Mark Adam

Date: Tue 16 Apr 2019

10 Questions for ... Mark Adam MEIGCA

The latest in the popular series of Member Profiles where you can get to know our members better.

1. Why did you want to be a golf course architect?

My father was Scottish and during my early childhood, I accompanied him on golf courses, at first caddying and later learning to play. My mother was Canadian, and a well-know painter and garden designer. Young, I studied in a preparatory school on an estate in Wiltshire, England, where the gardens had been designed by Capability Brown. This school was also close to megalithic monuments such as Stonehenge and the Uffington horse. This particular context made it such that I naturally became interested in garden design, golf and land art. Rapidly I knew that I wanted to conceive large open spaces such as golf courses. It was with this in mind that much later I attended the University of Toronto where I graduated in 1985 with a degree in landscape architecture.

2. Which golf course architects do you admire and why?

  • Harry Colt (1869-1951) - He was the pivotal figure in golf’s first global design firm, Colt, Alison & Morrison. He brought many links land heritage golf courses into the 20th century with his renovations and modifications, but he really set a new standard concerning inland courses. He was the first to bring in angles, bends, slopes and undulations into his designs. He wanted his courses to blend with their surroundings, to be part of the landscape. He introduced the concept of dog-leg designs and the setting of bunkers at different angles to the line of play. His courses today are memorable and fun to play, a tribute to this great golf course architect.
  • Alister MacKenzie (1870-1930) - He was very influenced by the Old Course at St. Andrews, for its naturalness, playability and endless amounts of shot options. In his books Golf Architecture and the Spirit of St.Andrews, he set out 13 design principles which as still in use today and form the backbone of many of our golf course designs today. His deep understanding of camouflage learned in the military, made him a master at blending his man-made features with the natural look and feel of a golf course.
  • Tom Fazio (1945 - ) - He is considered as a father of modern golf course architecture and has had a profound influence of my designs and design principles. His holes frequently use framing devices to emphasize desired scales or to maximize dramatic off-course vistas and dramatic bunkering. He tries to fit golf courses into the individual environments they inhabit, with wide driving areas and ample room to play. He really has designed some unique and dramatic golf environments.
  • Coore & Crenshaw - They are leaders in building and designing golf courses that are inexpensive, sustainable and enthralling to play. Their designs stimulate you with difficult strategic challenges and decisions throughout the course. They handle the issue of length on a golf course by creating interesting greens that require judgement on the approach shots and with the putting. They have brought minimalisme and strategic golf back to the forefront of design.

3. What is your proudest design achievement?

Well it has to be the Golf de Saint Marc. It is quite a story. In 1995, my partner Patrick Fromanger and I bought an abandoned landfill site situated 12 km west of Paris, very close to Versailles. Seeing the state of the property covered in concrete, cars, and debris of all sorts over 30 meters in depth in places, no one thought we could build a golf course. We were also at the time in a real estate depression, so were unable to find partners or financing. So in June 1997, we decided that to get this project going, we needed to build the golf course ourselves and self-finance it. So we bought construction machinery and taught ourselves to use them. With a skeleton crew and a tight budget, we started building. First was the practice range. Then we built the first nine holes which we opened in May 2000. We then build the other nine holes which we opened in May 2004. We moved over 1.3 million cubic meters of materials during the total construction. During this time we had a temporary club-house in a redesigned portakin like structure. In 2008 we opened our two tiered bay area in glass on the practice area. No one thought glass and golf balls could go together, but it’s great! You feel outside but covered, it’s all transparent! Then we designed and built a large club-house, which we opened in 2014. So today we have very little debt, own the land and buildings and operate the golf and the restaurant and maintain the golf course. The site is now classified as an area of specific natural interest, incredible when you think it was a landfill! We are one of the golf courses creating the most new golfers. This whole experience has profoundly changed how we design courses today. But what an achievement, to see so many people enjoying themselves in a natural setting that was once a terrible landfill.

4. What are your favourite three golf courses in the World from a design perspective, and why?

  • Cypress Point, California - USA. - Well, it’s an Alister Mackenzie masterpiece woven through cypress, sand dunes and jagged coastline. It sits on one of the most spectacular pieces of property one can imagine. It has an amazing variety of holes. You have some holes that are dune type, then some in woodland and then you finish up with the famous seaside stretch with some of the best holes in the world. When playing this golf course, it felt like sacred ground. Walking this golf course left me with a feeling I’ve never had leaving a golf course. Namely that I had chosen an extraordinary profession and walked on heaven on earth!
  • Black Diamond Quarry, Florida -USA. - Well, it’s a Tom Fazio masterpiece, with some truly spectacular holes playing across and around the rims of two quarry canyons up to 30 meters deep. The quarry holes, 13 through to 17, offer the most spectacular stretch of non water five holes that I have ever played. And seeing this course opened my eyes to the possible use of quarries, landfills and industrial wasteland for golf courses. It’s this golf course that influenced me on the possibility of undertaking the Golf de Saint Marc, my own golf course.
  • North Berwick Golf Club, Scotland. - The West links stands out as a rare gem in the glittering array of Scotland’s seaside golf courses. The sea comes to play on six holes. Some holes present unique design features such as rock walls or huge swales dissecting greens. It has mythical holes such as the Redan, the Biarritz or the Pit. The course is open to local walkers, with a very small club-house and is surrounded by the town. And to boot it has a children’s course. Quintessential golf!

5. What are the greatest challenges you face as a golf course architect?

Well today quite frankly, it is securing a new build project, that will come to fruition. New projects are so few today, and there are so many hurdles to be overcome such as financing, opposition to the project and all the planning process. Historically we have always had problems to be paid our fees in a timely manner, and unfortunately this trend continues.

6. What environmental or sustainable initiatives have you incorporated into your designs?

New legislation has come into force over the past decade concerning water use and water quality on golf course. The biggest impact has been that now golf courses have to harvest all surface water for use as irrigation, as other water sources such as bore holes are excluded. This has meant that the whole golf course has to be designed with this in mind, implementing sophisticated drainage systems, with out of sight interconnected catchment lakes.

7. How do you see the golf course design industry changing in the next 20 years?

I think it will be much more driven by the entertainment industry. What TopGolf is bringing to golf is but the beginning. We will also have much more really impressive virtual reality golf, with 3D glasses, sound and even smells. These installations will be in malls, airports, and the like, and will be the preferred way to play. Local golf courses will be sold to development compagnies for real estate developments and the expansion of traditional golf courses will be in holiday resort locations.

8. What makes a golf course great rather than just good?

The setting, the views and memorable holes.

9. What advice would you give to an aspiring golf course architect?

Golf course architecture as a business is cyclical, and we are presently in what might be characterized as a severe downturn for the past decade, but there have been periods of boom in the past. So you must squirrel away money in the good times to compensate for the lean years. You also mustn’t make yourself 100% dependent on golf course architecture, but rather look to divest into areas related to golf.

10. What do you enjoy about being a golf course architect?

Having the privilege to conceive three dimensional ideas, concepts and designs and seeing them built. It’s magical and knowing that your design will be there for long and that it will give so much pleasure to people is a real privilege that is difficult to describe. It really gives a sense of purpose to your life. And then there all the fabulous people that I have met and in some cases become friends with, countries visited, environments and cultures that I have been acquainted to. What a pleasurable life journey!

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