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?
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?
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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