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South Cape Ranked #9 – World’s 100 Greatest Courses

 

Golf Digest ranks South Cape Owners Club #9

World’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses

RAPID RISES

The most dramatic rise on our 2020 list among 21st-century designs. Six-year-old South Cape Owners Club in South Korea, which debuted in 2018 at No. 49, moves up 40 spots to No. 9 this year.
The design by Kyle Phillips (who also has No. 27 Kingsbarns and No. 48 Yas Links on our list, and has remodeling credit at No. 7 Morfontaine and No. 38 Valderrama) runs along the rocky cliffs of an ocean shoreline. It features two par 3s over ocean coves and another that plays out to an intimidatingly narrow green on a peninsula. It’s rugged and stunning and it’s conceivable that it could contend for the No. 1 spot in our next world ranking.
The collection of par 3’s at South Cape Owners Club is tough to beat.

 The par 3 6th – South Cape Owners Club

 

 The par 3 14th – South Cape Owners Club

 

 The par 3 16th – South Cape Owners Club

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Golf Magazine Top 100 Courses in World – Cal Club Ranked #50

 

Congratulations to California Golf Club of San Francisco on moving up to #50 in Golf Magazine’s 2020 Top 100 Courses in the World.

50. California Club Of San Francisco

South San Francisco, CA A.V Macan, 1926/Alister MacKenzie, 1928/Kyle Phillips, 2007

Firm playing surfaces elevate any design but add in a great design and wind and you have the makings of a world top-50 course. The difficult decision to shut the course in 2007 and rebuild it according to a thoughtful Master Plan carried out by Kyle Phillips and his team has proven to be a runaway success. (Up 23)

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What it’s like to play a round at South Korea’s Stunning South Cape Owners Club

 

The journey to South Cape builds anticipation like few courses I’ve visited anywhere in the world. Not only have you taken yourself to Seoul, South Korea, but you’ve then more than likely hopped on the one-hour Korean Air flight to Sacheon. This military airport shares the runway with a tiny commercial terminal that receives a couple of flights a day. No pictures allowed, we’re told as we land.

After landing at Sacheon, I’m waved at by a seasoned Korean gentleman who appears to not only to be very fashionably dressed, but also has a purple tint in what would otherwise be classified as silver hair. His lovely wife of the same vintage is smartly but subtly dressed, and it turns out they were on my flight. The man is JB Chung, owner and visionary of our destination, South Cape Owners Club.

Along with perhaps 30 or so other guests that are also headed to the resort, we hop on the luxury club coach transfer for the hour-long drive around the inlets of Namhae. The scenery is like something out of Pirates of the Carribbean crossed with the James Bond classic, The Man with the Golden Gun. Simply stunning.

JB is a very private man, and although his English is excellent, we talk little about his founding of the resort for his fear of keen ears on the bus. He likes to keep a low profile — at least as much as a man with purple hair can!

We soon arrive to the most incredible clubhouse I’ve ever seen. To stick with the James Bond theme, it’s like an underwater futuristic baddie layer, that happens to be on top of a huge cliff overlooking the surrounding islands.  Clean, flowing lines are the order of the day for the structure itself, accented by sharp glass corners.  It is a marvel of architectural design. The clubhouse has turned the dial to 11, with guests taking turns for the ubiquitous Instagram shot with the reflection pool that greets our arrival.

A stunning vista awaits when you enter the lobby at the South Cape Owners Club.

A stunning vista awaits when you enter the lobby at the South Cape Owners Club.
Simon Holt

After a killer lunch of Namhae beef — which incidentally leaves the Kobe beef I had in, well, Kobe, for dead — we head to the first tee to get out before the other new arrivals. We are greeted by a stunning drop shot opener, and after our caddie-led group stretch (which is one of the coolest Korean golfing customs), we hit off into the abyss.

The first hole is a par-4 dogleg right to left that hugs the coast. One minor criticism is the theme felt like it was on repeat for the entire round. Very few holes require the golfer to work the ball left to right, but otherwise the ebb and flow of the round is lovely. It grabs your attention from the first ball off, before heading slightly inland for a few holes, then it slaps you around the chops again on hole No. 5.

