Seven SAGCA members detail their time in the industry, revealing their various pathways to becoming a golf course architect, and noting the changes they have experienced along their journey.
For 25 years the Society of Australian Golf Course Architects (SAGCA) has been the professional society where the golf course designers of the region have met to discuss and take forward the principles and professionalism of Golf Course architecture. During this period the Society has had only 45 members; however, an estimated 500 golf course projects have involved designers who are members of SAGCA. – Editor SAGCA Magazine
The senior members of the Society have witnessed both growth and change in the industry. Over the following pages, seven Architects who have more than 250 years of design experience and designed over 400 projects, discuss how they got into golf course architecture, the challenges, their triumphs and their thoughts on golf course architecture
Photo: David Scaletti
Director – Crafter / Mogford Golf Strategies / SAGCA Member since 1994, Past President
My father Brian Crafter was an Adelaide golf professional who, in addition to his activities of teaching, playing and commentating on television, undertook golf design on a part-time basis. I helped my Dad out with drawings while I was studying Architecture at the University of Adelaide. So I have the honour of being a second-generation golf course architect.
Apart from some small projects in country South Australia, the first large project that Dad and I worked on together was the design of a new 18-hole members course north of Perth called Lakelands Country Club that we built at a minimal cost.
Dad I worked together until 1994 when he passed away. So my biggest challenge was in learning to work by myself without my father to bounce ideas off. Growing up, the sandbelt courses of Adelaide and Melbourne were big design influences. I was and still am heavily influenced by the work of Dr Alister MacKenzie.
Topping the list of the challenges we now face is the distance the golf ball travels. Despite what the R&A might say the ball is travelling further than ever and this is turning most of our better courses into pitch-and-putt layouts. As an example, when I was playing top-level amateur golf in the 1980s, par-5s that I could just reach with a drive and a 4-wood are now being reached by 17-year-old kids with a drive and an 8-iron.
As to where design is heading, certainly there has been a movement in recent years in favour of more naturalistic courses and I feel this will continue. Obtaining great sites for new golf will prove more and more difficult and there will be an increased emphasis in remodelling and improving existing courses more than building new ones, which is a niche of the market that we have always been heavily involved in. We have now completed over 100 projects of varying sizes – some new courses – but the majority is course remodelling, ranging from a new green to a full course rebuild.
My favourite project is the full reconstruction of the course of the Glenelg Golf Club here in Adelaide that we undertook from 1998 to 2004.
We were not greatly restricted by the club in terms of the vision for the course and we were able to remodel it into the challenging and attractive layout it is today, as emphasised by its considerable steady rise in the national rankings. Being located not far from my home and office I was able to spend many days on-site during construction to tweak the design and the shaping to my vision.
Principal – Harrison Golf (design outside Asia), Director –Harrison Kruse (design in Asia) /SAGCA Member since 1998
I did my final-year thesis in Civil Engineering on the golf course/ residential project (Glen Alpine) which Lend Lease were preparing to develop at Campbelltown. Lend Lease then employed me and a year later fi red the incumbent designers Von Hagge, Barnes and Devlin, and took a chance with me on the design. So that was my first design project and I lived on it for six years.
You could also argue that that was the big break that got me into the field; and on the other hand, you could argue that getting the ‘design partner’ role in GWS was what gave my design career momentum and allowed me the opportunity to design The Grand, The Glades, Brookwater, Pelican Waters, Ellerston, National Moonah, Vintage, Sanctuary Lakes, Stonecutters Ridge and others.
It’s very sad to see the Campbelltown course now – it’s in awful shape – but when it opened it was pretty formidable. Even this did not launch me into a number of other projects, partly because our Australian market has always been limited, and partly because of the branding limitation which most of us have run across at some time or another.
From the very beginning I was fanatical about the appearance of holes as well as their strategic merit or interest, and it so happened that the ‘principles’ which I thought were worth following later proved to be somewhat similar to MacKenzie’s. My first real interaction with MacKenzie was a week spent by myself at Augusta in the late ’70s – when nobody else was on the course. So I’m not sure whether that means that MacKenzie influenced or inspired my design or not?
