My work as a golf course architect is some ways influenced by the golf courses I get to see on my travels, and the multitude of landscapes I have come to enjoy and appreciate, but more than anything my work is influenced by the environment I am currently working in.
I have learnt over the years that the best golf courses – at least the ones that are the most memorable and fun to play – have a close association with their surrounds which makes them distinct and unique, charming and characterful. Good golf architecture is not as simple as mimicking what has been done before or restoring something to its past glory. Good golf architecture is about developing and implementing a concept that will ensure a golf course remains sustainable moving forward: care for the environment is a big part in achieving this.
Too many golf courses I see around the globe are struggling because they were overdesigned and overbuilt and now require a lot of maintenance. Add to that too many golf courses look and play the same and leave little to discover – they are unmemorable – which is hardly attractive to the golfer (or repeat golfer). In fact if more golf courses were designed and built to take advantage of some existing on-site features - or where this was not possible low cost features were built more often, like contours - they would cost less to build and maintain. Moreover, these golf courses would have a stronger sense of place which is attractive to the golfer.
I became attracted to golf at a young age because it gave me an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors in sometimes spectacular fashion. The golf courses I remember the most and wanted to play again were those that were routed to take advantage of the natural features on and off site. It was the existing features – spectacular trees or natural water courses or some fantastic views – that gave me the greatest pleasure and enjoyment.
Moving forward this appreciation for the natural environment has served me well.
As a golf course architect I have been fortunate to work on a variety of projects across the globe and in each case I have looked to maintain as much of the existing environment as possible to the betterment of the golf experience.
At the Laguna Lang Co Golf Club in Vietnam, a project I worked on with Sir Nick Faldo, I routed the holes to take advantage of some remarkable on site features and wonderful views of the surrounds. Where else on the planet can golfers experience such a myriad of environments within 18 holes and evenly spread through both nines: think sand, jungle, rice fields, mountain, rock and beach. These features determine much of the drama, beautify the golf course and give it a real sense of place. Of course where features had to be built - to add strategic interest – we blended them into their surrounds as if they were forever part of the landscape.
At Laguna Phuket Golf Club in Thailand I sought to bring about a ‘sense of adventure’ by increasing the golfer’s interaction with some of the outstanding natural features on site - like the wonderful Banyan Trees, or existing water bodies and by enhancing the views of the majestic mountain backdrop which now frame many of the holes. Added to that, we introduced a prop or two, where the scene demanded it, but did so with the surrounding landscape and the island’s traditional lifestyle very much in mind.
At the Cornelia Golf Club in Belek in southern Turkey, a 27-hole facility that I routed during my time working with Sir Nick Faldo, I spent several days on site in the early stages studying the terrain and admiring the multitude of wonderful trees that grace the property. The trees - spectacular umbrella pines - gave the site its character and identity, and my sense was that I needed to find a way to guide golfers around the property in a way that enabled them to appreciate the flora. The end result is a golf course that is very intimately entwined with its surrounds, and one whose charm and appeal is in many ways due to the wealth of trees that we were able to incorporate into the golf experience throughout the layout.
I spent time recently on Bintan Island in Indonesia during the renovation of the Laguna Bintan Golf Club with my construction partner Mark Lawson. Laguna Bintan is routed through a remarkably rich landscape featuring rock, sea, sand, jungle and wetland, yet over the years many of the natural aspects had disappeared back into the jungle or otherwise retreated from view, and with it the personality and identity of the golf course was diminished. One of the missions in renovating the golf course was to rediscover the wonderful character and natural features across the site, and to enhance the views out over the ocean. In particular, if we could recapture the essence of what gave the layout a really strong sense of place then the golf experience would be improved immeasurably. I would like to think this was achieved.
Of course there are many wonderful examples of golf courses that complement and even enhance their existing environment and we should be doing a better job highlighting these cases and as we move into the next cycle of design I have to believe our future golf courses will be even stronger champions of the environment. In my case the environment dictates everything I do in this business…. it is and always will be my guide and mentor.
Paul Jansen is the principal golf course architect at Jansen Golf Design www.jansengolfdesign.com