Andrew Johnston begins renovation of Sentosa’s Serapong course

  • Sentosa

    Sentosa Golf Club in Singapore has started a renovation of its Serapong course

  • Sentosa

    The course is expected to reopen in October

Richard Humphreys
By Richard Humphreys

Sentosa Golf Club in Singapore has started a renovation of The Serapong course, led by Andrew Johnston, the club’s general manager, director of agronomy and resident golf course designer.

“The last renovation of The Serapong course was nearly fourteen years ago and was the catalyst that propelled the course onto the world stage,” said Johnston, who also runs JDA, a golf design and agronomy firm with business partner Matt Swanson. “This is really an exciting time and opportunity to make adjustments to The Serapong. We have been monitoring how the course was ageing and responding over the past decade and with new technology, combined with our creative willingness to strive for excellence, we are looking forward to enhancing the course to an even higher level.”

The Serapong was originally designed by the Golfplan team and was one of Ronald Fream's projects, and opened in 1982. The course was renovated in 2006 by Bates Golf Design Group, who Johnston helmed as VP of design and construction at the time for the group. Johnston and Swanson completed a redesign of the club’s The New Tanjong course in 2016.

The Serapong course closed on 16 March, with work scheduled over the next three months, and the course expected to reopen in October 2020.

“We have tried to balance a multitude of upgrades that we believe will have a material improvement to the golfing experience,” said Johnston. “Firstly, rejuvenating the fairways with enhanced grading adjustments and improved drainage infrastructure will speed up percolation rates while managing the mass amount of excess water we see in Singapore; crucial when dealing with the intense downpours we experience in the subtropics.

“The fairway modifications will enhance and preserve the personality of the iconic layout, retaining the strategy required to successfully navigate daunting shots.”

Bunker work will see fresh liners installed and new white sand for consistency and improved playability. “We will also be developing a new style to the look and feel of the bunkers while restoring the caps and bays of the big flaring noses that sneak in and out of the horizon lines, a major feature of the course,” said Johnston. “We have also introduced a couple of new surprises with the addition of some targeted bunkers in a few key areas.”

Greens will also receive special attention, including a rejuvenation to the soil profile with soil enhancements, with these upgrades coming via the introduction of new carbon technology. “The club will self-perform the ‘drill and fill’ enhancements on the greens to improve the soil condition,” said Johnston. “The process involves machines injecting a customised pre-made sand solution comprising of acid impregnated ceramics form Profile, Biochar carbons from Mirimichi, and a USGA particle sizing specification compatible sand, to complement the current rootzone structure. This upgrade to the soils will boost their performance for the next decade.

“The modifications to the soils will also enhance the air to water ratio, reduce and stablise the rising pH level, slow down the organic build-up process and strengthen the cation-exchange capacity of the soils, so that they will be compatible and competitive for the next 10 years or more.”

The project will see all tees pushed back out to their original size and re-lasered to reinstate a tabletop flat finish. Other enhancements to the tees include regrassing with Platinum Paspaulm, which allows the club to maintain them at the same mowing height of the greens three millimetres.

“Over time, tees lose their character due to weather and heavy use,” said Johnston. “In general, the encroachment reduces their size, they lose their flat surface and at times begin to point away from the landing zones, it can become an overwhelming problem and, at some point, you must hit the reset button, which is precisely what we are doing.”

The club has retained Steven Page a world-class shaper, who will work with Johnston to bring his creative vision to life.

“Since the initial works in 2006, which was transformative for the club and the golf course on the world stage, accelerating The Serapong's appearance has also led to a long list of accolades,” said Johnston. “But golf courses that exist in warm season locations age faster than the ordinary course. That ageing process almost doubles itself when you are located in the subtropics and nearly on the equator, like we are. Organic build up quickly materializes, making soils heavy and holding excessive water. Combine this with hot humid conditions and the golf course becomes a disease incubator. Other stress points that generate quickly include grass contamination. Foreign grasses begin to creep in and dominate the playing surfaces.

“We are lucky at Sentosa, our owner encourages a progressive working environment, adopting best-practices and techniques designed to set new continental benchmarks in the industry.

“We recognise that being innovative and great stewards of the environment is essential in the modern world and in golf leadership. We want to implement comprehensive measures to build the most sustainable golf product possible,” continued Johnston. “The best illustration of this will be our forthcoming documentary, Game On, that will detail and highlight measures we are taking across the property.”