Located about forty-five minutes drive to the east of St Petersburg, Russia, Mill Creek Golf Club is a new development which opened its doors for play this autumn. Designed by European Golf Design, the 7,200 yard par 72 course forms the central core of a large new multi-use residential development and features extensive practice facilities and a three-hole academy course. But the truly exciting aspect of Mill Creek is that the golf course offers much more than just eighteen holes, for it also provides other playing possibilities featuring multiple eighteen-hole and nine-hole layouts influenced by cross-country golf.
This innovative concept, which is protected by a patent of invention, is the brainchild of Mill Creek’s owner, Sergey Borisov, who has christened it ‘Kaleidoscope Golf’.
Surrounded by forest, the 280 hectare property is flat and open with a high water table within a metre or so of ground level. The site’s great advantage is its deep, sandy soils. As part of the development 50 hectares of lakes were planned for visual amenity and water based leisure facilities. This provided millions of tonnes of sand, necessary to raise the golf course above the water table as well as influencing the style of the golf course.
The intention of the shaping was to transform the flat, expansive nature of the site into a visually interesting golf course with rugged features where each hole is framed by dramatic landform or water. Wide fairways featuring many bumps, ridges and hollows run between fescue covered hillocks, while bunkers are grass faced and relatively deep, a necessity with the locally windy conditions to prevent wind blow of sand. The greens are generally large with a combination of subtle and occasionally more dramatic movement and there are plenty of run-off areas. With several large lakes it is no surprise that water is a strategic threat at several points around the course and especially over the last four holes.
The objective has been to take elements of seaside golf and combine them with more modern design influences to create a golf course which has its own distinct character and one that is certainly unique for Russia.
However, whilst Mill Creek has been designed to compete with the best courses in Russia it also has a number of unusual features not found on most other courses.
The first of these is that Mill Creek is actually two courses within one. This has been achieved by providing each hole with two distinct teeing areas to create a pair of courses which, although played over the same ground have differing characteristics. The Red Course plays between 5,100 and 6,600 metres with a par of 72, while the Blue Course is slightly shorter, playing 5,000 to 6,500 metres, again with a 72 par. Both courses have been certified by the Russian Golf Association.
With two extensive tee complexes the golfer is also able to make up their own course variations adjusting the layout, length of holes and challenge as they prefer.
Every golf hole has been designed to offer different challenges and shot values. The two sets of tees create alternative lengths and angles for the drive and subsequently set up very different approaches. Bunkers and other hazards have been cleverly incorporated into the layout so that they work for both courses without feeling out of place or redundant.
As an example, the fifth hole on the Red Course measures 536 metres and plays as a par five. However, on the Blue Course the same hole plays from different tees as a par four of 381 metres, with an alternative line of play and with its own unique shot values. Altogether there are potentially eight par fives within the course with six of these holes offering a par four option. All the par fours provide longer and shorter alternatives, usually with different tee shot angles, as do the par threes.
Of course the use of two teeing areas has been seen many times before, but normally on nine-hole courses to create eighteen. It is unusual to see an eighteen-hole course of this quality use the same technique to successfully create an additional course both of which succeed as stand-alone layouts.
However, the two courses within one concept is not the only unique feature at Mill Creek. Taking on board the client’s wishes to create a form of cross-country golf, other layouts have been planned that can be played in many different ways.
This has been achieved by providing tees which offer alternative directions of play, facilitated by openings cut through mounding for new fairway corridors and designing greens which accept shots from two or even three different directions. The variety of playing options has then been further extended by the addition of a number of extra tees, outside the standard golf layout.
Several eighteen-hole Kaleidoscope Golf options have been laid out, including a reversible course, but there are no doubt many other variations which have yet to be discovered. There are even additional options to play different six- or nine-hole par three courses around the clubhouse.
Importantly Kaleidoscope Golf is laid out to fit within all the usual parameters required for the certification of new golf courses and play follows the normal rules of the game. Of course, by its very nature Kaleidoscope Golf involves crossing holes which somewhat limits the occasions that it can be played and the use of alternative routes does mean that on some holes not all the hazards are perfectly aligned. However, it does open the door to new opportunities for the golf management team to offer members a greater variety of different experiences.
It should be noted that Kaleidoscope Golf can be achieved with a design and construction budget not greatly different from the cost of creating a single course. At Mill Creek each hole has two tee complexes but this need not be required to create Kaleidoscope Golf. Moreover, maintenance costs are similar to that of maintaining one course, which is a definite bonus for the club owners.
Mill Creek offers much more than a high quality golf course and it is a testament to the aspirations and enthusiasm of a client who has not been afraid to push the boundaries that traditional golf developments offer. Mill Creek may be just an eighteen-hole golf course, but it can be a different eighteen-hole golf course for every day of the week!
Ross McMurray is a designer at European Golf Design and is currently serving as president of the European Institute of Golf Course Architects
This article first appeared in issue 51 of Golf Course Architecture