The par-5 5th takes us back toward the water; bigger hitters have an opportunity to pull off a heroic second shot over a large drop-off in the fairway, over the corner of an inlet, flying a sizable bunker around 50 yards short of the green to hopefully run up onto a beautifully tiered green. There is an interesting bunker complex that flanks the right of the approach, shadowed by a sheer boulder rock face which makes for a stunning visual contrast to the perfect green fairways and the cobalt blue waters of the bay. This place, both course and buildings, is a marvel in textures.

After a nice, solid  one-shotter back at the 4th, the first of three quite incredible par-3s now sits before us on No. 6.  After a visit to one the beautiful, hyper-modern tea houses they have on each nine, we step out to be faced with 200+ yards of carry over yet another storybook inlet. This really is like golf on some sort of Instagram dream course.

The stunning 5th at South Cape Owners Club.

The stunning 5th at South Cape Owners Club.
Simon Holt

No. 7 is an arrow-straight short par-4, which from the correct tee for one’s ability is the rarest of modern holes; one that is bunkered with every tee taken into account, so that each level of player faces exactly the same challenge, without the hole feeling cluttered visually. This makes up for what could be seen as the lack of vista on this hole given the run we’ve just finished.

If I had one more slight dig to take, it would be the course’s conditioning. While near perfect from behind a lens, I’d like to see them turn off the taps for a while and give the fairways a buzzcut. This would allow for a firmer bounce and roll to really take advantage of the incredible movement Kyle Philips laid over the holes. There are other areas which are simply personal preference — I don’t like the look of fairways that are striped like Centre Court at Wimbledon, nor do I like fairways which abruptly end with a collar of first cut, to then start as fairway again 20 yards later — but I’m nit-picking on what should be embraced as 18 holes worth of joyful assaults on the senses.

Nos. 8 and 9 both feature semi-blind tee shots and are arguably two of the stouter golfing tests. And then, since our eyes can’t take anymore “wow,” JB, who has the entire time been quietly grinning, leads us back into the clubhouse for an incredible 30-minute lunch, followed by 15 minutes or so in his favorite part of the resort: his music library.

We walk down the marble staircase on the side of the upper level to a room which features two sides of floor-to-ceiling glass that must measure 5,000 square feet in floor area. One whole wall is speaker, and not just any speaker, either.  JB has two huge 1930s American speakers, which are arranged on either side of two equally impressive German speakers of the same vintage. These are somehow built into the wall but still on show. All analog and worth I don’t want to know how much money. The ceiling is specially made to allow the sound to reverberate around the room, held up on the final wall by fine art that hides a walk-in treasure trove of vinyls.

A classic Ave Maria is playing beautifully and not without volume as we sip our perfect tea and nibble on incredible chocolates. I ask JB what his favorite music is (kind of expecting The Beatles given his unique style, and as a nod to his fashion mogul past that has afforded him this incredible legacy to the Korean golfing landscape). “Red Army Ensemble!” he says loudly and proudly. If he’d given me a million guesses I wouldn’t have come up with that. At his request, a member of his excellent staff put on the aforementioned favorite. It was incredible — like the room was built for that piece, and listening to it there was an experience I’ll never forget. JB is not only the coolest man in golf but perhaps the most unpredictable I’ve spent a day with.

South Cape Owners Club owner and visionary, JB Chung, strides down the 12th fairway.

South Cape Owners Club owner and visionary, JB Chung, strides down the 12th fairway.
Simon Holt

The back nine won’t be done justice by me saying it’s jaw-dropping, but you’ll have to take my word for it. No. 10 eases you back in, before turning back along the coast, now on the other side of the peninsula from the front nine. From the 12th tee you can see down to No. 13 too. It’s one of the truly special stretches of holes in golf, and is punctuated by the short 14th, before the tough uphill 15th, which somehow seems to play in a Cape-hole manner in terms of the tee shot, but then the hole almost comes back on itself, so harsh is the dogleg. You may think the long hitters could shoot over a bay to the green but some taller trees have sensibly been left to block out that 300-yard-plus, route. A good drive for me, cutting off as much as I dared, still left a long iron up the hill to a very well-protected green.