The obvious change in the industry is the one that affects us all – the equipment. This certainly has made the design task a very difficult one because the difference (mainly length) between what pros can do and ordinary players can do has grown significantly. On the other hand, it’s a matter of pride for me that none of the courses I am now doing will reach 7000 yards, even from the very back. And it’s pleasing to know that a small number of others in the field – all doing well – have more or less adopted the same principle. My course at Ardfin on the Scottish isle of Jura, as an example, is about 6950 yards from the very back – at par 73.
There have also been radical changes in agronomy, and maintenance and presentation of courses. It’s interesting to watch old films of The Masters, for example, where even as late as 1975 the greens looked slow and patchy – at least by comparison with today’s standards. The shape and speed of Augusta’s surfaces, particularly on the back nine, is what makes the last nine at The Masters so totally absorbing and so terrifying from the golfer’s point of view. They weren’t meant to be that way.
Nor were the greens at lots of the other older courses, which were probably designed with a stimp reading of 6 or 7 in mind rather than 12, 13 or 14. In Augusta’s case it has put the course right on the brink of being silly, but without being so. And in the process, totally enthralling.
With regard to changes in my own design process or ideas, my memory is a little vague but I imagine that I have progressively placed more and more emphasis on designing green sites so that chipping off perfect surfaces was an integral part of the game and fairly demanding, even for good players, to get close to at least some of the pins spots – in stark contrast to what you see week by week on American television with barbed wire rough ringing each of the greens. I’ve probably also grown more committed to the interest that shorter holes can provide – reachable par-5s with a premium on reward for the risk, and in particular reachable par-4s with the same risk/ reward, but perhaps even more punishment for a ‘risk gone wrong’. The years spent working in Asia on mountainous ground which a century ago would have been considered unsuitable for golf also developed the skill of extensive contour drawing to define reasonable golf for a minimum cost while maintaining an attractive look to the landscape.
It’s hard to tell where golf course design is now heading. One critical factor will be what happens in China once the current moratorium is lifted. There were something like 600-700 projects at various stages when the hammer dropped, and it will be interesting to see how many are revived and how many new ones are allowed. Other parts of Asia will also play a part. But that’s about the marketplace. In more established markets there’s a prospect that 18 holes takes too long to play, occupies too much valuable ground, and costs too much to construct and maintain. So there is an argument that some new projects might well be nine or 12 holes.
One recent change appears to be increasingly less emphasis on signature design – at least the type that was associated with big-name professional golfers for predominantly marketing reasons. In the early days of golf course design, most of the participants were famous pro golfers, but it might’ve been for slightly different reasons – that they were perhaps considered more likely to know what to do. Then came MacKenzie and thankfully that argument was put to bed. I think MacKenzie never had a handicap lower than 16 but is normally held in the highest esteem and probably as the greatest example that you don’t have to be a first-rate golfer to be a first-rate designer. In his view it was actually an obstacle to design success. In the past 10 years there is progressively more emphasis on choosing prominent designers based on what they can do. This doesn’t mean that Nicklaus and company are finished (although it wouldn’t be a bad idea – because some parts of the market will still hold on to what they consider to be branding advantage). But it looks like it’s diminishing.
As for scope, I’ve done 30 to 40 courses in Australia, a number of countries in Asia, the US and now Scotland. This is not a huge number, but they’ve all had my full attention on land which varies from dead flat, flood-prone and featureless (for example, The Glades on the Gold Coast) to totally inspiring (such as Nirwana Bali, National Moonah and Ellerston). And, while golf course ranking is a questionable process, it’s at least pleasing to note that many of these courses have been very well-received and are regarded highly.
