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Creating Landscapes – Interview

from Golf Course Architecture Magazine – Issue 56 – April 2019

 

Creating landscapes – Interview with Kyle Phillips

Kyle Phillips has built a reputation for creating landscapes that appear to have been formed by nature. Toby Ingleton finds out more

 

How would you describe your design philosophy? Are there some key principles that you try to employ in all of your work?

My design philosophy stems from the belief that golf courses should have their own character and personality derived from the existing natural features each site, as well as its location and history. I take a customised approach to each of my designs. This results in different architectural styles within our portfolio. The common threads are that the style of each course be sympathetic of its location, sits naturally in the land, evokes the traditional playing qualities and strategic elements rooted in links golf, all within the context of being enjoyable for players of all levels.

At the front end of each of our projects I work with our owners to create our own unique story to that particular location. The headlines of that story guide us in making the many detailed design decisions required to achieve a top result.

We are actively engaged in the entire design experience, from the moment you enter until the moment you leave the property. It is common for us to take the lead in the development of the site plan. Through the construction we provide our expertise with the integration of buildings, roads and parking into the landscape. We support the design team, architects and engineers with our expertise of visualising three dimensionally on a large scale. It is common that we are able to provide earth-based design solutions that are more beautiful and far less expensive, which allows us to organically integrate buildings and other rigid elements into the landscape.

We always seek to use the natural landforms where they exist. Where they do not exist we have shown an unparalleled ability to create landforms that appear natural. It has been this ability to transform less-than-perfect sites into some of the world’s finest courses that seems to have distinguished my work from other designers.

The par 3 17th at Yas Links in Abu Dhabi
 

How has the work of Golden Age architects influenced you, and have any of your renovation projects unearthed a special appreciation for any particular architect?

Albert Tillinghast influenced me the most in my youth, when I played regularly on one of his designs. When I came to California, I had the opportunity to know well the works of Alister MacKenzie and became intrigued by his flamboyant bunkering and green complexes. Spending more of my professional time and playing more golf in Europe, I also became exposed to the works of Harry Colt and Tom Simpson. As green speeds have increased dramatically, I have come to find their work, particularly their green complexes, quite applicable for today’s game. At California Golf Club we restored the 1928 MacKenzie bunkering and at Morfontaine we have continued to pay tribute to Tom Simpson in the work we have done there. In Los Angeles, we are currently reimagining a 1920 Willie Watson by stripping back several generations of modern alterations and restoring the essence of his Golden Age design.

 

Talking about Cal Club in the January 2018 issue of GCA, Ian Andrew said you did an outstanding job of tying new holes into the original architecture. Would you ever see a case for a pure restoration, or is a hybrid always likely to be the best option?

For various reasons, sometimes it is not possible to literally restore a course. In the case of Cal Club, portions of the site had been lost through the state of California taking a portion of land in the 1960s for a four-lane connector road. As a result, only 13 holes could be literally restored. Twelve holes were restored and by eliminating the remaining hole, opportunities were created for a full-length practice range, a far better, strategic, new par-four cape-style hole, a wonderful downhill par three, as well as the ability to bring back the essence of the original strategic qualities on the remaining four holes.

Certainly the backstory of courses that were created a century or more ago are interesting to us that are deeply involved in the game. Within that historical context, the first priority is to design the best quality course for today. Ian did an excellent job recognising this in his article.

What does literal restoration mean? What should it mean? Particularly on Golden Age courses, there are those who define a literal restoration as a copy-and-paste of the exact original course back onto the property. Given the reality of modern technology, this approach dismisses the restoration of the strategic intent of the original designer. The mission of any true literal restoration should be to bring back not only the architectural style, but also, to the extent possible, restore the strategic playing characteristics of the course to the original architect’s design intent. To accomplish this within the context of today’s technology, elements of the course must be repositioned accordingly.

The all new par 4 7th Cape Hole at Cal Club

 

Since launching your firm two decades ago, you’ve had success throughout the globe. Do you have to change your mindset across different regions?

Even though the same golf design principles apply everywhere, the golf experience expectations of the players can vary considerably, particularly in operational items such as speed of play; clubhouse facilities; walking, riding and caddies; rest stations; interaction between groups of players; and practice facilities, to name a few. For example, speed of play expectations can vary from 3.5 hours for 18-hole rounds, to a game of golf being an all-day event with a full lunch after the first nine holes.

