“I can see fun alternative golf facilities gaining momentum”

  • Williams
    Gareth Williams
Richard Humphreys
By Richard Humphreys

Gareth Williams, director of design and operations at Faldo Design, spoke with GCA about the status of the firm’s projects during the coronavirus pandemic, how he and the team are remaining productive, and his thoughts on the future of the golf course design industry.

Like most golf architecture firms, Faldo Design has seen projects in construction disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, with impacts varying from country to country, according to local responses and the differing approaches of authorities.

“We are still making progress and work does continue, albeit at a slightly slower pace,” said Williams. “No two Faldo Design projects are the same, so we must take each on a case-by-case basis, judged by their own unique factors.

“We have a small project in Vietnam that was ready to seed when restrictions were put in place there. Even though we were working with limited staff, we were able to adapt to the circumstances and carry on as planned, so it is now growing in.

“For our other projects, the story is a little more complicated. Restrictions have affected our ongoing construction at sites in Pakistan and Cambodia more heavily, and personnel have had to stop working.

“Staff are maintaining high levels of hygiene, regularly washing their hands and frequently cleaning all surfaces on site, whilst PPE has been provided and masks and gloves being worn when necessary.”

“Our Sir Nick Faldo signature course in Pakistan faces stricter measures. With Pakistan in lockdown, many of the project’s elements have been restricted. Only a handful of key personnel, including the construction manager, remain on site. Although restricted, at least they can keep an eye on works during this period, such as the turf nursery.”

The virus has affected the entire Faldo team, with everyone working from home and following the appropriate guidelines and restrictions. Work has continued remotely with presentations and client communication conducted by video.

“We have taken the decision to postpone all planned site visits for the time being whilst mobility remains difficult,” said Williams. “That said, our team, the golf course project management and construction teams are all very experienced and we are frequently in communication on all design work to ensure each project keeps moving forward. Easing of travel restrictions is still a big unknown in most regions, and even when travel begins to resume it will do so at different rates and times. For the time being we are working on the assumption that we’ll be grounded for a while!

“For projects in construction, naturally the preference is always for our design team to be visiting sites regularly, though like most we have had to adapt to being stationary and explore other ways of working. We have embraced technology more than ever and are really seeing the benefits. The likes of video conferences and two-way sharing have allowed us to stay in regular contact with all teams on the ground at our projects; and by using imagery and drone footage we are able to continue to provide detailed design input despite being miles apart! It’s not ideal but is working remarkably well.”

Faldo Design also has two projects in design – in the Philippines and in the Middle East.

“In terms of the active design work, fortunately we prepared well before lockdowns were implemented and we were able to get set up and take home anything required to develop designs and produce drawings,” said Williams. “As a team we’re in regular contact to discuss and share ideas, Sir Nick included; he’s been sketching up and firing over ideas for hole strategies from his setup at home.

“To my surprise, between juggling home-schooling and daily exercise outings, my design work is still on schedule!

“Having projects at different stages of design and construction is useful because we can dovetail different aspects of each project, meaning when one slows down, we can press ahead with others. Construction projects will certainly build up speed once work restrictions have eased, although it is likely that we will see travel options remain limited for some time. At Faldo Design we are currently working on the basis that remote working will just become the norm for much of the year, relying on technology to offer design input to the experienced teams who are on the ground.

“New projects remain more of an unknown,” continued Williams. “Most of our projects in the pipeline are part of large developments and whilst some discussions have stopped during the lockdown period, others have continued as they were. It will be interesting to see how they progress given the global economy has already taken quite a hit and it will be a while until we begin to see recovery. However, business of development will build up speed again and as we all get more used to working remotely, there’s no reason why planning of projects can’t continue whilst societal restrictions remain. This period of upheaval will certainly mean that securing funding for projects will remain the biggest challenge.

“I do believe the golf industry itself will need to reset to some degree, in culture and its operations, to see it successfully move forward and return in a stronger place. From a design perspective I can see fun alternative golf facilities gaining momentum, with the likes of shorter courses and practice centres growing in popularity, particularly if golf is given the all clear as a suitably socially distant sport. Operationally, there may have to be a realism and forced acceptance of slightly reduced maintenance standards – an issue that the R&A’s Golf Course 2030 initiative started looking at from an environmental perspective last year. Looking for positives beyond the next 12 months, the introduction of new golfing alternatives and shifts in the game’s culture could help golf establish a more sustainable future for itself.”