A Sense of Place

When I play golf in the desert I want to feel like I am in the desert……..

It seems the best and most loved golf courses have a ‘real sense of place’. They sit harmoniously in their surroundings as if they had been there for an eternity. They certainly don’t look out of place. Think Royal County Down, Shinnecock Hills even a golf course like Utrecht De Pan. Also what about modern golf courses like Sand Hills and Wild Horse in Nebraska and courses as far a field as Laguna Lang Co in Vietnam.

These courses are attractive and work because they are not in conflict with their space rather in tune with the space. Nothing seems out of place. Everything seems right.

But how can one achieve this if the site itself is featureless or lacks representation?

It is of my belief that if the Architect has comprehensively studied the surroundings (and this includes the greater surrounding of course) for sources of information and inspiration, then incorporates these findings into the design, a memorable and recognizable golf experience is possible regardless the site situation…one with a real sense of place.

You got to look to the surrounding landforms, flora, even some hardscapes for guidance and then where it is necessary to move earth the thing should be done with the delivery of a sculptor modeling his clay  (Tom Simpson).

Many golf courses today merely exist with little (if any) relationship with their surroundings and this is a flaw. We need more golf courses that fit seamlessly into their space and have a real sense of belonging….a sense of place.


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Working in a Foreign Environment

Surely if you love what you do where you work does not matter?

Golf as we know it has become a universal game. Heck, there are over 55 golf courses in Iceland!! Most African countries have a golf course or two…even places like Papua New Guinea has golf courses. I cant think of another sport, maybe soccer and fishing, that has as much reach as Golf.

I am one of the lucky guys (and I mean that sincerely) to have worked on golf course projects in places not really known for golf … these places being some distance from recognised golfing zones like North America and Europe. Dont get me wrong, I certainly enjoy working close to home, in a more golf friendly environment, but the challenge of working abroad in a foreign place is exciting and daunting at the same time.

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Crossing a stream on site in Vietnam

The big plus I find ‘working in a foreign environment’ is that most of the sites I visit are interesting and memorable and well suited for golf. I think back to what Golden Age Golf Architect William Flynn said : to have a satisfactory golf course you must first secure a suitable piece of land over which to lay it out.

In most parts of North America and Europe there is an excess of golf courses (so supply exceeds demand in a lot of cases) and what land is available for golf has severe restrictions. In many cases now you have to create a golf course versus find one.

Whilst environment restrictions in Asia, Africa, South America are perhaps not as severe as other parts of the world, they are still prevalent and becoming more strict with the years. Regardless of this it should always be the golf architects responsibility to do as little as possible to create the best that is possible so this should not matter.

It is an adventure visiting new places. Travel can be daunting. Try catch a Tuk Tuk or crossing the road in India or riding a motorbike in Vietnam. Accommodation can be basic at times and communication is always hard. On more than one occasion the Lonely Planet has come in handy.


Snake Charming in India


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Locals cooking us supper in Africa

Then there is the challenge of working with people who have not heard or even seen golf before. That can be interesting. Equipment is often scarce or unreliable and the work culture can be very different from what we are use to.

But it is a about having the right frame of mind, understanding that is is going to be different and making the best of the situation. It is also about enjoying the experience almost embracing it. You got to infuse yourself in that way of life…the culture, the people and the country where possible.

At the end of the day there is so much more satisfaction creating something out of nothing in a foreign place after having really endured and learnt so much at the same time.

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The Travelling Golf Architect

My work has taken me across the globe. I have visited every continent barring South America, have lived permanently in 5 countries and worked in many more. Yes, I am very lucky to have been too so many wonderful places and have learnt a copious amount from each of these experiences but it is not all ‘fun in the sun’.

Some of the downers include acquiring visas (particularly for countries in Asia) and long travel distances + airport delays. For instance travelling from my home (in Canada) to Vietnam will take anything upwards of 24 hours. But for me the the hardest thing is being away from the family….Skype has helped but it is still not perfect.

I enjoy history, meeting new people, tasting local foods and experiencing different cultures so I look to infuse myself as much as possible when I travel to new places for work if possible. In addition to this, I have no problem travelling some distance if it means visiting a golf course I have always wanted to see in that region. I remember visiting a site in Rotterdam (The Netherlands) and then driving the span of the country to visit Noordwijkse GC and Koninklijke Haagsche GC.

I draw a lot of my inspiration from the places I visit and the things I see and this is not only confined to the site. I make every effort to identify what makes the greater area unique (this could be something as simple as Rice Padi fields) and then incorporate this, as much as possible, into the design. On a few occasions I have asked the client to simply drive me around the area such that I can get a good feel for the place. If I am lucky I get to experience this anyway when we drive between our residents and the site.

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Why do you ask is this important? Well a ‘sense of place’ is so important in my view and this certainly stands for any golf course….if I am playing golf in the desert then I want to feel like I am in the desert. Any design should as much as possible conform with the surrounds and this includes the greater surrounds as well. This is a completely different topic that I will explore in my next blog.

You have to like travelling if you do what I do and I am indeed fortunate to have seen so much already. I have certainly developed as an Architect based on what I have seen around the world and I intend to see so much more.

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My first Blog

I have always wanted to express my thoughts on golf course architecture or macro landscape design (as I sometimes refer to it) and this blog affords me this opportunity.

My hope is that I can comprehensively detail my thoughts on golf course architecture based on the places I have worked and the people I have worked with. My thoughts are also a product of the number of great golf courses I have studied in detail and the many books I have read on the subject.

I have a lot to talk about so lets get blogging…..



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