The permitting process, including the level of pre-construction documentation and time to acquire permits, varies as much on a regional level as a national level. Contractor quality tends to vary more country-to-country rather than by continent. The speed of construction also tends to vary not only by weather conditions, but also by the number of holidays and working hour restrictions. By working in so many different countries, with different consultants and contractors, I learned that there is more than one way to get something built with a quality result.

 

To what extent are your hole designs planned on paper, as opposed to being designed on-the-fly in the field?

It is true that those in our industry who come from more of a shaping background tend to work almost exclusively on natural sites, where numerous potential holes naturally exist. This process identifies a routing plan and then moves directly to the commencement of shaping.

Coming from a design background, our process provides as much detail as we can at every level of design, both on paper and in the field. Our level of detail throughout the construction process has not only allowed us to have great success on natural sites, but also on sites degraded by agriculture or past developments. This has allowed us to not only restore the historic landforms, but to obtain a net positive result by creating large amounts on new nature to be integrated into and adjacent to the golf course.

In addition, with this level of detail we are able to obtain competitive bid pricing for our clients and then spend the majority of the construction period focusing on design details with our site representative/shaping specialists. I spend a lot of time on site working on the details and provide a series of sketches that are continually refined through the step-by-step processes of a golf course construction. Mark Thawley, who has been with me for many years, is also periodically on site to work on important design details.

 

Which of your courses brings you the most pride, and why?

Certainly there is a sense of pride in every creation. Our process brings about the birth of a course, but it is in the hands of our owners that our creations mature and are presented to the world. It is always a pleasure to visit one of our ‘children’ and see the level of pride that our owners or club members have in the course. Of course, it is also rewarding when our creations such as Yas Links, Cal Club, Kingsbarns and South Cape are embraced as one of the best by the world of golf.

The par 3 6th at South Cape Owners Club in South Korea

 

It is satisfying to see how we have been able to consistently transform land into literal nature parks of golf that contain an abundance of new nature, in the process creating and restoring landforms that have been altered by farming or development in a way that are indistinguishable from nature. Recently, I was listening to a live television broadcast of a tournament being played on a course I had designed, where the commentator was celebrating how naturally wonderful this rumpled course was for golf. After a pause, rather than correcting him, his fellow commentator began to describe how the course was actually ‘created’ by design with all of the marvellous characteristics of an old course.

 

Can you tell us about the projects you are currently working on? And what does the future hold?

We recently completed the lovely new Bernardus Golf located in the Netherlands, which the golf world will certainly be hearing more about in the near future. Now open, it will host the KLM Dutch Open from 2020-2022. 

In addition to the courses we have in design, we are currently building new 18-hole courses in Bangkok and Prague, as well as a complete reconstruction and reimagination of Hillcrest Country Club in Los Angeles.

Canadian Golf Magazine Course Review: California Golf Club of San Francisco

California Golf Club of SF (7)

The California Club of San Francisco was once considered to fall into the second tier of San Francisco golf courses behind the likes of San Francisco Golf Club, Olympic Club or Cypress a couple of hours down the road. Originally laid out by Willie Locke, once construction began in 1924, A.V. Macan (Victoria Golf Club, Royal Colwood) came in and is considered the architect of note.

In 1927, Alister MacKenzie was commissioned to redesign all of the bunkers. From that point on, the Cal Club’s reputation started to take off. Known for his exquisite skill set when it came to bunkering, MacKenzie’s touch brought life to the fairways of the Cal Club.

Once again, through the 1960s, yet another golf course architect was brought in to make changes to the course. This time, it was Robert Trent Jones Sr. Most of his changes no longer exist because in 2005, Kyle Phillips was brought in to bring the Cal Club’s golden age architecture back to life. The goal was to make the front nine as good as the back and bring a consistent feel to the golf course. So out went the Jones bunkers, in came some new holes, a gorgeous restoration of the MacKenzie style bunkers and the dramatic flare and stunning visuals of MacKenzie.

Now, the Cal Club may very well be one of the best golf courses in America if not the world.

Apart from the wonderful bunkering, the routing really sets the Cal Club apart. Taking advantage of some beautiful, tumbling terrain, width off the tee and the lack of rough create strategy and nuances that keep the course fresh and make every hole interesting. From the first hole, a gentle par-5 opener with one of the better green complexes on the course, to the par-3 sixth hole, a golfer would never guess that by the time they reach the green on the mid-length par-3, with its green falling away gently from the tee, that they would have climbed to one of the highest points on the golf course and what must be some 150 feet of elevation change from the first tee.