Ardfin on Jura is probably my favourite project, although it’s very hard to overlook Ellerston, National Moonah and Nirwana Bali. I’ve seen a lot of the world’s famous and beautiful golf courses, including many of the spectacular seaside courses, but I’ve never seen a site that remotely competes for beauty with Ardfin – or has anywhere near the landscape variety that Jura does. The ground conditions are technically terrible; peat needed to be removed from many of the holes before firm surfaces could be established, plus the stones which form ‘raised beach’ on some of the others needed work. Despite these difficulties this site provides for and encourages holes played diagonally across massive cliffs, and some along them, plus holes playing down the length of natural creeks or adjacent to ancient stone walls, and for more which are intimately associated at a lower level with beaches and a 12th Century castle. And, for these reasons, it takes the cake. It’s really pleasing that four of the par-4s are less than 340 yards, and that they vary greatly in the strategy of play and the phenomenal landscapes in which they sit. I didn’t force this issue, but I’m really pleased that they were there to be found. This is an ‘old world’ course with nothing pristine, and a truthful commitment to make it feel like we did nothing at all.
Director – GNP Golf Design /SAGCA Member since 1992, Past President
Towards the end of my first decade in the workforce as a Design Office Technician for a Civil Engineering and Planning firm, I switched from permanent to contracted employment and enjoyed the flexibility in working hours and a greater variety of design and drafting opportunities.
Around the same time one of my colleagues at the consultancy firm was Ross Watson, who resigned his position to set up as a golf course designer. As Ross’s workload grew, he contracted me to produce his drawings and ultimately assist with the design process.
Given an increasing volume of work and the tax legislation at the time I became a full-time employee and this transitioned to a senior designer position with Marsh Watson International Golf Course Architect, when Ross partnered with Graham Marsh in 1987. That partnership lasted until 1992 and I continued to work for Graham Marsh Golf Design until April 1993 when I set up GNP Golf Design.
One of the first projects I did under my own banner was a Master Plan for Strathfield Golf Club; over a dozen or so years we redesigned 11 of the greens to reflect the realigned layout.
I was fortunate to also secure the design for the Noosa Springs Golf Course quite soon after setting up GNP Golf. Being responsible for the design of a popular 18-hole course that is always very well presented obviously lifts one’s credibility – but then, as now, it is always difficult to secure design commissions and where once a niche in the market may have existed for different designers, now almost all designers are competing at almost all levels of the market.
Having grown up on the Gold Coast I was involved with or witnessed numerous golf courses built on flood plains, mostly funded by Japanese investment. Association with those clients progressively led to massive earth-worked courses being designed and built in mountainous Japan, with huge construction costs and little or no feasibility studies into their long-term operation
This boom of the late 1980s and ’90s in Australia and Japan resulted in an oversupply of golf that remains costly to maintain and we are now seeing the reverse where any new projects are based on very tight business plans, with many existing courses forced to consider reducing playing areas in order to sell off land to balance their books.
I feel the industry faces a tough medium-term prospect whereby it’s unviable to develop marginal sites, while those sites that don’t have significant environmental obstacles to overcome and might be ideal for cost-efficient construction are few and far between, thus highly contested by golf architects worldwide.
We’ve consulted to more than 50 clubs over the 22 years since GNP Golf was formed and most of those discussions resulted in some reconstruction work. We have also designed 12 golfing facilities that have opened for play and of course worked on many dozens of concepts – and in several instances completed course designs that may never eventuate.
The Lynwood Country Club near Pitt Town north west of Sydney is one of our favourite projects; although the site had minimal to offer by way of natural features, it was a good size with workable soil and the club gave us a free hand in terms of design. Although the budget was tight, with Mark Parker Golf as principal contractor and Vince Fleming as shaper, construction flowed smoothly and the results were very satisfying. It’s also encouraging that the new owners of the course have increased the maintenance regime and are allowing us to add some of the finishing touches that weren’t possible under the initial budget.