You then approach what was for me, the highlight of the round. You exit the 15th green to see a sharp-edged, perfect triangular mound of grass and glass. Imagine the bow of the Titanic from the movie poster, with nothing but sky and sea behind it, but instead of the deck you have grass, and instead of the brass rail you have glass! As we walk closer, wooden steps lead underneath the grass, which is actually the roof of another incredible modern tea house. There are floor-to-ceiling glass walls inside with gorgeous and highly-polished wooden flooring. Some minimalist furniture sets a space-age tone in this little pitstop on the back nine. Lewis Capaldi is pumping out of the Sonos speakers; the structure we are in seems like we’ve entered a giant glass shell, keeping all the music in, and we all just stay quiet and admire the incredible view.

That is, until JB bids us to take a seat. He has one more surprise. The staff bring out what I first thought was a giant scoop of mango sorbet, but it’s actually half-frozen persimmon fruit for each of us — almost burnt orange in color.  Wow! The golf connection of Persimmon was lost in translation when I tried to explain it to JB but I doubled down that he needs this to be the club’s tradition. Top 5 golf course food status, right out of the gate.

After all that, we then walk to the tee of the par-3 16th, which might be the only 16th hole anywhere that can compete with Cypress Point’s in terms of beauty. Set on yet another small peninsula on this magical piece of land, it’s a 220-yard carry over the South Sea. Just wow. Then, when you arrive at the green, you look back and see just how dramatically perched the little tea house was that we were just sat in. Simply incredible.

The 14th hole at South Cape Owners Club.

The 14th hole at South Cape Owners Club.
Simon Holt

A solid par-4 on No. 17 ends with a cool and interesting green complex, before heading under one of the poured concrete bridges JB had made so no seams showed. The man’s level of detail knows no bounds.

No. 18 is a strong par-5 to finish, again showcasing the drama of the towering cliffs to the left of us, falling away to the sea hundreds of feet below.

At the end of the round, we walk back toward the marble staircase that leads to the clubhouse, that from this new angle looks like a 1950s depiction of a flying saucer hovering above us. JB stops me to point out a Korean inscription on the bottom step. “Guess what this says?” I know him well enough by now to know this 70-something Korean gentleman is not into the aged proverbs that I may have first expected.

“Stairway to heaven?” I venture.

He nodded, and smiled.

Simon Holt has been a member of GOLF’s course ranking panel since 2019, and has played 96 courses on GOLF’s current Top 100 list.

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“Landscape Artist” – Bernardus (Cover Article)

from Golf Course Architecture Magazine – Issue 59 – January 2020

 

Landscape artist

 

Three flat cornfields in a Dutch village have been restored to a historic landscape, now home to one of Europe’s best new golf courses.

Richard Humphreys and Toby Ingleton report on a visit to Cromvoirt

The Par 4 opening hole at Bernardus

 

What is Kyle Phillips’ style? Take your pick from his design portfolio, and there doesn’t initially seem

to be much in common. No trademark hole, bunker treatment or green style that labels it a Phillips design.

But his courses do share one fundamental attribute. Whether it be the coastal links he created at Kingsbarns or the stroll through English parkland that is a round at The Grove, each pays homage to the historic landscape of the area.

When Phillips first set foot on the land that is now Bernardus Golf – in the Dutch village of Cromvoirt near the city of ‘s-Hertogenbosch (better known as Den Bosch) – all that stood before him, as far as the eye could see, was corn. “It was bone flat,” he says. “That’s actually what most people would consider to be a traditional Dutch landscape – flat farmland and dykes.”

But Phillips put aside this stereotype and went further back in time, to the Netherlands as it existed before much of the country’s low marshland was dyked and drained for farming.

Inspiration wasn’t far away; Cromvoirt lies just east of the Loonse en Drunense Duinen National Park, the ‘Brabant Sahara’ known for its shifting sands. What he found there was a gently rolling heathland, with heather, gorse and pines – an ideal landscape to draw from in preparing plans for Bernardus.

The project stalled when the initial investor pulled out due to health issues, leaving the landowner farmer to find a new backer. That was until he heard that a Den Bosch entrepreneur had sold a majority stake of his business to a US investor. With Phillips’ plans tucked under his arm, the landowner cycled to Robert van der Wallen’s office.

Van der Wallen was reluctant at first, but his partner was a keen golfer and convinced him of the potential. With his interest piqued, he made the farmer an offer for his land and the golf course plans, and began to form his own vision for Bernardus.

