Renaissance Golf Design, the firm of American architect Tom Doak, is well under way with construction on his first course in Britain. The course, on the Archerfield estate next door to Muirfield, and named the Renaissance Club in honour of its designers, finally received planning permission late in December 2005, and Doak's crew has been active on the site since the early spring.
GCA visited Archerfield during Doak's first site visit of the construction phase. It's a surprising site in many ways: its location, between Muirfield and North Berwick, might suggest a classic links, but the golf course does not occupy the actual seashore. The soil is extremely sandy, and it's clear that the influence of the links is strong, but anyone who has visited the Open at Muirfield and parked on the North Berwick side of the golf course will know the land.Much of the site is heavily treed, and tree clearing was still continuing during our visit. The Renaissance Club traded a patch of land with the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers shortly before construction started, with Muirfield acquiring a strip adjacent to its sixth and eighth holes, maintaining separation between the two courses, and Archerfield receiving some fairly dramatic property close to the sea.
Part of the Archerfield estate, formerly owned by the Duke of Hamilton, is being developed by Edinburgh pub tycoon Kevin Doyle, with assistance from former European Tour professional David J Russell, into a residential and golf community. Archerfield's two courses, the Dirleton and the Fidra, are open for play, and the impressive 18th century mansion is being turned into apartments. The Renaissance Club, though, elsewhere on the estate, is a completely separate operation, being developed by a US consortium led by Florida businessmen Jerry Sarvadi and Derek Stewart. Sarvadi, a long time Scottish golfing enthusiast, says he has been interested in building a golf course in this country for some time.
Doak's affection for links golf, and Scottish links golf in particular, is wellknown.
His year in the UK after graduating from Cornell University, paid for by a bursary he won as a student, saw him caddying at St Andrews and travelling round playing every classic golf course he could find. He has called Muirfield 'one of the ten best courses in the world' and cited North Berwick's West Links as a personal favourite.
"We have kept fairly quiet about this project, because the site is not what you might expect in this area," he says. "It's a very different property from North Berwick and Muirfield because of the trees and the lack of dunes, but it has great features for golf. As well as being sandy, the land has terrific subtle movement." One unexpected development during construction has been the discovery of the remains of several medieval houses under what is to become the seventeenth fairway.
Local archaeologists are in the middle of surveying the finds, and will document them meticulously before the site is sealed.
Doak's lead associate on the project, Don Placek, said: "What we are hoping to do is integrate the contours that were here with the archaeology in such a way that they are not unnatural, but at the same time trying to incorporate some of the archaeology into those contours so that whoever plays golf here will have some sense of history and the different things that happened here hundreds of years ago." There are plans to include a display about the medieval village in the completed clubhouse.
Renaissance is known for designing in the field, and both Doak and Placek stressed during GCA's visit that the course was a work in progress. Bunker styling, for example, was still a matter of some debate – the company's previous courses, such as Pacific Dunes in Oregon, and Barnbougle Dunes in Tasmania, are known for their large sand blowouts, but given the Scottish tradition, there is clearly a case for revetted bunkers here.
Tree removal, as mentioned above, has been a major challenge. The soil in the cleared fairway corridors was full of roots, and the contractors have developed an unusual attachment for the backhoe diggers which allows the earth to be gently shaken, thus removing the roots. To do this on every fairway, though, appeared a monumental task.
The property contains some interesting man-made features too. Two holes will play through a relatively flat field, which might have made for dull golf. But a huge heap of earth, perhaps 50 yards across and 15 feet high, which must have been created over the years through farming, will make for an exciting green site. I stood on the bank above the roughly-shaped green, imagined the chip down to the flagstick and shivered. Closer to the Firth of Forth the land is more dynamic, and a fairway corridor cleared for the ninth hole will play down towards the water.
The record of Doak and his team over the past few years is unequalled.With Pacific Dunes, Barnbougle and Cape Kidnappers all in the top 100 of the main course rankings tables, it's hard to imagine that Archerfield will not be another great success. It remains far too early to make any detailed judgements about the course, but those of us who have had chance to view the site in construction can only look forward to seeing the finished product.