ design, and upon opening it was three times host to the NZ Ladies Open, co-sanctioned with the LET and ALPG. I’m working on the design of a new tournament course and academy in NZ, with Sir Nick Faldo, as well as a tournament course in the Pacific Islands and several remodelling projects.
Has the focus/ style of projects changed?
LM: After a number of years I returned to Australia and today work regionally, assisting clubs to improve play for their members and guests. In many respects this is a more difficult area of the profession to work in when compared to new works because it involves collaborating with people who are emotionally invested in their course and are wary of change. The majority of clubs also have limited budgets and there are times when the preferred project solution from an architectural perspective is not possible due to project constraints or boundaries set by a club.
KK: Commencing work in the 1990s in Asia, the design style was very ‘American’, with wide fairways, rolling undulations, mounding, big bunkering, lots of water where possible and at least four tees on every hole. It was a time of some excess, budgets were big and being able to create expansive designs for luxurious projects was exciting.
There is a current fascination with links-style design, which while it can be attractive I don’t believe is appropriate for every site and project. It’s often not as environmental nor low maintenance as it appears and can cause slow play.
While for many years architects have tried to promote an environmental approach to design, materials, use of land and resources, clients may shy away from investing in environmental solutions in order to save up-front costs. That is changing slowly, as the environmental onus leads to an enhanced reputation for courses, lower operational and maintenance costs and more varied aesthetic that suit a location and climate.
There is certainly a lot more remodelling work around now; with improvements in golf equipment technology, clubs want to see strategy and placement of hazards updated accordingly. Members vary between wanting longer courses from the tips, and shorter courses from the forward tees.
I am big fan of having a variety of golf courses on offer and I am a proponent of shorter courses which can be made equally fun and challenging as a long course, yet take less time to play and obviously demand fewer resources.
What are your project highlights?
LM: I enjoy all aspects of my work and it is always interesting to see what will evolve through the process of design; I enjoy putting the ‘jigsaw’ together – pulling all the various elements into a whole.
The challenge for any architect is to see planned work translate into the built form. Projects can sit on desks and in fi les for years before progressing; however, there is no doubt that when things do move forward we experience the profession at its most rewarding.
I think every architect most enjoys the process of building – the coming together of the thinking and the planning, coupled with the fi ne tuning onsite – and I am no different. When I can hand over to the client, superintendent and golfer a quality product that addresses a project brief and provides engaging golf for a range of player… this is golf course design at its most satisfying.
And the highlights of the profession?
KK: I’m somewhat nomadic, so I have been largely freelance and lived in a number of different countries. Hence travel to spectacular and diverse locations, meeting people in the industry and experiencing different cultures are all very alluring parts of the business for me.
The combination of design and being outdoors in beautiful places is also hard to beat.
Does being female make a difference that you can pinpoint?
LM: I think the key difference in being a female architect is that I consider the slow swing speed game more closely than perhaps others do, in addition to addressing the needs of the more accomplished player. Some designers don’t have the opportunity – or perhaps take the opportunity – to play with regular club women or seniors and consequently fall short in understanding how course design can impact their play.
KK: I agree. Several years ago I played golf with a friend my age, a single-figure handicapper who’d been golfing his whole life (not a designer however) and I was the first female he’d golfed with! In working with existing clubs I always find that the women perceive and appreciate that I want to make a course interesting and playable for them, giving them options in how to play a hole. Men get two or three sets of tees and women only one. Fortunately in NZ we are working on ‘de-sexing’ tees; for example at Pegasus the forward tees have been rated for men also and the ‘white’ tees rated for ladies. At the historic Waitangi course we are in the process of shortening the course from the forward tees, and having those rated for men also.
As designers we all need the same set of germane skills – though I’ve been told that I often pay more attention to detail than many male designers.
Do you have any stories related particularly to being a female on the job?
LM: There is no doubt that as a non-traditional field, golf course design can be a challenging profession for any female. Women with the appropriate set of skills and who are prepared to put in the hard work do however have a worthy contribution to make. As we typically work with men, it is my experience those who are most comfortable in their own skin are the most rewarding to work with – gender becomes irrelevant and project work becomes the primary focus.
