A new golf course has opened at the Sentosa Golf Club in Singapore, built on the site of the club’s former Tanjong course.
The work has been led by Andrew Johnston, who is both a golf course architect and the general manager and director of agronomy at Sentosa GC.
GCA caught up with Johnston to discuss the redevelopment of one of Singapore’s most well-known courses.
“Prior to the renovation, the Tanjong was a 40-year old existing course, and one of two courses which make up Sentosa Golf Club,” Johnston explained. “After many years of discussion and study, we took the bold move to redevelop the course. On the newly designed layout, no two holes or lakes are in the same place.”
Johnston first visited Sentosa GC back in 2005 when he was vice president of design and construction at Gene Bates Golf Design. The firm was hired to redesign the greens on the Tanjong course and add Subair technology, which led to an interesting chain of events that ultimately brought about the complete overhaul of the course.
“When we first looked at the Tanjong Course in 2005, there was discussion of a larger renovation at some point,” Johnston explained. “Since then we probably developed nearly a dozen different layouts and approaches to the Tanjong Course. In 2010, our superintendent at Sentosa Golf Club left about 60 days before the Singapore Open. The then general manager of the club, Peter Downie, worked out an arrangement for me to come over and help the team prepare the course for that championship, and with my agronomic skill I helped the team deliver a successful event.”
Following the Singapore Open, Johnston ended up staying on at Sentosa Golf Club as director of agronomy, while still managing a design and consulting business.
“After joining the Sentosa Golf Club staff, I worked to develop the golf course routing concept for the new Tanjong course and shared it with my long-time friend and colleague Matt Swanson,” he said. “Matt improved it and together we collaborated on the redesign of the Tanjong course.”
Johnston’s approach to redeveloping the Tanjong course centred on addressing a number of existing problems, while also planning for future growth.
“The golf course was old and needed major improvements to bring it up to the standards we are trying to achieve at Sentosa GC,” explained Johnston. “From a design and agronomic perspective, the site was very tight, heavily vegetated, plagued with agronomic problems and aging infrastructure. It was susceptible to flooding, and highly contaminated with local cow grasses and sedge.”
Johnston’s aim was to bring the Tanjong up to the level of Sentosa’s other course, the Serapong.
“On the Tanjong, the overall golf course yardage was short, the lake system had become shallow and handicapped the element of creativity, and the bunkering was outdated and required a significant amount of maintenance to keep the sand pushed up,” Johnston explained. “The property did not have the great vistas which contribute to the wow factor of the Serapong course, and was missing the ‘memorability’ factor.”
Ground was broken to redevelop the Tanjong course in November 2015, with work taking place over five phases. With the course now complete, how does Johnston reflect on the project?
“One of the most interesting points is how to address the question of who the golf architect is,” he said. “When I respond that I am the architect there are so many interesting comments that come back, as many in the club circles don’t know me as a golf designer. Frequently people are astounded that I could play the role of general manger, designer, owner’s representative, and director of agronomy all at the same time!”
The course’s greens feature TifEagle grass, while the tees feature Platinum Paspalum, the rough Zoysia Matrella, and the fairways Zoysia Zorro.
“Very few designers ever live with their creation and don't realise the day-to-day pressures of maintaining and operating a world-class course,” Johnston explained. “In my role, I had a vested interest in making sure the bunkers are not only strategically and visually stunning, but also that they perform as expected, eliminating washouts which require meticulous hand labor to repair following each storm event.”
Despite only just reopening, the new Tanjong course has already been selected to host the Asian Amateur Championship in October 2018, while the HSBC Women’s Champions event will move over from the Serapong Course.
Johnston concluded: “It is a great honour and I am humbled to have such confidence in the new design to gain an endorsement of this nature. This almost speaks for itself that the new course will be a great compliment to the Serapong.”