The precarious balance of designing for strong Jeju winds

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  • Nine Bridges

    The Club at Nine Bridges in South Korea features an island green on the par-five eighteenth

  • Nine Bridges

    The par-four eighth with its Het Girdle green, a homage to the fifth on the King’s course at Gleneagles

  • Nine Bridges

    The double green on the par-four fifteenth and par-four eleventh

  • Nine Bridges

    “When the wind does come up, it can get a little crazy,” said Dale

  • Nine Bridges

    The course is host to the CJ Cup, which was won in 2017 by Justin Thomas

Richard Humphreys
By Richard Humphreys

The Club at Nine Bridges on Jeju Island, South Korea, is this week hosting the PGA Tour’s CJ Cup. Golf course architect David Dale and PGA Tour Design Service’s Steve Wenzloff provide some insight into the influence of Jeju’s trade winds on the design of the course.

The golf course at Nine Bridges was designed by David Dale and Ronald Fream of Golfplan, and opened to wide acclaim in 2001. It has two distinct nines, the Creek and Highland. The Creek features dry streams, shrubs and stone walls, while the back Highland nine has a wide grassland feel and closes with a par five that plays to an island green on a large lake.

The PGA Tour first visited last year for the inaugural CJ Cup, won by Justin Thomas following a play-off with Marc Leishman. Jeju Island’s trade winds kept the field from going low and helped to reveal the course’s strategic teeth.

“I think we were all very pleased with what we saw. It was a great event. But I think the Jeju winds definitely helped,” said Steve Wenzloff, vice president and player liaison with PGA Tour Design Services. “The winds here are more than an element. They’ve been factored into the design in quite specific ways. We were fortunate to see that play itself out over the weekend last year.”

Dale said: “This isn’t exactly news, but these Tour guys are incredibly good. At its Open venues, the USGA chooses rough, fairway width and green speed to defend par. That’s why, when the wind does come up, it can get a little crazy out there – like we saw on Saturday at Shinnecock in June.

“At Nine Bridges, we’ve tried like the dickens to use design elements to create that resistance to scoring – but we did so with the Jeju winds, and how they traditionally blow in October, firmly in mind. The proof is in the pudding: the golf course, with the wind blowing, defended par. I’m pretty sure Justin Thomas shot nine-under the first day. Then the wind showed up. The winning score was nine-under. Bingo.”

As reported by the GCA in the run up to last year’s tournament, the club had just completed a renovation of the course’s bunkers, using the Durabunker system. The 110 bunkers are key to the strategic interest of the course.

Dale created a new back tee on the par-five eighteenth to ensure that players going for the green in two would have at least have a 250-yard approach shot – to cover the bunker guarding the island green. When Jeju’s trade winds blow in the faces of Tour players, a risk and reward approach shot is created.

“Without the wind blowing as it normally does, those guys are hitting mid-irons,” said Dale. “There’s a similar but more nuanced equation playing out on several holes at Nine Bridges. At sixteen (a Cape-style, bite-off-what-you-dare par four measuring 427 yards), the position of the fairway bunkers that form the Cape element – and where fairway gets narrow in the landing area – are calibrated very specifically to lure players into a potentially hazardous but rewarding shot off the tee. But it’s all based on the prevailing wind being up. So I say, let it blow!”

“I’d say the sixth hole was too easy for them,” said Dale of the 428-yard par four. “They blew it right over my spectacle bunkers! We still plan to pull the tees back 15 yards, to make them more relevant.”

The eighth is a driveable par four with a Het Girdle green, one of several that pay homage to the King’s course at Gleneagles, Scotland. “Hole eight was very exciting. To see Justin Thomas hit it through the green and make four, to see K.J. Choi nearly drive the green and walk away with seven? I imagine that was as fun for me as it was for everyone watching on TV.”

Wenzloff added: “The course is great and what we did prior to last year’s event has worn very well. The routing is very good. It sits in there very well and on the terrain. David didn’t move a lot of dirt, which is unusual for Korea or any mountain golf course – but it is a mountain course. I think the best comparison on Tour is Kapalua. At Kapalua, because of the topography, the trade winds uniquely affect the competition there.”

Kapalua Resort Plantation course hosts the Tournament of Champions and is also designed to function in trade winds, but in 2013, the event was shortened because the extreme strength of the winds that year rendered the course unplayable for three days.

Barring freak conditions, Dale doesn’t see that ever happening at Nine Bridges: “But what I think the CJ Cup and Kapalua show us is how precariously the competitive equation is perched at certain tournament courses. We’ve seen how wind can suspend play on British Open courses as well – when the ball is being blown around on the greens. That situation isn’t ideal, but we need to acknowledge that up until that point when it gets out of hand, it might be the most compelling tournament golf there is.”

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