RBT Design and Phil Tataurangi Golf are progressing with a NZ$10 million transformation of Riverside Golf Club in Hamilton, New Zealand, aiming to “create a brand-new golf experience”.
Riverside is the amalgamation of two neighbouring golf clubs — Narrows and Lochiel — which were both formed in the 1930s. “The 2014 amalgamation was initially a rationalisation of operating expenditure, however the club decided to keep the two golf courses in operation,” said Brett Thomson of RBT Design.
In 2017, Thomson and Tataurangi, a former PGA Tour winner and now a golf course consultant, won a redesign commission for the Lochiel course.
“Initially, the remodelling of Lochiel was going to be run by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA), which would have followed a typical government tendered construction contract,” said Thomson. “However, the initial cost plan by NZTA consultants pushed the projected costs well in excess of budget.”
With the Narrows course in the path of the NZTA’s highway expansion project, the club chairman decided to begin discussions with the NZTA. In June 2018, the club unanimously voted to pursue a cash settlement from the NZTA for the purchase of the Narrows course. The compensation package enabled the club to pay off their debt and reinvest back into the Lochiel course.
“The cash settlement enabled the club to plot their own course,” said Thomson. “They asked us if we’d like to build the golf course, having already been tasked with remodelling it in 2017. We agreed, set up a construction company called Mahi Tahi Golf Projects and set about finalising the design and rationalising costs and settled on an approved construction budget of NZ$10 million.”
Groundvision Development started construction in February 2019 and is scheduled for completion in September 2020 with a reopening in early 2021. The project is being managed by MTP Projects Limited.
“The site has a very interesting topography shaped by both river and volcano,” said Thomson. “Flattish valley floors, steep escarpments and flat terraces were the three landforms we had to work with, formed when the river ran through this landscape. The landforms looked almost engineered by mankind, the escarpments were so consistent in grade it was reminiscent of the days when Seth Raynor and CB MacDonald applied their engineering sensibilities to golf course design.
“I’d never worked in landscape quite like it. Central to our design philosophy was to maintain the integrity of this unique landscape and ensure continuity and cohesion, at the broad macro level, whilst allowing subtle nuanced shape, only noticeable on closer inspection as one played the course. With careful design and planning, the site earthworks ended up as a modest 65,000 cubic metres.
“The subgrade material left behind by the river was comprised of sandy gravels with pockets of ash and pumice from the Taupo volcanic eruptions,” continued Thomson. “Suffice to say, it was an ideal golf landscape — a unique topography with wonderfully free draining soil.
“This material enabled us to make the single most important design decision for the site. We decided to expose the sandy subgrade and create a sandy waste feature which wove its way through the golf course as a central theme. We have been judicious with its placement to ensure it is not overly in play. This would give the golf course a very unique aesthetic, one with lower operating overhead as we disposed of seven hectares of unnecessary rough and associated maintenance.”
One of the first actions for the project was the removal of around 750 trees to reveal trees species worth preserving, like cedars and redwoods. The tree removal also made visible the topography, which had been lost amongst the forestry.
“Part of the design approach was to investigate minimising the ongoing maintenance cost for the club,” said Thomson. “Converting seven hectares of rough to sandy waste was a good start. As the design progressed, we sought immediate input into the future agronomy. The advice we were given was that wall-to-wall fescue would be the grass best suited to the design we had in mind, except for the greens. The free draining, low fertility of the sandy subgrade was ideal for the fine fescue. This would give us the ideal aesthetic of dry grassland areas in the out-of-play zones as a contrast to the irrigated areas. Several grass varieties for the greens were investigated with the club deciding on 007 creeping bentgrass.”
There will also be practice facilities, a wedge course (incorporated into the range at certain times of the week), a 1,500-square-metre putting green, short loop layouts and multiple different routings.
“The vision for Riverside is to create a brand-new golf experience that far exceeds their most recent past,” said Thomson. “A course that is captivating for the handicap golfer, intriguing for the accomplished player and a little bit challenging or at least thought-provoking for the young gun. The goal is to develop a sustainable golf club business model and as such, it will need to reach beyond its current and future membership base.”