Restoring the original design strategy at Laem Chabang

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    Nicklaus Design has renovated the Mountain nine at Laem Chabang

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    The Thai club reopened the nine in November 2018

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    “We reconstructed all the bunkers,” said Nicklaus Design associate Sean Quinn

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    Fairways and rough have been reshaped to improve visibility

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    Tees have been re-levelled, with their original shape, size and elevation restored

Richard Humphreys
By Richard Humphreys

Nicklaus Design has completed a renovation of the Mountain nine at Laem Chabang International Country Club near Pattaya, Thailand.

The 27-hole golf facility was originally designed in the mid-1990s as a Jack Nicklaus Signature. The firm’s associate Sean Quinn handled the renovation, working with contractor Martin Moore of Flagstick Golf Construction. GCA caught up with Quinn to find out more.

How did the project come about?

Hamish McKendrick, a Bangkok-based agronomist and board member at Laem Chabang, approached Nicklaus Design a few years back as he felt the course had fallen behind where it should be, but had enormous potential.

I started visiting in 2015 and 2016. We began to systematically remove and thin out many of the trees. It took Hamish a few years, but he eventually convinced the board to start a proper renovation. It was a tough sell, because despite the various maintenance and playability issues, the course was one of the busiest in the region. Given Laem Chabang’s prime location, eventually the board took the correct long-term decision. The Mountain nine closed for work from March to November 2018. And the club’s Lake and Valley nines are also expected to be renovated within the next two years.

What was the focus of the renovation of the Mountain nine?

Trees were overgrown, resulting in serious shade issues affecting agronomics. Many corridor widths were reduced significantly by the overhanging limbs. Some fairway bunkers had become obsolete, hidden behind trees, so where necessary these were either redesigned or the offending trees removed. Great care was taken to ensure Mr Nicklaus’s original design strategy and intent was not lost.

What work has been done on the greens?

On average, 10-12 inches of additional mix from years of topdressing was removed. Once construction commenced it was discovered that all greens had been intentionally reduced in size, some by 40 per cent. We restored the original size.

The surrounds were lowered to ensure the tie-ins were restored, with the original gravel and drainage in the greens left untouched. The greens have been grassed with TifEagle supplied by Sports Turf Solutions.

The first green had been rebuilt at some stage by unknown parties and did not resemble any of the other greens. This was the only green on the course to be totally rebuilt. We also reconstructed the putting and chipping green. The last of the greens were grassed at the end of June 2018.

Has any other work been necessary?

After more than 20 years, the course length and bunker strategy is still relevant – there was little need for adjustment. But the excessive trees and landscaping had made the course too difficult for average to high handicappers. By opening things up and restoring the greens back to their original size, we not only improved the agronomical conditions, but we enhanced playability and aesthetics immeasurably.

We reconstructed all the bunkers, with certain ones completely redesigned to address access issues.

There are rock retaining walls prevalent throughout the course. To continue the theme, a wall at the second green was built to relate the green better to the lake.

There was also some minor reshaping of the fairways and rough to address some visibility issues. All were fumigated, stripped and floated before being re-grassed with Zeon Zoysia. Tees were re-levelled, with their original shape, size and elevation restored, and again we grassed them with Zeon Zoysia.

Garden-type landscaping had also been added throughout the course, much of which was removed, particularly adjacent landing areas.

Was new irrigation required?

Jim Schumacher of Aqua Turf International completed an initial comprehensive irrigation audit. He also completely redesigned all the greens and surrounds irrigation. All irrigation heads were replaced on the golf course and two new Flowtronex pump stations were installed. Toro irrigation heads and pump stations were supplied by Jebsen & Jessen, the local distributor.