Opened in 1995, the Duke's Course is very different to the norm in St Andrews. Owned by the Old Course Hotel, but located two miles inland on a steeply sloping site, the course has been controversial since its early days.With heavy soils, leading to poor drainage, and severe slopes making the course a tough walk, the Duke's has been compared unfavourably with the other golfing options in St Andrews by many writers.
American firm Kohler Company – the developer of the Whistling Straits complex in Wisconsin – bought the Old Course Hotel and the Duke's Course in 2004, and commissioned architect Tim Liddy to make improvements to the golf course. Liddy, who had met owner Herb Kohler while working on Whistling Straits with Pete Dye, has made dramatic changes, including rerouting several holes and rebunkering the entire course.
"The course has great views of the town, North Sea and the north-east coastline of Scotland," says Liddy. "The ridgeline traversing the site is difficult to deal with in many ways – routing and individual hole design. The site has heavy clay soils, making it wet in the winter and very firm in the summer."Much of the topsoil was removed during the original construction of the course, says Liddy, causing the drainage problems.
Much new drainage has been added, but the soil will need aeration for some time before the water retention problems are corrected, says Liddy. "Aerification is essential to amend the soil, and needs to be completed many times over the next few years.We have added drainage and irrigation to help the superintendent control soil moisture once we get better percolation," he says.
As far as the routing is concerned, Liddy explains that several holes played straight up and down the hill, making the course tough going. The rerouting has seen holes play along the ridge, rather than up and down. Specifically, for those who know the golf course, hole 15 now stops at the bottom of the hill, hole 16 is a new par three that plays along the ridge, and hole 17 continues along the ridge.
Bunkers are being rebuilt. Thomson's original course featured links-style pot bunkers: Liddy and his team have redone the bunkers in the sand blowout style popularised by architects such as Tom Doak and Coore & Crenshaw.
"Artistically, the site called out for a natural approach. It is a very beautiful site.We are in the process of changing all the bunkering for artistic, as well as strategic interest," says Liddy. "All the bunkers on the golf course are being remodelled.Mounding in the centre of the fairway on holes four and five has been removed to extend the view from the tee through the fairway and open up the strategy of the holes.We've changed these holes to remove the blind drives, and the redone bunkering adds more of a risk/reward element. I think it was originally planned as a links-style course, but to me it's more of a heathland or parkland feel, and the bunkering needs to reflect that."
This article first appeared in issue 3 of Golf Course Architecture, published in January 2006.