Crafting the best golf courses

Gary Player, a former golf great, now crafts the playing field. He tells us what goes into designing some of the best courses

Published: Nov 9, 2015 06:06:07 AM IST
Updated: Oct 30, 2015 04:16:25 PM IST
Crafting the best golf courses
Image: Kaia Means
This is the finished product of the diagram. The view of the Black Sea was a very important element in the design process

Ideal location and landscape
We have beautiful courses all around the globe across a variety of landscapes. Our most dramatic designs have a common theme—they border a major water body. For example, Saadiyat Beach Golf Club in Abu Dhabi, Mazagan Beach Resort in Morocco and Thracian Cliffs in Bulgaria are all along the sea. Generally speaking, sandy soil provides the best medium for quality turf. It also offers the most flexible landscape for shaping the course.

The land always dictates the design of a golf course. We try to route each hole to minimise earth works, but still maximise view corridors.

Natural requirements    
The first questions we always ask a developer are about the water source; water is fundamental to any project, and is often underestimated.

Beyond that, there are no absolute requirements in terms of natural elements. Although sandy soil is preferred, sand capping is possible even with rocky sites and those with clay-like soil.

Crafting the best golf courses
This image shows the par 5, 14th hole at Thracian Cliffs in Bulgaria. Notice the marks that we call turning points at industry standard distances. For example, the tee shot landing area is 259 metres, and the second shot landing area is 191 metres.  We strategically narrowed the fairways and placed bunkers around those turning points, which affect the challenge of the golf hole.  Also visible on the diagram are contour lines that not only create variety in fairways, but also promote important draining requirements. Without drainage, proper conditions will not exist for healthy turf.  These are just a few of the technical processes of golf course design.

I love contrast in colours, textures and scenery. We achieve this through thoughtful landscaping plans, grass selection and bunker sand colour. From a strategic standpoint, we put great thought into placement of bunkers throughout our courses.  In today’s design business, it is largely about length. Unfortunately, the governing bodies don’t control the advancement in technology surrounding the equipment.

The ball now travels at least 50 yards farther than when I was in my prime. As designers, we are forced to adapt by lengthening our designs to keep up. I have been on record expressing concerns about this trend as longer courses raise every cost associated with maintenance.

(This story appears in the 13 November, 2015 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Kaia Means

    Hi, Thanks so much for focusing on Gary Player, who is one of the great golf course architects. I took the photograph of the golf course that is published in this article. I'm honored that Mr Player uses it to show off his courses. If anyone would like to see more of this type of photo see my golf photography website

    on Feb 15, 2016