Director – Parslow & Winter Golf Design / SAGCA Member since 1991, Current President
When very young, I liked designing house plans. In my early teens when I had discovered golf, I more often drew up golf holes or groups of golf holes. At University, I did a civil engineering degree which enabled the flexibility to diverge into golf course design if the opportunity emerged. After finishing my degrees, I worked for an engineering consultant in Melbourne for a year or two before sailing off (as you did in those days) to see the world.
Upon arrival in London, I called the London office of Harris, Thomson & Wolveridge (or a different sequence of names) to seek the possibility of a job in golf course architecture, but no opening was available. A year or two later, in South Africa, I chose not to follow a well-paid job in Engineering product management since it meant deviating further from the career path of possible golf course design – I did Civil Engineering Construction instead. Upon return to Australia four years later, I contacted Mike Wolveridge, who politely advised no opportunities with the fi rm. I took a civil engineering project management job, played a lot of golf and got my handicap down to 1.
My brother Geoff had become one of Australia’s best known young golfers, so we decided to join forces, have a “E and G Parslow and Associates” letterhead printed and start from scratch. Geoff, particularly when playing country tournaments, was often asked his opinion regarding a course’s bunkers, greens, etc so the opportunity was there to suggest we could advise, for a small fee.
I don’t exactly recall our first project; it could have been a bunker relocation sketch for a minimal fee. We needed to get some item(s) on our Company projects list. I recall early on modifying an irrigation dam for Whittlesea Golf Club and a little later preparing designs for the conversion of sand-scrapes to grass greens at Eildon Golf Club.
In 1976, I think, we signed an Agreement to design the first course at Rich River, over the Murray from Echuca. It was for a very small fee but at last we had a full 18-holes, greenfield golf course on our project list.
The biggest challenge was to find sufficient work at a reasonable fee to work as a GCA full-time rather than pursue the difficult balance of a full-time engineering job concurrently with golf course work. In 1979, golf course design work was very limited and the opportunity arose to work overseas with the Engineering Consultancy Company. Being away for two years dried up any potential golf course work. Upon return to Australia in 1981, I continued my engineering work but soon the economy deteriorated and I was retrenched. There was little other option than to restart golf course design work – extremely difficult in the harsh economic climate. Fortunately, Rich River had boomed and I was asked to design the second course.
Growing up near and playing all the courses in the Melbourne sandbelt inspired and influenced my designs primarily from the points of view of working with the topography where possible (not easy at Rich River), incorporating positive features of the existing landscape within the design, and in designing with golf strategy in mind.
Golf courses, particularly in Asia, went through a stage where the course or a particular hole should be the ‘longest’, and an island green required – particularly as a ‘signature’ hole. As the market matures a little, developers are becoming more aware of the high cost of maintaining ‘large’ golf courses and hence more accepting of the logic of smaller, shorter courses with far less area to be maintained in pristine condition. I think design is now heading more in that direction. Many new courses have a real estate component. There seems to be a positive change in limiting the ‘fingers’ of houses into the fairway perimeters to be replaced by a housing community somewhere within the area limits.
Our projects cover the full spectrum, from single bunker designs to full design and project management of new courses within Australia and Asia. We have completed a large number of small and major scale upgrading projects – Let’s say, somewhere over 50 projects. Today, the biggest challenge is continuing survival in a market that has been shrinking in recent years.
Murray Downs Golf & Country Club is my favourite project. I was fully entrusted by a locally based development committee to design and implement the project, without interference from start to finish. They were exceptionally pleasant people to deal with who appreciated my competence and attention to detail, and we remain good friends to this day.
I am pleased to be a founding member of the SAGCA and to see it grow. One of the main intents of the society was to ensure, as far as possible, a high standard of design and integrity from all members. This expectation provides a comfort and confidence in potential clients when considering employing an architect. More specifically, I became involved in the design of Gungahlin GC in Canberra, since engagement conditions required SAGCA membership.
Golf and course design remain a passion. I won’t be retiring from design to just play golf, as the design passion will no doubt remain whilst the passion of play will probably diminish as my scores continue to rise.