Central to that vision was placing trust in experts. Both Phillips and superintendent Niall Richardson – who previously worked on four new builds over two decades, including Carton House in Ireland and The Dutch – emphasise how beneficial it has been to work with an owner who valued their judgement and provided support when needed. For Richardson this included investments in his greenkeeping equipment and compound – and seeking his input on where it should be located to provide easy access to all areas of the course. For Phillips, it was the willingness to purchase various additional land. “There were several small parcels of land that Robert was able to pick up, which gave Niall a great spot for the maintenance building, allowed for a much better clubhouse entry experience and helped me optimise the routing,” says Phillips.

Construction began with a sophisticated soil transplant operation. Once the corn was cleared, the upper layer of dark sand, a result of the intensive farming of the previous years, was switched with lighter and better-draining sand that lay beneath. Earth was also excavated to create a cluster of lakes in the centre of the property and shaped into Phillips’ vision of a historic Dutch landscape.

“This pure sand growing median and the climatic conditions support the creeping red and chewings fescue grasses selected, allowing for one-third less water and pesticide-free management,” says Richardson. “With legislation governing the use of pesticides moving towards a process of managed reduction, or eventual total ban, we looked at all practical options to promote a future maintenance program that still allowed the delivery of quality playing surfaces on an environmentally sustainable platform.”

In addition to the selection of disease-resistant and drought-tolerant fescue, a modified rootzone was engineered to maximise air and water porosity. Profile Products Ceramics has been added to the soil, resulting in a percolation rate that delivers optimum performance in all seasons.

The restored landscape feels completely authentic and works wonderfully for golf. There’s still not a lot of elevation change – rightly so, that would have been completely at odds with the surrounding area – but enough contour for varied and memorable individual holes.

“We’ve been able to create landforms that look believable in the landscape, that look appropriate for this particular place,” says Phillips. “If you look from the clubhouse, down the eighteenth, there are some wrinkles that we didn’t smooth out. You get those little shadows and it just legitimises that this isn’t all machine-finished – they’re more natural and windblown.”

Those wrinkles are particularly pleasing. As you get close up, the movement is more striking than it seems from afar, with sharp rises and falls creating a series of plateaus in fairways. It’s unexpected and gives the design an edge, without looking forced. On many holes, including the first and eighteenth, a distinctive advantage can be found by holding a plateau, or getting a generous kick forward from one to another.

The short par-four third is an excellent example of this movement of the land dictating strategy. A single central bunker has been cut into a ridge that bisects the fairway. There are many options from the tee, from laying up short of the bunker with a mid-iron to trying to drive the green. Even on repeat play, none of those choices seems obviously the best. To drive and hold the green requires complete control. But choose safety from the tee and you’ll need precision for your approach, particularly if the pin is set left in the smaller portion of the green.

Holes two to eight lie beyond a river, in the segment of the course that is furthest from the clubhouse. There is a large lake on this side of the property, which comes into play on the Cape-style par-five seventh and the short par-three eighth. The latter is just a wedge shot, but it has trouble all around: the lake will take anything short and right and a large bunker anything long. A miss left will roll down to short grass way below the level of the putting surface – requiring a frightening recovery shot.

There’s also a water hole on the back nine, the par-three seventeenth. It requires a club or two more than the eighth and the primary danger is the river that runs in front and to the side of a green with a huge thumbprint depression on the left edge, the perfect place for a sucker pin.

 

The Par 3 17th at Bernardus

 

Throughout the course, the greens have pin placement options that can significantly impact the strategy of the hole. At the par-five fourth for example, the wide green is shaped so that golfers can use the contour to access flags tucked directly behind a small front bunker. And the sixteenth is a variation on a Biarritz green, with swales coming in from each side but not quite meeting in the middle.

Perhaps the most memorable hole is the thirteenth (pictured on this issue’s cover). The stretch from ten to sixteen lies in the northeast segment of the course (on the other side of a dyke from the first, ninth, seventeenth and eighteenth) where the holes run broadly parallel to each other. The thirteenth, though, is nestled into a corner of the property.

“Every time we came out here, we always loved this corner,” says Phillips. “It was obvious that this was going to be a beautiful place and we had to utilise it.”

He created a huge waste area that stretches all the way up the length of the par-three hole and into a bunker that eats into the right side of the green. It’s a moment to pause before tackling the closing stretch.