KK: In the early days Nelson Haworth thought it not prudent to send me to China where site conditions were often not particularly sanitary… one of my colleagues hailed one of the sites as Mad Max’s ‘Beyond Thunderdome’.
I’m told that client hospitality can be different when I’m around – and which can be appreciated. There is of course a difference in how people treat you but that has always positive in my experience.
What are your favourite projects?
LM: I’ve been fortunate to have had many unique project experiences across a range of interesting countries. I’ve seen lava fields transformed in Hawaii, worked on the edge of the Pacific Ocean in Guam and been on the team of large scale projects with big budgets throughout Asia. Some years ago my response may have been different but over the course of time my favourite projects have become those with a more human story attached to them. It’s a wonderful thing when someone approaches you unexpectedly to thank you for your work and to share with you that something you have produced has personally touched their experience or connection with our game.
A few years ago I assisted the Murrumbidgee Country Club with the development of a short course, a concept that was somewhat foreign and controversial for members at the time. The majority of women were finding the traditional course layout too demanding and were leaving both the game and the club. Working with the budget constraints and the needs of the superintendent I produced a layout that remained challenging for the majority. The course continues to provide interest, thoughtful approaches are required and a solid short game is necessary to score well. The removal of long carries and unnecessary length provides a game that is not overwhelming or time-consuming for the higher handicap and slower swing speed player, while low-handicap golfers are provided a fresh perspective to sharpen their game.
The short course is played by both men and women and is fully incorporated into the club calendar – the senior men use it for scheduled competitions and the club hosts an annual short course championship. The layout is accepted by most, including some early detractors. The fall in memberships has halted. I have had players tell me they would have left the game without this playing option. One woman shared that the course brought her back to the game after finding golf “too difficult”; another fellow who had been a sceptic was able to use the course as a transition back to the game after serious illness – and he brought his low handicap mates with him.
Many members don’t like change at their home course but this project showed that with good intent, clear communication and a little patience, golfers can adapt and positive outcomes are achievable.
KK: Seriously, almost all of them for the creation of something delightful. To narrow it down: for magnificent locations and fabulous clients, Shan Shui in Sabah; Palazzo Arzago in Italy; Pegasus in Christchurch for being my first ‘own’ design, successfully hosting the Ladies Open three times (and which unlike Frank Lloyd Wright advised, I didn’t have to move away to avoid driving past any mistakes,) For remodelling existing courses: Waimairi Beach, being a unique post-earthquake scenario and affording the opportunity to totally transform the 80-year-old course; and historic Waitangi for being so friendly with one of the most spectacular and symbolic sites in New Zealand.
What potential is there for female infl uence?
LM: As a regular and involved club player for many years now I have seen a broad variety of golfer. I am perhaps unusual to many other designers in that I’ve had the opportunity to observe the game of women especially, but also seniors and beginning juniors close up for decades now. These slower swing speed players are largely overlooked when it comes to design and course set-up. The challenge presented from the red tee is often too difficult, lacks interest and requires a defensive approach to the game more often than it should.
The odd lay-up has always been part of the game. However, when this approach is a regular requirement for a golfer to navigate a course, then enjoyment diminishes and the pace of play slows. When golf is not fun the desire to commit or stay with the game is impacted. Many architects suggest they design for all levels of play but the on-course reality can be quite different. As a profession we need to be better informed of best practice design principles for the slower swing speed golfer. We must also encourage clubs to consider the benefits of elasticity and to adopt yardages and course set-up procedures that encourage enjoyable and inclusive golf for a range of player. In general terms, the way our courses are designed discourages the golfer with a shorter carry and lower-trajectory ball flight.
As designers we all need to commit to working with guidelines that have proven to bring positive change for these players. Alice Dye introduced this subject to the industry some 30 years ago but in Australia designers continue to set up courses that are too hard to play for women, many seniors and beginners to the game.
KK: Following on from that, beyond design, there is also the capacity that being visible as a female in the profession can encourage more female participation in the sport, simply by demonstrating that it can be a great industry and entertaining sport for women. Female golf pros these days are absolutely amazing too. I know both male and female spectators who enjoy watching women’s golf, not just because the girls look great, but also because their game, while incredibly skilful, is somewhat more realistic for many amateurs.