On the entire course, there is not a single weak hole…just strong and stronger holes. Even on holes like the second, a new Phillips hole where the land is less interesting, a great green complex saves the day and turns what would be a somewhat dull hole into a very good one. The third, also a new hole, is a par-4 which begins with an elevated tee-shot, wraps itself around an incredible assembly of bunkers and finishes on a beautiful pushed up green.

The sixth hole is the first of what is a great collection of par-3s — a mid-length three shot hole with a green that falls away from the tee. The bunkers short tell golfers “don’t miss here,” but a closely shaved bank on the back of the green awaits those who go long.

The seventh is another of the new Phillips holes and a stunner. A true cape hole with a hazard that comes into play from both the tee and on the approach, the peninsula like green location is gorgeous and the tee-shot tempts you to cut off more than you can chew.

From eight to fourteen, Cal Club may have few matches in the world. Without going into too much detail, it’s simply a great stretch. The eighth is a beautiful par-3 with an interesting knoll front right which bounds golf balls on to the green, the ninth is a bold choice in routing with a blind tee shot up and over a ridge, the eleventh is a shorter par-4 sweeping left to a green location that is second to none, twelve is a breathtaking par-3 playing from a tee set beneath the clubhouse to a green set on a ridge line and guarded by some of the more spectacular bunkering on the course and so on.

Saving you the details of a hole by hole description, it’s enough to say that the eleventh green isn’t the only thing that’s second to none about the Cal Club…the entire course is more of the same. Kyle Phillips has done a wonderful job of restoring what was and is one of the best golf courses to be found anywhere. Width, beautiful bunkering, smart and strong routing, a spectacular property and bold greens all add up to one hec of a course — a remarkable example of golden age architecture.

BEST PAR-3 – 12th
BEST PAR-4 – Too many
BEST PAR-5 – 1st for its green
BEST VIEW – From behind the 6th green
UNDER-APPRECIATED – Course conditions which play firm and fast and make the course so good
LOVE – The feel and look of EVERYTHING
UNEXPECTED – Not necessarily unexpected, but the bunkering is exquisite

Author:  Frank MastroSource:  Canadian Golf Magazine

 

Planet Golf: California Golf Club of San Francisco Review

Cal Club of SF

One of the state’s most prestigious golfing institutions, the California Golf Club of San Francisco was originally designed by A.V. Macan in 1925, and rebunkered a couple of years later by the great Dr Alister MacKenzie. MacKenzie’s original bunker shapes here were every bit as rugged and impressive as those at Pasatiempo and Cypress Point, but over time the hazards had lost their dramatic appearance and in the 1960s the layout was further compromised when the club lost part of its land for a road expansion. Technology also hurt the Cal Club, as the dimensions of their internal driving range became less adequate the longer the ball flew, and trees and containment mounding was thought necessary to protect golfers on the course.

The problems of deterioration were to be addressed in the early 2000s by a redesign program that caught the attention of prominent architects throughout the United States. Kyle Phillips was awarded the job, largely on the back of a radical plan to re-route the front nine, build three new holes and shift the driving range away from the clubhouse. The MacKenzie look and influence had been eroded over time and Phillips, while also creating new holes, was determined to make the Cal Club again look and feel like a MacKenzie course. His plan allowed the holes the space and sense of grandeur they deserve, and by giving breathing space to golf corridors and removing unnecessary trees the emphasis is again back on just how suitable this site is for great golf.

Unlike the nearby Olympic Club, which is essentially built on the side of a hill, Cal Club occupies erratically tumbling ground, the heavy slopes full of great natural movement and ideal for interesting golf. The rugged, naturalistic bunker shapes and restored green complexes work perfectly on this site, and give the impression that MacKenzie’s work here was never touched. That’s the biggest compliment anyone can pay Kyle Phillips regarding his work at Cal Club, that it all looks preserved from the MacKenzie plan of the 1920s.

The California Club of San Francisco is a great place for golf, and after years of darkness the club once again owns a genuine American classic. The golf holes are inviting, varied and original, the green surfaces beautifully pitched to accept well struck balls and the bunkers are strategically arranged and attractively constructed. Appointing Phillips to oversee this important program was a bold one, but the designer did a wonderful job here and the course is now once again heads and shoulders above better known San Francisco layouts like Harding Park and Olympic Lake.

By:  Darius Oliver

Golf Magazine Top 100 Courses in U.S. Cal Club Ranked #58

California Golf Club

Congratulations to California Golf Club of San Francisco on moving up 39 spaces to #58 in Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Courses in the United States. Click here to view the ranking at Golf.com.

