These days most of our work in Europe consists of re-modelling existing older golf courses. Fortunately, we still design and supervise the construction of new courses although they are mostly outside Europe.
There is nothing more frustrating than the re-modelling of an existing course as most clubs have 600 members that all think they are golf course architects.
I always ask them: why did you hire me if you can do it better yourselves? The reason is simple: they must have somebody to blame for all the unavoidable criticism that will follow the re-modelling!
The first thing I tell them is that they should stop altering the course at the whim of every successive president, captain, or course committee.
Especially, as many presidents, captains, and golf course committees want to be remembered so they install a monument to themselves on the course during their tenure.
And what is the easiest monument to construct? A bunker! And it does not matter where! Just install a great big bunker! In fact, the more incongruous and misplaced it is, the more they will be remembered! Especially as most often these bunkers are installed without any precise purpose or strategic value whatsoever except to “give the line”, “enhance the course aesthetically”, or “for the eye”. I never really understood such logic but it seems to be a favourite transatlantic reasoning.
We must never forget that the players we should be catering to are the 18-54 handicappers and they are all extremely attracted to that great fantastic white sand (silica of course) as they think that they are on holiday in the Caribbean. And why not a nice pot bunker? Which fits into the Central European golf course landscape like an igloo in the Sahara desert! Unfortunately and in general, many captains and committees suffer under the “AUGUSTA” syndrome. As far as I am concerned, Augusta is definitely the worst example of a sustainable, environmentally friendly, and ecological golf course. Greta would be shocked! I’m actually not a fan of fairway bunkers and prefer to work with trees and natural hazards.
Especially as, Central Europe only benefits from a maximum of 8-10 people to maintain an 18-hole golf course. Crazy bunker follies are therefore simply not affordable where wages and social benefits are so high!
Furthermore, bunkers are an enormous pain to maintain properly and there is nothing worse than a badly maintained bunker especially as most of our dear golfers do not rake them anyway! And, it is always the greenkeeper’s fault if the bunkers are not maintained properly!
I tell them that they should commission me to prepare a master plan that includes all my proposed suggestions. The committee can then comment and finally approve the master plan and decide what the priorities are according to their budget and the optimum disruption in play. But they must stick to the master plan even it takes 10 years to implement it!
I had the great pleasure of re-modelling two courses lately where the excessive bunkers were the main quandary. On the first course, we actually closed 28 rather enormous and absolutely useless bunkers that were constructed by a succession of excited captains and committees. Whereas the captain (an Augusta fan) of the second course, commissioned an enlightened American architect to re-model a beautiful 18-hole course designed by my father. Seeing as the routing was excellent and within an area of only 77 acres, there was not much he could do. So, what did he do? He put bunkers everywhere! Another bunch of “aesthetic” bunkers to “please the eye”. Many of those bunkers were absolutely useless strategically and just a complete pain in the neck for the “normal” player. (Is there a “normal” golfer?) Five and a half hour rounds became the norm despite it being a PAR 68 only measuring 6,200 yards from the tips. We closed 23 bunkers on that course! And we saved 40% in working hours for the first course and 50% for the second course! Both courses have returned to an average of 4.30 hour rounds.
The usual critics said that the courses would be a lot easier to play without those “fantastic” bunkers. But, on the contrary, the average score did not decrease at all! We all know that a bad player plays badly whether there are bunkers or not, he just plays worse if there are many bunkers! Whereas, the “good” player is not really bothered by bunkers at all.
One thing is certain: I’m the best friend of both superintendents who can now finally concentrate their team’s efforts on maintaining the actual golf course and not waste their time trimming the edges, relocating the sand, and raking many useless and superfluous bunkers manually or mechanically!
This was first published by Golf Course Architecture and can be found here.
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