 

The Par 3 13th at Bernardus

 

Sandy waste areas can be found between fairways too, along with fescue, gorse and heather, combining to give the feel of a native landscape upon which the golf course has been laid out. “Nature just extends through the whole course,” says Phillips.

Bernardus has to figure among Europe’s best new layouts. And van der Wallen has created something special off the course, too, focusing on delivering a hospitality experience that is inspired by quality hotels and restaurants, rather than golf venues.

“There are so many things I didn’t like about the traditional golf club experience,” says van der Wallen. “Like a barrier at the entry, where someone with a clipboard takes your name, and staff hiding behind a reception desk.”

Upon entering the contemporary clubhouse building, guests are welcomed with coffee and conversation, given a course guide and encouraged to relax and make full use of the facilities. These include casual and fine dining restaurants, each serving wine from the owner’s California vineyard from which Bernardus takes its name. There is also a gym, and an outstanding practice area, with a three-hole reversible short course, multiple chipping and putting greens and a driving range. The range building includes covered teaching bays, indoor studios and offices, with restrooms and a full bar – all of which is set into a huge dune. To complete the full package of facilities, there is also an adjacent eight-room lodge with a pool and tennis court.

As well as offering individual and corporate memberships, the club is fully accessible to visitors, who, for 150 euros, can spend all day as a member of the club and play as much golf as they like. “If their partner doesn’t play golf, they can come along free of charge and use the gym and all the other facilities,” says van der Wallen.

Bernardus will soon take its place in the spotlight, having been selected to host the KLM Open on the European Tour from 2020 to 2022. Pay a visit before word gets out.

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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.

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“Star treatment” – Hillcrest Country Club

from Golf Course Architecture Magazine – Issue 58 – October 2019

Star treatment

Behind an inconspicuous gateway across the street from Fox Studios, a Hollywood star has been under the knife. Toby Ingleton discovers more

The drivable par 4 11th at Hillcrest

 

Groucho Marx made an exception to his own rule – “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member” – for Hillcrest Country Club. Established in 1920 with eighteen holes laid out by Willie Watson, Hillcrest has long been counted alongside the courses at Riviera, LACC and Bel-Air as one of Los Angeles’ finest, and is home club to many of the city’s leading lights.

Occupying 141 acres just south of Beverly Hills, the club’s original front nine sat in a valley that runs east of a hill on which most of the back nine played. This combination of terrain afforded Watson nice elevation changes, as well as long views towards Los Angeles and the surrounding oil wells.

Like most top-end US clubs, Hillcrest prides itself on pristine playing surfaces, and there is an expectation that agronomic improvements will be undertaken on a periodic basis. In the mid-2010s the club was faced with a number of deferred maintenance needs, including a new irrigation system, and they were also on the hunt for a new architect. Considerable research was conducted by the greens committee at this time, and a strong proposal was received to re-work the greens and bunkers by an architect who had recently done excellent work at a nearby country club. However, before approving the greens committee recommendations, the club’s board asked general manager Miles Tucker and director of golf John McMullen to help provide alternatives to the proposal on-hand. “We knew that water management strategies needed to be central to any significant investment into the course, and also that we had opportunities to improve both our practice facilities and overall golf experience,” says Tucker. “So we worked to identify the delta between what was being proposed in terms of maintaining the existing facility, and what we really wanted, which was a facility that would differentiate us from the other clubs in LA and help us to continue to enhance our reputation as one of the best family-oriented clubs on the West coast.”

The par 3 14th and par 4 16th

 

The club invited several architects to pitch for the work and ultimately selected California-based Kyle Phillips. “We felt that the customised design approach Kyle takes on each property he is given would create something uniquely appropriate for our site,” says McMullen. “We were also really impressed with his commitment to his design philosophies. It can be all too easy to bow to some of the many voices that have an opinion on what should be done, but Kyle showed a clear belief in what he felt would prepare us best for the next 100 years.”

Phillips’ proposal involved combining the valley and hill experiences into each nine and a mix of original, familiar and new holes. “Six holes remain in their original location but are substantially improved. Another six use existing hole corridors. And there are six completely new holes,” says Phillips.

The key to the new routing lies within the integration of two areas that had historically been used as turf nurseries. “These areas had been hidden from the course for decades by large shrubs, so many members did not even know the land existed,” says Phillips’ senior design associate Mark Thawley.

