When a firm has designed 22 courses in a market, the 23rd must somehow set itself apart. This was the task facing course architect David Dale and his colleagues at Golfplan, whose 23rd design in South Korea — Haesley Nine Bridges — opened very quietly late last year.
The job of differentiation at Haesley Nine Bridges was particularly difficult because, in a sense, developers Cheil Jedang were competing with themselves. In 2001, Cheil Jedang opened the Club at Nine Bridges on Jeju Island, another Golfplan design that has been voted the country’s top course and has cracked a number of world top 100 rankings.
“That’s a tough act to follow but Haesley has a sophistication and flair that frankly none of our courses in South Korea have, including Nine Bridges,” Dale said. “It’s sassy and dramatic without ever sacrificing the balance you need to create a world-class experience — and it is the ‘experience’ that sets Haesley apart. The course design, the course conditions and the clubhouse are without peer in South Korea.”
Ten years ago, such a statement might have been interpreted as faint praise, but today South Korea is arguably the world’s most dynamic golf course market. More projects are being built here, at a faster pace, than anywhere in the world. Haesley Nine Bridges was undertaken specifically to leverage the Nine Bridges brand in the economic centre of that market, Seoul.
Haesley’s modernist clubhouse, which, in March 2010, earned a World Architecture Award for designer Yoon Kyeong-sik. The course design is equally high-concept. Dale says the layout was crafted in direct response to its sister design on Jeju. “There is a concept for each hole at Haesley, and those were informed by the concepts we used at Nine Bridges,” Dale explained. “We adapted these ideas, refined and improved on them.”
At Haesley, there’s a ‘sky’ hole with a horizon green surrounded by bunkers (the fifteenth), a speed slot hole (twelfth), a Cape hole (ninth), an island hole (sixteenth), even, in the tenth, a two-island hole. Dale says he’s proud of the way these concepts work on their own, and then together in the context of an 18 hole routing: “The tenth is a short par four, just 300 metres or so, but hazards surround the fairway and green. It’s risk-reward taken to the highest degree,” he said “However, the 11th hole — a 530-metre par five —features a single central fairway bunker that really serves more as a target. It’s wide open. After the tenth, it’s a liberating experience.”
“The bunkers are quite grand in scale and different from anything we’ve done in Korea: with sand flashes as high as two metres. You can stand at the bottom and the lip is over your head!”
Dale worked closely with Marsh Benton, Augusta National’s director of agronomy to set a new agronomic standard for South Korea, a country where maintenance can be a puzzle. The chief complicating factor is the country’s location in a transition zone — a latitude directly between colder climates (suitable for bent and fescue grass species) and warmer climates (where bermuda and paspalum predominate). For decades, the standard in Korea has been zoysia grass, which can survive the heat and cold but rarely produces world-class playing surfaces. Working with JacklinGolf and consultant Jim Connolly, Dale and Benson equipped all 18 greens at Haesley with T-1 bentgrass and Sub-Air systems to allow the superintendent to remove excess water from the green’s soil profile and pull oxygen into the root system during rainy, high-stress summer months. Sub-Air, which Benson helped develop in the 1990s, literally pipes oxygen into the root-zone at the superintendent’s discretion.
All the greens, plus middle and forward tees also have with sub-grade hydronics. This system of heating and cooling coils is a first for Korea, and Benson brought a high degree of familiarity: a similar system is used to warm the rootzone of the twelfth green at Augusta National.
“There’s an aesthetic consideration, as well,” Dale points out. “There are visual dynamics we cannot achieve without bentgrass. When you frame a bentgrass fairway with bluegrass rough, it feels rich and refined. There’s a distinction in growing heights that provides a scale and texture. Because of that definition, that change in colour, it feels comfortable — like every fairway occupies its own room. The goal was for Haesley to stand out, and I believe that goal has been met. There’s nothing like it in South Korea, or anywhere else.”