A renovation of the Bukit Course at Singapore Island Country Club has now reached completion.
Originally designed by James Braid and located in central Singapore, the course has undergone significant work over the first part of 2017 with the aim of adding a buggy path and improving playability.
Work has been led by Singapore-based Green Dynasty. Owen Hester of the firm provided GCA with an overview of the project.
“The Bukit Course has quite an interesting history,” he said. “During World War Two, the course was closed by the occupying Japanese and they planted crops over the course to feed their troops. The Japanese destroyed all know documents that the club held at the time. However the course and clubhouse stayed intact. After the war, a group of original members replanted the course on its original existing layout and the course is primarily in its original format. However, over the years, greens, tees and bunkers had either shrunk in size or lost their shape.”
Hester and the project team’s brief were to keep the layout of the original course and not to change the characteristic of the course. Work commenced in January 2017, with the course reopening on 27 July.
“No change to the original character of the course could be made so extensive investigation was needed to determine the old course original design intent and character,” Hester said. “As most records were destroyed during World War Two, we had to go on limited photos and extensive soil probing to find the original shapes that still existed, but had either overgrown, shrunk or changed shape through mowing practices over many years.”
The project team’s challenge was to find the original shaped landform and rebuilding the core of the tees from the base of the original shape. Original bunker shapes also had to be found and restored. Bunker drainage enhancements were also required, and the character of the greens couldn’t be changed or altered as part of the club’s demands. The team also had to maintain the original Serangoon grass surface.
“To facilitate fast water drainage for the over three decade old greens we install Passive Capillary Drainage and redefine the cutting areas to highlight the original Redan style greens and features so members have to play the greens and surrounds as originally designed,” Hester explained.
The project was closely scrutinised by club members. These members were however able to provide some local knowledge that helped support the project team’s work.
“The only way to really determine the original shapes of the tees and bunkers was to probe down into the soil layers and map the original lines,” Hester said. “Interestingly, you could see how shapes had changed over the years to better suit maintenance practices and make changes to suit events. For instance, we could map how tees had be changed by building up with sand to form a new look for the World Cup event held at the Bukit course in 1969. Bunkers had grass faces grown down the steeper slopes, as technology back then could not cope with the tropical downpours.”
Hester and the team then took into consideration that James Braid designed the course without actually visiting the site.
“With his design philosophy being to work with the natural landform, we wondered just how much he knew of the difference between Singapore’s tropical weather versus the climatic conditions of the UK,” Hester said. “Over the years, the superintendents had made changes to better cope with the downpours and try to ease their maintenance workload. Taking all this into consideration, we placed the original sand lines as priority and brought technology into practice under the ground. Extensive probing took place to find the original lines and differentiate some changes that were made supposedly by Peter Thomson in the mid-1980s.”
After mapping, water was diverted above each bunker to help protect the faces. Bunkers were then cleaned out to the original lines and, in most cases, the fronts of bunkers lowered to the original base.
“One of the key components of revamping the course was taking into consideration the original grasses and why they were used versus changing to newer varieties,” Hester explained. “The James Braid design works with the existing topography and in many areas a lot of cross slope. It was decided to keep fairways exactly the same, with heavier soils and local grass to maintain the feel of the original course. The greens are still playing to the original pushup greens built in 1924 and use a local grass called Serangoon grass that is only found in Singapore.”
Hester adds that the beauty of working on an original James Braid design is that it provided the chance to gain a thorough understanding of why the course was designed in the way it was.
“The original course was designed to work with the natural contours with only greens receiving creative shaping,” he said. “The greens are primarily Redan style, with intricate but subtle movement that makes the golfer think about their approach shot and how to make stroke play with the shapes around the greens. All of this is still there but had fallen victim to cutting patterns that did not understand why humps and bumps were there in the first place. By understanding and working with Braid’s features, we have now adjusted all cutting lines and the original features and shapes now come into play once again forcing the golfer to think about their shot. It taught us that you can make significant change to how you play the course without making significant change to the course itself.”
Hester also enjoyed the chance to work on a historic course in a region where many colonial era designs have been lost over time.
“South-east Asia used to have plenty of old colonial era designed golf courses, but many have been lost to development and changes made to accommodate a more modern style course,” he explained. “Few exist today and it is so important to understand how and why these courses worked so well. It is fortunate that Singapore Island Country Club have decided to preserve the Bukit Course, and hopefully will do the same in the future The Island course at the club, in order to maintain these colonial era designs.”