Both areas now occupy prime locations on the course, including the new par three fourth hole, which enjoys a panoramic view of the Los Angeles skyline and the Hollywood Hills.

The par 3 4th with the Hollywood Hills as a backdrop

 

By bringing these areas into play and being more efficient with the routing in general, Phillips was able to convert the land previously occupied by the old netted range, the par-four tenth and a portion of the par-five eleventh into the world-class practice facilities that the club desired. In turn that freed up the site of the old driving range tees – in prime view from the dining area – for the new eighteenth green. Alongside that are tees for a completely new first hole, which runs parallel to the eighteenth.

“The new range is still convenient to the clubhouse and first tee,” says Phillips. “Occupying nearly six acres, members can now hit shots over 300 yards without the need for safety netting. A five-hole par-three course – ‘The Five’ – has been laid out adjacent to the range and is focused on family play and fun.” Between the range and short course is a new teaching centre designed by Hawkins & Marshall, who also created a new halfway house.

Tucker says that while members will coo over the new practice facilities and guests will rave over the halfway house, real golf aficionados will be “stunned” by the new course. “The memorability of the new course is defined by the par threes, which are all iconic,” says Tucker. From the new 155-yard second, with its sunken green, to the massive Biarritz green at the twelfth, which plays 260 yards from the back tees, Tucker says all the par threes are great fun to play.

The redesigned course provides a varied test. “Par fours range from 290 to 495 yards, so – like Riviera – will test every club in the bag,” says Tucker. “Three of the par fives are wonderfully strategic; challenging to reach in two. The eighteenth can go to 600 yards if required, culminating in one of the most stunning green complexes on the course.”

The par 5 13th

 

Even though the total number of trees is the same, Phillips has opened up interior views, with many fairways now interconnected, separated by bunkers and stands of trees. “We put a lot of time and effort into tree management,” says Tucker. “Undesired species have been removed, beautiful specimens have been relocated and new trees have been planted on the perimeter for increased set-backs and privacy. The course has a much more open feeling.”

“Walking was also a priority for the membership, so the green-to-tee relationship has been improved and grass walk-offs added,” says Phillips. This relationship is particularly evident at the start of each nine, with the back tees for both the first and tenth connected to the practice putting greens.

With the project complete and reopening scheduled for October, Tucker highlights the “incredible partners” that he, golf director John McMullen and the club’s chairman of the project committee Arnold Rosenstein have worked with. In addition to Thawley, Phillips’ team included on-site design representative and shaping specialist Dave Smith. “In addition to shaping a stunning golf course and practice area, Dave was quick to bring any opportunities or concerns to the team’s attention, rapidly proving himself to be an integral part of the broader project team.” says Tucker.

Not to be confused with Dave, David Smith from Golf Projects International played a key role in managing the project from initial permitting to completion. Landscapes Unlimited was the general contractor, Brent Harvey designed the irrigation system, and planting design was by Ken Alperstein of Pinnacle Design Company.

The project wasn’t without its challenges – not least that rainfall was double the historic averages during the year-long project – but Tucker is delighted with the end result. “We had very high expectations, but they have been far exceeded. Our members are absolutely blown away by the changes, and Hillcrest’s golf brand is set to really grow.”

 

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How Kyle Phillips created a world-class course from land deemed ‘unsuitable for golf’

By Kelsey Lee

Sunset over South Cape Owner's Club [image: Joann Dost]

Sunset over South Cape Owner’s Club [image: Joann Dost]

Namhae, South Korea – South Cape Owners Club is the innovation of business mogul JB Chung. Even when others said it was impossible, Chung remained optimistic – he had visionary Golf Course Architect Kyle Phillips in his square. “It seems other designers felt the land was too challenging to achieve a top quality golf experience,” says Kyle. “Mr. Chung believed the property was so stunningly beautiful, he was willing to take on this challenge.”

Kyle Phillips designs world-class golf courses maintaining the natural elements of the existing property, as if a golfer happened upon a piece of land that is perfectly fit for a round of golf. With South Cape Owner’s Club, “the original conception of the course involved considerable earth moving” Kyle recounts. “When I came in the picture, I was able to reduce the earth moving by roughly 40% from what the prior plans had called for—which not only saved a significant amount of money, but also allowed me to save more of the natural vegetation.” In areas where earthmoving occurred, thousands of trees were transplanted allowing this world-class course to fit naturally on its landscape.

