When an architect is faced with a flat, featureless landscape and a brief to produce a course capable of hosting the Ryder Cup, it must be difficult to know where to start.
Having overseen the creation of Valderrama while working for Robert Trent Jones Sr, Canadian-born architect David Krause has tournament credentials and was chosen for the ambitious 36-hole Golf Valley project in Germany.
His first step was to encourage the developer to import material from local construction projects. This, combined with material excavated on-site to create lakes, would provide the earth required to shape a more appealing landscape.
Golf Valley is located about 20 miles south east of Munich, Germany's third largest city and a major business centre.
Like any big city, numerous construction projects are underway at any given time, producing excess material that developers will pay to dispose of. As part of the initial consultation process, Krause worked with his client to consider the economics of accepting this material and the associated revenue. With projects following this business model, some of the income is spent on shaping the new material, but there remains a net gain that can contribute to other costs, thereby allowing for a more ambitious undertaking than an initial budget might have allowed.
With this approach agreed, Krause set about creating a design that could provide the drama required for tournament golf, and an environment that could provide large numbers of spectators with excellent viewing facilities. He says: "I started my design focused on the area close to the clubhouse, weaving holes around three lakes that would provide plenty of opportunity for dramatic and nervous conclusions to matches". There is space to accommodate a huge grandstand, creating an amphitheatre that would give spectators full view of the current ninth, sixteenth and eighteenth holes. If, as the routing allows, these holes are arranged into the closing stretch, then a spectator could see most of the crucial action without leaving their viewing position.
This offers particular appeal for matchplay events, with matches liable to finish before the eighteenth hole.
These three holes will provide an outstanding climax, with water the primary defence. The current ninth is a driveable par four in the style of The Belfry's tenth, where players would need to carry almost 300 yards of lake to hit the green in one but have an easy par option by laying up left to leave a short pitch approach. The sixteenth takes its cue from stadium golf 's poster-child hole, the seventeenth at Sawgrass. An island green par three, Golf Valley's replica currently plays around the 160-yard mark towards the clubhouse and the green is large enough to give even the average player a good chance of success.
But for tournament play a tougher option could be presented with a teeing ground on the other side of the lake, demanding a heroic long iron shot to a target that, from the greater distance, inevitably feels smaller.
The par four eighteenth plays back to the clubhouse and requires the drive to skirt as close as possible to the single fairway bunker on the right hand side to open up the preferred angle into the green. Pulled approach shots will find water and with bunkers providing added protection, an exacting shot is required.
But what of the rest of the course? While undeniably important, it takes more than an exciting closing stretch to make a good golf course. Krause is working hard to give the course character, and a clever routing is playing an important role. The opening hole takes the golfer to the periphery of the site and a long par five second hole plays alongside the neighbouring village and to an area characterised more by the trees adjacent to the property. "I really liked the atmosphere in this part of the site, and wanted to get the golfer here early in the round," says Krause. The green site for the fourth is particularly tranquil, and a moment of reflection may well be needed as it is a long and testing par four to a rolling green. This part of the course will also see extensive planting of heather, which in time will hopefully give a heathland feel and bring the course some added colour.
At the time of GCA's visit to the course, fill material was still being delivered. While it must be difficult to turn away what are essentially lorry-loads of euros, if it is unplanned then finding a place to put it that is sympathetic with the rest of the course can be difficult.
The final hole to be seeded is the twentieth, and the additional fill means the contouring is more severe here, with an Alps-esque formation accumulating on the right hand side and the hole sweeping down and left to the green site.
The more pronounced changes in elevation on this hole look set to work very well and it will be interesting to see how this blends with the remainder of the course. Fill is also accumulating on the left of the fifth hole, and its sympathetic distribution could further enhance the course's appeal.
A Ryder Cup might still be a distant dream for Golf Valley, but there is hope that the course will play host to one of Germany's largest professional tournaments in the near future. Sights will be set on the BMW International Open, one of the PGA European Tour's premier events and is currently hosted by Eichenried, northeast of Munich.
But as with any course, the vast majority of the time will see it needing to cater for the regular player as opposed to the tournament pro. Golf Valley has something to offer everyone, from its nine-hole public course to the 300-yard (wide!) driving range and six possible tee placements on each of the main course's 27 holes. Relative to other Western European countries only a small proportion of the German population play golf, so there is potential for growth. Golf Valley is well suited to capitalise.
This article first appeared in issue 13 of Golf Course Architecture, published in July 2008.