RTJ II team turns former military base into ultra high-end golf club. Adam Lawrence takes a look.
Creating a successful golf club is an exercise in balancing priorities that are often in conflict. The old retailer’s maxim of ‘location, location, location’ is as valid in golf as in any other business – if you pick a spot that’s a long way from a pool of potential golfers, your course had better be special, or why would people visit you?
But land that’s close to large centres of population tends to be expensive, so building golf in a prime location will make it harder for you to make ends meet. And it’s reasonable also to surmise that nearness to people reduces the likelihood of finding property that offers the qualities that make for great golf – pristine land around cities is rare.
Which makes the new Scandinavian Golf Club, located only 20km from downtown Copenhagen in the small town of Farum, especially unusual. Built on the site of a former military base, the club merges a great location with property that, in terms of its natural features, is pretty much ideal for golf.
One of the few things about the Scandinavian that isn’t ideal is the soil, which is heavy clay. Poor soil can be overcome, though, if the will, and the budget are there, and therein lies another thing about the club that is exceptional – its developers.
Jesper Balser, Peter Bang and Torben Wind founded the software company Navision back in 1984. In 2002, the company was acquired by Microsoft in a deal reportedly valued at US$1.45 billion (at that time, €1.5 billion). All three are passionate golfers, and at around the same time as they sold their business, they found the former military base at Farum, and resolved to turn it into a golf club.
Planning approval took over four years to win, and the construction of the two eighteen hole golf courses – which were designed by Bruce Charlton of the Robert Trent Jones II firm – occupied another three and a half years. Named the Old and New (despite the fact that the one is only a few months behind the other!), the two courses will open this summer.
Everything at the Scandinavian has been done with care. Having developers with deep pockets is obviously a great help, but money isn’t the only issue. During the long years of development, almost no information has been allowed to seep out about the project, and it’s clear from visiting the property that rigorous control over every aspect has been the watchword.
I wouldn’t normally start by talking about the clubhouse, but it’s the quickest and easiest way to explain how thorough the developers, and CEO Lars Peter Wilhelmsen in particular, have been at every stage of the project. It’s a beautiful building, designed by the firm of Henning Larsen Architects, which also created Copenhagen’s stunning, though controversial, new opera house. But even more than the building’s light, airy elegance, it’s the sheer attention to detail that stands out. The slabs of slate that make up the pillars supporting the roof, though widely separated, have been carefully selected so that at any given height, every slab is of an identical thickness. The slate, which has been used throughout the building for flooring, is of a quality rarely seen – I understand around 80 per cent of the slate slabs delivered were rejected as being of inadequate quality.
When you arrive in an environment like this to play golf, the course itself has a lot to live up to. Fortunately for those who go to the Scandinavian, architect Charlton – who has set a high standard in Denmark with his work at the Lübker resort near Århus, and at Skjoldenæsholm, about an hour west of Copenhagen – has turned the former firing range into 36 holes of high quality golf.
Unlike at Lübker, Charlton didn’t have the benefit of perfect sandy soil at the Scandinavian. However, he had the next best thing, clients prepared to go the extra mile to replicate those conditions. Huge amounts of sand were trucked into the site to cap the clay fairways. Sandcapping is expensive – it can add more than US$1 million to the cost of construction – but one only needs to play a course that has been capped after heavy rain to see the difference it makes.
Such was the case when GCA visited the Scandinavian. Even by the damp standards of a Danish spring, there had been a large quantity of rain in the run-up to the press opening, and the rain continued over the time we were there. Yet at no point did the areas that had been sandcapped become excessively wet. Crossing the line between capped and uncapped zones was immediately obvious, as the out of play areas that had received no sand were decidedly soggy. And, walking down one fairway, past a drainage pot, the sound of rushing water being carried away by the drains placed under the layer of sand was positively deafening.
So what of the courses themselves? We were only able to play the Old course, as the New was not yet ready. Some months behind in construction, the tough winter that has set back golf projects all over Europe means that the New will come on stream towards the end of the 2010 season. Charlton and Wilhelmsen did give us a tour of the course, and it looks as though it will be well up to scratch.
On the New, I particularly like the two-shot eleventh hole, 398 metres (435 yards) in length, and with the second shot played right down the former rifle range. High banks hem in the fairway for the approach, and create a sense of tightness around the green. This isn’t normally a recipe for success in my book – I like width – but it almost has the feel of playing between dunes. The scale of the banks on either side, and the narrowness of the opening between them also puts pressure on the tee shot, although there the landing zone is more than generous. But placement is crucial if a good view of the green is to be obtained.
Although more than one of my shots was magnetically drawn by the water, the cleverness of this hole is that a cautious golfer need not tangle with it at all. One could knock a three wood or long iron off the tee to finish in the widest part of the fairway, short of the canal, then hit left of the water for the second, and pitch on (the hole, even from the back tee, only plays 452 metres (494 yards). The longest hitters may choose to carry the canal onto the right fairway, or to hit driver up the left side, where, though, it narrows alarmingly the further one goes. The real cleverness of the hole is that one feels the green ought to be reachable in two – but to do so will require a brave tee shot, properly executed whichever option is selected, followed by an approach that, while not especially long, will have to be played with great care. This is a textbook example of how to make a short, gambling par five both challenging and interesting.
Charlton’s fondness for bold risk/reward options can also be seen by his predilection for building holes with very sharp doglegs. There’s one of these at Lübker, and in the fourth, seventh and especially the ninth holes, it’s a recurring theme at the Scandinavian. Take the ninth: a par five of 484 metres (529 yards) that turns at almost ninety degrees around a large bunker and a lake. The carry over the bunker should be just about possible from the appropriate set of tees, though for most playing safely left will be a better option.
My only issue with these holes is that they do offer big rewards to the longer hitter. That’s fine, up to a point, but when an extra twenty of carry gives the opportunity to be the best part of 100 metres closer to the hole, one must wonder how reasonable this is to the shorter-hitting brigade. Still, such holes are effectively the ultimate in diagonal hazards, and we all love those. And they force golfers to think clearly, take decisions, and execute on those decisions, so they can’t be all bad.
This article appeared in issue 21 of Golf Course Architecture, published July 2010