The transformation of Holes 12 and 13

When I asked Kyle how he felt so confident in this new direction for the land, he laughed and said, “It’s just what I do. It is hard to explain. I knew the course would turn out well and this would be a good golf course, but the challenge was always to make it great – the best. To get it there, I just worked with the topography and thought out of the box.”

With South Cape Owner’s Club already being recognized as Korea’s #1 course and ranking in the world’s Top 100 Courses, it is safe to say Kyle was successful.

Kyle humbly credits his success at South Cape Owner’s Club to playing to the land’s strengths, and maintaining the natural features of the landscape while turning down the volume. “Not only is the design of each hole important, but when you finish a hole you want it to have a nice connection to the next tee”, says Phillips. “We worked hard to create transitions throughout the course that would allow the players to get lost in the game and the beauty of their surroundings.” A feat Kyle Phillips makes sound all too easy.

 

Perhaps, Fergal O’Leary, a panelist for Golf Magazine and Golf digest (as well as the youngest person to play the World’s Top 100 Ranked courses), most elegantly remarked on South Cape when he said:

“I never thought I’d find a golf course more stunning that Cypress Point or Cape Kidnappers. I never thought I’d play a golf course more impressive than Oakmont or Royal Melbourne (West). I never thought I’d experience a feeling of privilege more than Muirfield or Shinnecock Hills. I never thought I’d play a piece of property more remarkable than Augusta National or St. Andrews. What Kyle Phillips created at South Cape makes a lot of old classics shiver in their boots. The world needs to brace itself as this whole experience takes you to unimaginable levels of euphoria.”

Quite remarkable words, for land once given up on for golf. However, after Kingsbarns in St. Andrews, Yas Links in Abu Dhabi, Cal Club in San Francisco and now South Cape in South Korea, it seems not much is impossible for Kyle Phillips.

South Cape Owner's Club Hole 6 [image: Joann Dost]

South Cape Owner’s Club Hole 6 [image: Joann Dost]

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2015 Overall Winner IAGTO Sustainability Awards

Dundonald Links

Dundonald Links honoured to win coveted Sustainability Award

GEO Certified™ Dundonald Links, Scotland, is delighted to announce it has been named overall winner in the 2015 International Association of Golf Tour Operators’ (IAGTO) Sustainability Awards due to exceptional management standards within golf’s sustainability issues – nature, water, energy, supply chain, pollution control and community.

The IAGTO report stated that Dundonald Links, near the legendary golfing town of Troon in Ayrshire, had demonstrated a deep, integrated commitment throughout all aspects of sustainability since opening in 2003 and is now recognised among the most progressive clubs in the world with its dedication to environmental and community initiatives.

IAGTO also highlighted the many activities embedded in the culture of Dundonald Links including Zero Waste, numerous and specific biodiversity projects, habitat improvements, ‘outdoor classrooms’ for local schools, campaigns and partnerships with a large variety of local and national organisations, and public nature trails with education boards.

The announcement was made at the 15th annual IAGTO Awards Ceremony held on 30th October at Villa Erba, Lake Como, Italy.

Earlier this year, Dundonald Links was awarded the title of UK Environmental Golf Course of the Year 2014, in addition to becoming GEO Certified™ – a symbol of great golf environments worldwide. In 2015 it will be proud host to The Aberdeen Asset Management Ladies Scottish Open presented by EventScotland and in 2016 will be host venue to the Ladies British Amateur Open.

Guy Redford, Director of Golf, Dundonald Links commented: Dundonald Links is honoured to receive this award and to be recognised for playing its part in protecting the natural world. Through our team’s passion and dedication to environmental sustainability, the Club has in return become more efficient and commercially viable. In addition, our partnerships with local and national organisations and, in particular, within the local community have been extremely rewarding, supporting education, building relationships and opening doors to new opportunities.

Source:  Dundonald Links

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Murtoli Golf Links

Murtoli Golf Links

Alongside thousand proposed activities, such as beach walks, sea fishing, hunting or horse riding, golf lives similar to any other.
Totally natural, the famous designer Kyle Phillips was able to enroll in the natural contours of the land.
Unique with 12 holes, the course is open to everyone, young and old, beginners and accomplished golfer.