Classic Courses: California Golf Club

After a brilliant restoration, this rolling layout that Alister Mackenzie left his mark on reassumes its place in the pantheon of Great Bay Area Courses. – By Tom Cunneff

Straddling opposite sides of Lake Merced, San Francisco Golf Club and U.S. Open Host The Olympic Club have rightfully earned their reputations as the city’s best courses. But seven miles to the southeast, there’s another club that is every bit their equal after a $13 Million renovation:  California Golf Club of San Francisco. In 2007-8 Kyle Phillips restored the course to its Golden Age splendor when Alister Mackenzie redid all the bunkers and few of the greens.

“Before when people came to San Francisco they thought of just two courses—Olympic and San Francisco,” says Phillips, whose other credits include Kingsbarns and Dundonald in Scotland, and Yas Links in Abu Dhabi. “But now, mainly through word of mouth, there’s another one that people are saying, ‘We’ve got to check this out.’ It’s been gratifying.”

What visitors find are long-range views of the Bay Area, stunning bunkering, and rolling terrain with firm-and-fast conditions. Unlike most other layouts in coastal California where spongy poa and sticky kikuyu dominate, Cal Club features fine fescue and colonial bent fairways and bent greens that allow the ground game to flourish. Read More…

Restoration of Honor

WORK BY THOMAS BASTIS AND KYLE PHILLIPS GUIDES CALIFORNIA GOLF CLUB TO NEW HEIGHTS

By John Reitman
South San Francisco, Calif.

Sometimes, credit is the other side of blame. Consider Thomas Bastis, superintendent of the California Golf Club of San Francisco.

A $13 million restoration by architect Kyle Phillips in 2007-08 might be responsible for launching the Cal Club onto the Golfweek’s Best Classic Course list in 2009, at No. 60. But it’s Bastis who looks after the retro-look layout that keeps the Cal Club moving up the charts — to No. 54 last year and an eye-popping leap of 19 spots this year, to No. 35.

“It’s so fresh and different from where it was,” Phillips said. “Thomas has done a great job at keeping the course firm and fast. It’s a happy story; the kind you want when you get involved in a project”. Read More…

Cal Club Moves Up in Top 100

For anyone who thinks that great golf course architecture is found only at old, stuffy private clubs, the 2010 Golfweek’s Best lists should be an eye-opener… Link to rest of article.


Golf Week’s Best Classic Courses Before 1960
54. California Golf Club 7.25
(60, p) South San Francisco, Calif.
1926, Vernon Macan; Alister MacKenzie (1928); Kyle Philips (2007)

Golf Week
March 2010
Brad Klein

California Golf Club Ranked #60 Classic Course

2009 Golfweek’s Best Classic Courses

THE CLASSICS before 1960

60. California Golf Club 7.11
(NR; p) South San Francisco, Calif.
1926, Vernon Macan; Alister MacKenzie, Kyle Philips (2007)

http://top100.golfweek.com/GolfweeksBest/article.asp?ID=1608

2009 Golfweek’s Best: Seal of Approval

…The runaway winner of “Comeback of the Year” is California Golf Club in South San Francisco, Calif., which appears as No. 60 on the Classic after a yearlong shutdown and massive restoration/renovation project. Bay Area golf aficionados always had
respected the 1926 Vernon Macan design, especially after it was treated to highly-stylized bunkering by Alister MacKenzie. But the course suffered a clumsy partial rerouting in the mid-1960s.

California GC enjoyed the national rating limelight for one brief stint at No. 92 in 2003, and then fell off the Classic list as tree problems, a nematode infestation and poor drainage took their toll.

Starting in August 2007, architect Kyle Phillips, working closely with
course superintendent Thomas Bastis, undertook a gutsy project: five retro
holes created, the practice range moved, two clumsy ponds filled in, 450 yards added and the old fairway widths and bunkering restored. Along the way they also dealt with eucalyptus and pine trees that had overgrown the grounds.

The boldest move was utilizing a virtually abandoned l7-acre dump site on a hill overlooking the bulk of the course and using it for California GC’s seventh hole, a
stunning, wrap-around 402-yard par 4 where the fairway clings to the edge.

Golfweek
Bradley S. Klein
www.golfweek.com

California Golf Club Reopens in Style

As one of the Bay Area’s oldest and most respected private clubs, California Golf Club of San Francisco reopened to its members this summer in grand fashion. The first event at the newly renovated course was highlighted with a 6-hole exhibition by PGA Tour player Arron Oberholser and former U.S. Open Champion Ken Venturi hitting the ceremonial first ball.
Read More…

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