Managing Director – Thomson Perrett Golf Architects / SAGCA Member since 1996, Past President
I was born in Leongatha, a small country town 120km south east of Melbourne. My father was a keen golfer and part of a group of local golfers who in 1959 built the Leongatha Golf Club on a sandy site 10km south of the town. He was “the keeper of the plans” prepared by Vern Morcom, then the greenkeeper at Kingston Heath and the son of Mick Morcom who built Royal Melbourne to Dr MacKenzie’s plans with the help of Claude Crockford and Alex Russell.
As an enthusiastic young artist I often copied the plans and sketches and ‘a seed was sown’. It was not until many years later after completing a degree in Architecture that I was inspired by Robert Trent Jones’ statement that “a golf course is the largest canvas known to man” and I decided to pursue a career in golf course design. After finishing a Landscape Masters thesis on Golf Architecture in 1981 I was ready to start – but where?
My lucky break came early in 1983 when I was working with Loder and Bayly, a Planning/Engineering company that was engaged to Masterplan and obtain planning permission got The National Golf and Country Club at Cape Schanck on the Mornington Peninsula coastline. The 250-hectare project included two golf courses and 250 residential lots. Robert Trent Jones Junior was appointed to design both courses – one was to be The National Golf Club, an exclusive private equity membership club, whilst the other (Cape Country Club) was to be a public access course. My role was to be the project landscape architect and be responsible for the preparation of the Masterplan, the Building Guidelines and the establishment of an on-site nursery where we propagated and grew-on more than 600,000 indigenous plants. Working closely with Americans Robert Trent Jones Junior, his Senior Golf Architect Don Knott, lead shaper George Munn and the local construction team was a great learning experience.
By 1984 I had established Ross Perrett Pty Ltd, my own architectural and landscape design practice, to continue the work at Cape Schanck and elsewhere. In addition to designing many houses we also designed several golf courses but none were built. In 1986 I was approached by Michael Wolveridge who said if I worked with him “you will see lots of courses built” – luckily his prediction proved to be correct.
My first project with Thomson Wolveridge and Associates was The Hope Island Resort on the Gold Coast – a massive conversion of a swamp into a high-end integrated residential golf community with over 1000 homes, a hotel, a marina and other recreational facilities. Hope Island was quickly followed by Twin Waters Resort on the Sunshine Coast and projects in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.
To date I been involved in over 70 completed new courses and over 50 renovations in over 20 countries (eg UK, Turkey, UAE, China, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Nigeria, Italy, Ireland, Philippines, Fiji, Oman, Singapore, Egypt, Jersey et al)
The biggest challenge at Hope Island were the constraints of the site. The low-lying site straddled two independent catchments – The Coomera River catchment and the Saltwater Creek catchment –which meant the entire site went under water when either catchment experienced heavy rain. To further complicate matters acid sulphate soils were common on site and their inherent instability influenced the location of deep cuts and fills. The project got lucky when the biggest proposed lake – adjacent to the 18th hole – was in an area of stable ground. To balance the earthworks this lake was excavated to a depth of 35 metres – a decision that saved the project.
In 1994 TWP were engaged to design and build the Dukes Course in St Andrews, Scotland, which provided the opportunity to live in St Andrews with my wife and four young children. Apart from being a wonderful experience for the family, it gave me the chance to get to know The Old Course intimately. Numerous rounds on the Old Course with the locals, daily morning runs over the course followed by a coffee with Course Superintendent Walter Woods, and exposure to the history of the place remains my greatest inspiration. The Old Course has it all – it makes and breaks every rule of golf architecture and inspires the thought that anything is possible.
My favourite project is always the current one, as it means I am still active in my chosen profession. Other favourites include Mount Merapi GC in Indonesia; The Legends Course at Moonah Links; The Links at Tianjin Fortune Lakes in China; Ayodya Links in Thailand; and The Hamilton Island GC in Queensland.