Source:  Vimeo

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Golf in the Kingdom and Beyond

Kyle Phillips

ALTHOUGH HIS OFFICE IS LOCATED in Granite Bay, California (a suburb of Sacramento), course architect Kyle Phillips has worked extensively around the world. His designs can be found in Austria, Sweden, South Korea, Scotland, and Morocco, among other countries. Troon Golf & Travel spoke with him in England, where he was visiting his 18-hole creation at The Grove in Hertfordshire.

The Grove, your first English design, opened in 2003. What can you tell us about it?

People who come to The Grove for the day never feel that they have been slighted. The condition of the golf course is always superb, as is the service from the moment people arrive to the moment they leave. For me, it was gratifying to work with the owners and it was a seamless transition when we handed the course over to the operations side of things. In this case, we have had a real consistency of ownership and philosophy, which is always a real benefit to how the final product is received. I have great memories of designing and building this course and it is great fun to carry on working with a lot of the same faces who were here when we opened over 10 years ago.

You’ve said you replicated different types of landforms at The Grove to make it reminiscent of classic English courses. Explain.

This was a classic English parkland site. When you look across the landscape here with the longer horizon lines and you walk through the holes, you start to recognize some interesting landforms, some more dramatic than others. These begin to affect how you think about strategy on a particular hole. So, at a macro scale, the course looks rather sympathetic, but at a micro scale, it really takes on an interesting personality. And part of creating this was remaining responsive to the integrity of the historic landscape that was around it and, at the same time, achieving a great golf experience.

Do you think The Grove model, whereby a premier service and product is offered on the basis of pay and play, should be used more elsewhere?

This model is really unique. As nongolfers, the owners come at it from a different angle and this tends to be where a lot of the good ideas come from; people who are not so deeply connected into golf that they don’t just see the forest but the individual trees. They saw a gap in the marketplace and appreciated the business side. Not having members allowed them to accommodate hotel guests and the corporate market whenever they want to play. Of course, if you have members, they want to play on a Saturday morning and at all of the prime tee times. The Grove model eliminates this conflict by creating a club experience in terms of quality and conditioning, but available to everyone.

People have been talking about controlling equipment for a long time now. Do you think we’re any closer to this and, as an architect, do you think this would benefit the game?

I would love to see some controls because I really believe the game should be more about shot-making. But you can read books that are 100 years old and you’ll see discussions about the ball and how far it was going and how equipment was affecting the game. Even in my short time, I remember Jack Nicklaus hitting it 267 yards from the tee and everyone was aghast at how long he was hitting it. You look at that today and that kind of driving distance is laughable, but that’s simply due to the benefits of technology. As an architect, I have my own views, but my job is to respond to technology on the design side. I have seen an increase in what is considered to be a championship course from the back tees, but people playing from the forward tees expect the same length course as we had 30 years ago. This makes it more difficult to create a course that is playable and enjoyable for the full spectrum of abilities. But this is something that we, as architects, have got to rise to and get better at in order to respond to trends.

Can you, as a golf course architect, do anything to counter slow play?

I think there are things we could do. There is an issue with people trying to learn the game who go to championship- level courses without the required experience. I equate it to skiing. If you take someone who has never skied and send them down a black diamond run, it won’t take long to realize they are not going to be successful. They need the bunny slopes, as do we in golf. We need shorter courses.

Can golf architecture help to enhance player retention?

Every time there is a shift in the economy, people feel like they need to be at work more, so the drop in golfers is just a natural result of the economy, as much as anything else. As the economy stabilizes, people are coming back to playing golf. Nowadays there is also so much distraction from other sports, and there is also the whole world of technology that people can live in and not think about playing sport. Time is precious, so we have to ask, what can golf do to attract people to the game? We have looked inside the industry for those solutions; we’ve heard a lot discussed about shorter courses and par-3 courses within existing golf operations, for example. However, I tend to think that the solution may come from the outside with a different form of golf that becomes the gateway. We are seeing that with screen golf and video golf in some of the Asian countries and in the UK, and those are ways for people to spend a couple of hours with a golf club in their hands and perhaps get excited about golf, and we need that.

Source:  Troon Golf Magazine

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