Never before, to my knowledge, has one family been involved in the renovation, design and construction of three different courses at the same location, over three generations and over a period of 81 years.
This is exactly what has happened in Bad Ragaz, Switzerland, with the Harradine family. My step-grandfather Albert Hockey left London with his whole brood in 1925 and arrived in Bad Ragaz to upgrade the old nine hole course while he pursued his other duties as club manager and golf professional.
My father Donald Harradine remodelled the same layout in 1929 and built the existing 18 hole course in 1956 which he co-designed with Fred Hawtree. The existing course is the venue of an annual PGA senior tournament held at the beginning of August.
And, most recently, I designed and supervised the construction of a new nine hole course adjacent to the existing 18 holes built by my father. The site was a flat, uninteresting agricultural plain with no ecological or environmental value whatsoever and crossed by a secondary and main road and was even adjacent to a shooting range! It is interesting to see the difference in the documents and procedures required for the permits and construction of the two courses.While one plan and a threepage bill of quantities with a two-page budget price was enough for the existing course in 1956, 19 plans with 18 revisions, nine years of negotiations, 124 meetings, 94 pages of specifications, 55 pages of bills of quantities and finally, 67 pages detailing environmental and ecological constraints were required to build the nine hole course.
Tensiometers had to be installed to measure the humidity of the ground and no vehicle was allowed to enter the site if the humidity reached a specified reading.
Special passages had to be provided under the roads for frogs, while other amphibious creatures were channelled through specific corridors on the course so that the animals could go to the banks of the River Rhine. Unfortunately, the problem is that the animals do not really know where these passages are, or even that they exist, so they wander all over the place and get squashed on the road anyway, despite the clear signs indicating the location and direction, written in four languages including Swiss German! Furthermore the course had to be constructed in such a way that the site could revert back to agriculture within 48 hours in case of war. The aforementioned requirement meant that only 20 per cent if the site could contain 'unconvertible' elements such as gravel, sand, plastic liner and pipes. The hills were actually built with 100 per cent topsoil! We had to calculate the exhaust emissions of every truck, tractor, pick-up, bulldozer, excavator, scraper, loader and bicycle used on site. All trees and shrubs had to be indigenous, so we actually spoke Swiss German to them in order to ensure that they actually grew up in that particular area! My step-grandfather and father definitely had it a lot easier as they usually had great sites to work with and very few constraints hindering them – and a great site combined with few constraints usually produces a great course. These days, we are very fortunate if we receive flat, boring, dreary uninspiring agriculture plains but we are really quite lucky as we are regularly offered fantastic rubbish dumps.
I suppose that is one of the challenges of the modern golf course architect: design a good course on uninteresting, flat, boring, dull, monotonous and mundane land that is so uninteresting that even the ecologists and environmentalists do not have too many objections to convert such sites into golf courses. The nine-hole Heidiland course in Bad Ragaz was finally opened on May 20, 2006, and the inaugural tournament was fittingly won by my son Michael Harradine.
Peter Harradine is a former President of the European Institute of Golf Course Architects.
This article first appeared in issue 5 of Golf Course Architecture, published in July 2006.