Learning in the field


Sean Dudley
By Sean Dudley

Fifteen students currently working their way through the European Institute of Golf Course Architects (EIGCA) diploma programme, three tutors, a visiting lecturer and a number of observers, including one from GCA, descended on the Victoria Golf Club in Vilamoura, Portugal, earlier this year.

EIGCA education board members Howard Swan, Brian Phillips, and president Ken Moodie accompanied the students, whose agenda for the three day trip included field work for the major design project of their course. The party also included Vicki Martz, Palmer Design's project architect on the Victoria course, who was to deliver the Toro International Design Lecture to the students.

Getting started in golf course architecture is a difficult process. EIGCA's commitment to the education of emerging design talent is unprecedented within the industry, and the scale of the effort put in on the Portugal trip is a clear indication of this commitment. But the trip wasn't only about work: to become a good architect it's vital to have been exposed to as many high quality golf courses in as many golf environments as possible. So both students and tutors looked forward to the opportunity to visit some of the Algarve's best rated courses, and to play a tournament – also sponsored by Toro, one of EIGCA's biggest supporters – on Martz's Victoria course.

Finnish student Annika Vehkonen reckons that exposure to the economics of the resort golf industry was particularly illuminating. "For me the biggest learning point related to resort golf courses and golf tourism," she says. "I realised how much money is involved and how a golf course architect must make solutions which will keep the golf customers happy. It is all about teamwork between the golf course and other tourist attractions. The golf course can play a positive role in this, but it is not necessary the only thing which will attract the players. And Portugal was showing its best parts. The flowers were beautiful, the golf courses in great shape and the weather was brilliant. I think it is an excellent place for golf!" Phillip Christian Spogard, a Danish student who is working in London for Thomson Perrett and Lobb, also highlighted the resort golf aspect of the trip. "I have always been very fond of the history of golf course architecture, and these years spend on the programme have allowed me to get an even deeper appreciation of the history and evolution of golf course architecture – both in Europe and America. I have grown very fond of the British heathland courses and their influence on golf course architecture and try to study them and learn from their originality. They are really good sources of inspiration," he told GCA.

"The most interesting thing when going to a country like Portugal is to see the difference in the types of courses there compared to the courses in the UK and Germany where we had our previous seminars. I love Portugal as a golfing country and am very fond of the courses in the Lisbon region. It was interesting to see the more 'touristy' version of Portuguese golf on the Algarve. But I also realised that bigger is not always better!" Visiting golf courses designed and built for resort guests, and thus dependent on the real estate component of developments is often a culture shock for golfers – and even embryonic golf architects – who have grown up in an environment of 'core golf.' Working with resort planners, trying to maximise the amount of golf views for villas and apartments and needing to build features that will grab the attention of golfers in a very competitive market are all concepts that don't necessarily occur to the student who comes into the industry wanting simply to build great golf. "This was the first time we have experienced and learned about resort golf course design, and it's a totally different angle and perspective on design," says London-based South African Andrew Goosen. "The additional element of housing and services has to be considered and this can have a big impact on the golf course design – sometimes the design of the course must be altered to accommodate residential property. Resort golf course design is a longer and more tedious process!" Student Florian Stanka cited one other key aspect of golf in warm climates: the importance of water and its associated processes on the sustainability of golf.

"I've learned about the importance of economic irrigation systems and the choice of grass species in creating good quality and enjoyable golf in the southern countries of Europe," he says.