I believe that it is incumbent on professional designers to support their industry bodies so I am proud to be an active member of RAIA (Australian Institute of Architects), AILA (Australian Institute of Landscape Architects), SAGCA (Society of Australian Golf Course Architects) and GEO (Golf Environment Organisation). I was honoured to be able serve SAGCA as President or fi ve years and the opportunities this provided to meet other international golf architects at various forums and events.
On a personal note I would like to thank Past President Michael Wolveridge for giving me the opportunity to pursue a career in Golf Architecture and Peter Thomson, SAGCA’s Patron for his continued guidance and support.
I hope I will be remembered for being a good person who was passionate about the craft of golf course design and one who raised the awareness of the importance of the broader golfing environment. I would get great satisfaction from seeing future generations of golfers of all levels enjoying themselves playing environmentally sustainable courses that I had a hand in designing.
Creating great golf courses remains a challenge and requires significant contributions from a large team of talented hard-working people – so thanks to the thousands who I have been touched by on what has been a great journey so far. May it continue!
Director – Pacific Coast Design /SAGCA Member since 2002
My background was Civil Engineering and doing a cadetship at Melbourne Water (drainage & sewerage design) but during my studies/break I was overseas and got malaria while backpacking in Myanmar and India and came home early. The doctor advised that while waiting to go back to college, that I work outdoors to regain health. A friend got me a job at a golf course as a part of the ground staff, where I fell in love with working on a golf course. When I returned to study I also took on evening classes in Turf Management / Landscape & Horticulture at Burnley Horticultural College (now part of Melbourne University).
When I finished study I worked for a time as an Assistant Superintendent before I was employed as a Construction Project Manager / Golf Superintendent during the redevelopment of the Malvern Valley Golf Course (inner-city Melbourne public 18-hole golf course). It involved a major road going through the property and had to be carried out in two stages. The first involved nine holes under redevelopment, with nine holes open for play, and then when the new nine was ready, the redevelopment of the second nine holes. The project took three years and during that time my responsibilities extended from full project management to being involved in a lot of redesign, resulting from budget issues and major soil volumes being imported from the road works.
Following the golf construction, a back accident and a new set of skills saw myself and a friend who was a surveyor start our own business undertaking design support for golf architects. We were fortunate in that not many golf architects were using computers (1985) and that both of us had good computer skills, software to undertake volumes, new specialist 3D view software, autocad and A0 digitizer – so we were immediately in demand.
During the initial eight years our main income support was design documentation for Greg Norman Golf Design, who had commenced Golf Design out of a Sydney office not long after we had set up and had only one design person in the office. Working with GNGD saw us undertake projects across Asia, which was certainly interesting, but we also undertook work for a number of other local architects, primarily with Australian projects but also some overseas.
Possibly the biggest influence to my further exposure to design contouring during those early years was SAGCA member Ted Parslow, who used us occasionally when busy. Ted had a civil engineering background and was wonderfully detailed in his work with his contouring/design, leading to great-looking golf features. Working with a range of different designers gave me an excellent exposure to varied golf situations, styles and technical issues which stood me in good stead as I started independent design.
Whilst working with golf architects in a consulting role we continued to pursue our own design ambitions and over time we gathered a good project resume, which led to us eventually going full-time into our own design business. Nearly 30 years after starting we are still going strong and I still love going to work every day.
It is always tough in small business and each one is different but a key reason for our survival and growth was when following the first lean period of business in early 1991 we decided to expand overseas and have at least three key markets apart from Australia (SE Asia, China and India). While initially a drain on finances this strategy gave PCD a balance to individual country downturns (which occur in every market) and has enabled us to complete over 50 new golf designs across Asia and many redesign projects over the years.
I am very proud of all the work PCD has completed over the past 30 years; however, I am also aware that some of my earlier work would be quite different if done now as I feel every year I have been involved in golf I am learning and improving. I sleep well knowing that we have always created the best golf within the brief and budget that we could at the time – and that is all anyone could ask.
