Paul Jansen: Golf Architect and Global Traveler

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Golf in Denmark and Golf Sustainability in Scandinavia

The Scandinavians do a lot of things RIGHT which was very evident having visited Denmark this past week.

I spent a few days touring golf courses on route to Aalborg (in Jutland) from Copenhagen with the impressive Thomas Hoffmann Jepsen (of the Danish Golf Union). At the same time I got too met with some of the key players in golf like Royal Copenhagen Green Keeper & Chairman of the Danish Green Keepers Association Mr.Martin Nilsson. Also I got to mingle with some of the other green keepers along the way and found each one of them to be remarkably good at what they do and particularly given the constraints they have to work with (more of that to come later).

I was invited to Denmark to talk at the annual Danish Green keepers Association meet about “Modern Golf Design and the time it takes to play golf”. It was particularly motivating talking to a 125 strong crowd and great to share some of my thoughts on a key subject moving forward.

I rarely get the opportunity to enjoy some of the places I visit for work but this time I took the time out to enjoy some of Copenhagen (See: http://www.jansengolfdesign.com/blog/copenhagen-and-denmark-golf-and-sightseeing/)  From there I journeyed north by car with Thomas who had arranged that we tour Royal Copenhagen first

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The landscape at Royal Copenhagen

Royal Copenhagen GC is surely one of the great golf experiences and indeed one of the most unique. The golf course is sat on 800ha of land owned by the royal family but with public access  – as is the case with every other golf course in Denmark. The park has more than 7 million visitors every year – mostly thanks to the amusement park “Bakken” in the south end – and is fenced because of the 2700 deer roaming the property and golf course. Nobody knows who the original golf architect is other than I am told he was a tall, elderly gentleman from England who liked to tango. The golf course was recently renovated by Tom Mackenzie.

The walk from the car park to the clubhouse is a long one but sets the tone for things to come as golfers get to enjoy this remarkable landscape comprising of rolling terrain, fescue and native grasses + trees sat sporadically about the landscape and on the periphery . The golf course is pesticide free due to its location in one of the country’s most highly protected landscapes but overall it’s a great model of sustainability with limited amount of grass areas needing to be maintained – I think the number was 22 ha. Royal Copenhagen only have 6 green staff. The experience itself is remarkable – as you will note from the photographs below – and is certainly one of the most distinct and characterful golf courses I have ever visited.

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The walk from the car park to the clubhouse

What struck me most about the golf courses I visited and having spoken at length to the people maintaining these courses is how sustainable they needed to be. For starters salaries are high in Denmark so it’s a luxury to have a large staff contingent (large being 6 – 8 people with many clubs having only 2 – 3 people maintaining the entire golf course). More so legislation is so strict that input (water, pesticides, fertilizers etc) by law has to be minimal. In that regard I CANT HELP BUT THINK THAT THE ONLY WAY WE WILL CHANGE OUR GOLF CULTURE AND PRACTICE IN MANY PARTS OF THE WORLD  -WHERE GOLF HAS BECOME UNSUSTAINABLE – IS FOR GOVERNMENTS TO LAY OUT MUCH MORE STRICTER LAWS AND REGULATIONS AS TO WHAT CAN AND CANT BE DONE . In Denmark I can play a round of golf on a course such as Royal Copenhagen for as little as 30 euro and much of this is because very few golf courses in Denmark are over-designed, overbuilt and over-maintained (which obviously comes with a hefty price tag).

From Royal Copenhagen we headed a few miles north to Rungsted GC. Rungsted is an exclusive part of Denmark (in a country with a strong and indeed large middle class) just north of Copenhagen with property prices as high as any in the country.

Rungsted GC was originally designed by Englishmen Charles Mackenzie (brother of the more famous Alister Mackenzie) and managed today by Englishmen Ian Tomlinson who has been at the club for the past 17 years. The golf course is not an easy one to maintain given a good percentage of it is laid out over peat material. Its a wonderful route (different from the original) with holes that sweep up and down the terrain and in different directions each time taking advantage of some feature or features. The far rough – previously maintained grass – is now native vegetation and this gives the course a real identity and lessens the maintenance scope of course . A rail line separates 5 of the holes on the back nine.

Rungsted is a wonderful walk in nature and an easy one. Rather refreshingly the tees are close to the greens which helps create a seamless walk.
Rungsted is a wonderful walk in nature and an easy one. Rather refreshingly the tees are close to the greens – as shown in this picture for holes 5 and 6 – which helps create a seamless walk.

From Runsgted we carried on north where we caught a ferry across to the city of Aarhus and then north from there to Aalborg GC and Nordvestjysk GC

Aalborg GC is the second oldest golf club in Denmark and a lovely 27 hole complex on the outskirts of the city. The golf course has some nice holes – many skirting around stand alone water features and others privately framed by trees. Nordvestjysk is a true hidden gem and has potential to be one of the best golf courses in Europe. The site is magnificent and characterized by large sand dunes, wonderful ground contours, heather and coastal thicket. The golf course meanders through the dunes like a roller-coaster and most times is exhilarating. Both Nordvestjysk GC (it’s in a nature park) and Aalborg GC are maintained by less than 6 people and obviously use very minimal input in the upkeep of the course. They both get about 25 – 30 000 rounds per year which seems to be somewhat of an average mark in Denmark

Given the low lying land and high water table there are a few stand alone ponds at Aalborg all positioned rather strategically
Given the low lying land and high water table there are a few stand alone ponds at Aalborg – but all positioned rather strategically
Nordvestjysk is a remarkable golf site with a lot of potential
Nordvestjysk is a remarkable golf site with a lot of potential

For much more detailed information on why the Scandinavians are leading the way when it comes to sustainability please visit – Danish Greenkeepers Association: http://greenkeeper.dk/ and the Scandinavian Turfgrass and Environmental Research foundation  http://www.sterf.org/

Lastly attached to the Nordvestjysk GC (and also Rungsted) was a short 6 hole pitch and putt course. These are the kind of facilities I wish we saw more of today. These are the types of facilities that help grow the game given that they are well suited to beginners (people starting out), families and and also people that have limited time to play but want to head out for an hour or so and hit some balls.

There is a lot to like about golf in Denmark and I look forward to heading back one day to learn more. Enjoy some more pictures below.

6 hole pitch and putt course at Nordvestjysk
6 hole pitch and putt course at Nordvestjysk

A fallen tree at Royal Copenhagen

A fallen tree at Royal Copenhagen. Given the environmental legislation any tree that dies / falls over is not allowed to be moved and this in most cases helps create a memorable scene

The wonderful Royal Copenhagen - watch out for the cyclist
The wonderful Royal Copenhagen – watch out for the cyclist
Hunting retreat at Royal Copenhagen
Hunting retreat at Royal Copenhagen
Trees on the periphery at Royal Copenhagen
Trees on the periphery at Royal Copenhagen
Lovely Par 4 3rd hole at Rungsted
Lovely Par 4 3rd hole at Rungsted
Train line bounding the right side of the 12th hole at Rungsted
Train line bounding the right side of the 12th hole at Rungsted
A remarkable environment for golf at Nordvestjysk
A remarkable environment for golf at Nordvestjysk

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