First Korean course for Hills/Forrest


First Korean course for Hills/Forrest
Sean Dudley

American design firm Hills/Forrest has broken ground on the first course at the 54-hole Sanyosoo resort in South Korea. It will be the company’s first design in the country.

Hills/Forrest partner Steve Forrest has directed design efforts on the Yosoo course along with Seoul-based developer and construction firm AM Engineering, which made its mark via construction of the Sky 72 project near the capital’s airport. Grading began this winter and shapers should be on site by 1 March, said Forrest, who foresees a 2011 grand opening.

The Sanyosoo resort will include three golf courses. The Yosoo, which can be translated as ‘the enjoyment of rivers’, will precede designs from Tom Weiskopf and Kyle Phillips. 

“Policy in Korea restricts golf course development to mountainous terrain, so as not to diminish the country’s limited resources in arable land,” Forrest explained. “It’s very difficult to design golf courses in this sort of mountainous environment without previous experience on comparable terrain. We will move six million cubic metres of fill at Sanyosoo. That puts a huge onus on the grading plans. If they’re just a bit off, it can have huge ramifications not only to the course design itself, but also to the construction cost. Design decisions on a project like this one must almost always be made in the context of the grading efforts. I’ve been very impressed with AM Engineering and the accuracy of the mass grading plan with which we started.” 

Forrest explains that a ‘Korean’ theme affects the golf course design in specific ways: “It means that we must have two par threes and two par fives on each nine, and there must be at least two holes with a different par between the two threes and the two fives,” he said. “Here’s another example: Tea houses are organic to the Korean golf experience. The caddie culture is strong here and it includes the ladies serving tea to the foursome. Furthermore, it must take place at specific intervals: after the fifth and fourteenth holes. At Yosoo, we have routed the course accordingly, of course, but we have also sited the tea houses so they have nice, relaxing views of lakes.”

“The bunker style is very flashed up and very tight to the green’s edge,” the architect explained. “In several instances, the putting surfaces just roll over into the bunker and there is a lot more bunkering at Yosoo than you would see on a typical Hills/Forrest course; I would say twice what we’d normally use.”

Researching that culture in 2009, Forrest recalls visiting a 36-hole facility near Seoul where the thermostat read 3C (38F) and the wind blew briskly. The course was packed, wall to wall. “There is no flat participation rate in Korea,” he said. “These courses are doing 80,000 rounds a year in an eight month season, with a fairly severe winter climate, at US$200 a round. It makes an American sort of jealous, and it explains the need for golf courses here. It’s golf heaven, basically.” Seventy golf courses have opened in Korea in the past three years, and there are currently believed to be 110 under construction.

Hills/Forrest has put in place a number of partnerships aimed at strengthening its position in different markets around the world. In 2008, the firm created Ochoa Hills Golf Design to serve the Mexican market, while last year, it formed a strategic partnership with Arjun Atwal to create Hills-Atwal Golf Design India. In 2010, Hills/Forrest will team with Australian swing gurus BannLynch to bring a practice facility model to Asia-Pacific markets, specifically China. “We believe these local partnerships simultaneously provide our clients unmatched design expertise along with serious marketing power,” explained company president John Strawn. “We are working on several partnership deals to serve the Korean market and expect to announce something before the close of 2010.”