I have had a number of very satisfying projects but I guess Black Mountain Golf in Hua Hin, Thailand (top 100 in world outside USA/Golf Digest) would have to be really up there, as the client was one of the first to give me artistic licence and a very good budget on a great site.
One that may surprise people would also be Gardiners Run here in Melbourne, a project that took nine years (planning in Australia) and involved relocating 18 holes (due to residential conflict with golf) to a new site at a disused mine five minutes away from the old golf course. Working closely with a supportive club board, manager and golf superintendent and ending up with a very successful golf course the members really love is very satisfying.
I love being there – I hate travelling to get there; nevertheless golf has taken me to every part of the world and I am very proud to have so many friends in India, China, South East Asia, Australia, Iran, Europe and the USA. We have a great team at PCD and without such a team it would have been impossible to achieve what we have over the years in so many parts of the world.
Being a part of the Society of Australian Golf Course Architects has allowed me to mix with golf architects and industry people from across the world and develop many lasting friendships for which I am very grateful. I am 61 this year but have no thoughts of winding down just yet. In my will I have left instructions to be cremated with the ashes spread across one of my golf courses (Gardiners Run). I figure I have spent most of my life on golf courses – why not the rest of eternity? But I am sure that can wait for a long while yet.
Head Designer – Graham Marsh Golf Design /SAGCA Member since 2002
In 1990 I got my start in golf course design when Graham Marsh offered me a job within his organisation; I had a background of studies in Civil Engineering and I had just completed additional studies in Landscape Architecture.
My first golf design work was a long time ago, but I recall in the very early days working on two projects in Malaysia – Tropicana Golf and Country Club and Staffield Country Resort – and a project in Fukuoka, Japan called Mission Valley. In Australia, Robina Woods had just been opened and Horizons and Terrey Hills were just in the very early stages of planning.
If I had a break it was timing – having tertiary qualifi cations in the two very relevant fields of Civil Engineering and Landscape Architecture at a time when the Japanese and Asian golf boom was starting to take off.
As for a design influence, in my early years I did a study tour with Graham to the US where I was greatly impressed by the works of Donald Ross, in particular Pinehurst #2. This was of great interest to me, as during my Landscape Architecture degree, we studied the works of Frederick law Olmsted – the ‘Father’ of Landscape Architecture and the original planner of Pinehurst Resort.
From a design viewpoint two main things have changed. First, when I started back in 1990, the standard increment of design (the tee shot or length of the drive) was measured at 225 metres. But 25 years later we work on 270 or 275 metres, an increase of some 50 metres. Imagine an industry where the standard design measure increased by over 20% in 25 years! It isn’t hard to see why many of the older courses are struggling to defend themselves against modern technology and the subsequent power game.
Second, in the early days, documentation wasn’t all that important, as the earthworks was just bulked out and all finishing works was undertaken by shapers. Quantifying works (BOQs etc) was very vague; in fact, a lot of courses were even tendered at so much a hole. Over the past decade or so we have worked with several major developers, and as a consequence we have had to produce very high levels of documentation and to quantify projects and manage them without variations. This high level of documentation has advanced to the point where GPS-controlled machinery undertakes all earthworks and the majority of shaping. (Note that within our company, all finishing works to bunkers is always undertaken by hand.)
Personally I think the golf course (and the game) has to become more player-friendly. It must provide a platform that allows for a far better introduction to the great game of golf, in particular for women and children as without them the future of golf is quite bleak.
The biggest personal challenges are the same as those faced by the golf industry in general. At a time when golf is very demanding on your time and hip pocket, people are time and money poor so it isn’t hard to see the conflict. Also as mentioned previously, the modern game and equipment are not that compatible with many of the older courses.
As for a favourite project, GMGD recently completed a new 18 holes at Sutton Bay in South Dakota, USA. This was the opportunity to create a new inlands links course on literally a “greenfield” site. Although the surrounding vistas of the lake were stunning, the majority of the site was dead flat fields. To be able to totally create a golf course site was a unique opportunity and one that I will always cherish.