Seowon: Getting the Hills course tour-ready

  • Seowon LPGA

    Golfplan’s redesign of the closing hole at Seowon Hills illustrates the strategic placement of bunkering…

  • Seowon LPGA

    …and is a marked contrast to the same hole before the renovation

  • Seowon LPGA

    Golfplan’s design for the par-three seventh included the expansion and addition of bunkers to heighten the challenge

Richard Humphreys
By Richard Humphreys

When the LPGA Tour selected the Hills course at Seowon Hills Country Club near Seoul, South Korea, to host the BMW Ladies Championship in October 2023, it contacted Golfplan to review the design.

David Dale, one of the firm’s partners, had created a renovation masterplan for the club’s Valley course several years earlier. While the club hadn’t found the time or budget to proceed, Dale’s proposals had clearly made enough of an impact for him to be asked about the Hills.

“The Hills has a grand scale,” he says. “The holes are wide, the greens are enormous, and the views from the course to the surrounding mountains are beautiful. There is a wonderful variety of holes in the way they lay on the land and the lakes are large and strategically positioned. The ability to move 10,000 to 15,000 spectators around the course during an LPGA event is also ideal.

“When I was asked to evaluate the Hills, which functions as an extremely busy public facility that also offers night golf every day, we started our initial spatial evaluation by using Google Earth as our base map prior to our scheduled visit to tour the course.”

Fairways, tees and rough on the Hills is turfed with Kentucky bluegrass, a departure from the Zoysia that is the norm for South Korea. “The course is sandcapped to help the greenkeeping team to maintain excellent turfgrass conditions for the 120,000 rounds that are played on it each year,” says Dale. “The sandcap is critical to growing healthy cool-season turf during the hot, humid and rainy summer months.

“Numerous KLPGA and KPGA events have been held on the Valley course, but the Hills checks all the boxes to host a professional golf tournament, too. The Hills was originally designed to provide more rapid play with minimal strategic character, but the chairman and management of the club had discussions with the LPGA to see what the course could competitively provide the LPGA players. Also, given this opportunity to host the BMW Ladies Championship, the club wanted to make use of this opportunity to reposition the course as a high-end public golf facility.”

Part of Golfplan’s remit was to provide thoughts on the strategic value of bunkers, and the opportunity to add new tees to create a variety of hole lengths and expand tee surfaces. Dale prepared a bunker remodelling masterplan and submitted it to Seowon and LPGA for review.

“The existing bunkers had gone beyond their life cycle, the subsurface drainage failures, bunker sand line neglect, and damaged bunker faces from 10 years’ worth of foot traffic had taken a severe toll on their condition,” says Dale. “Most fairway bunkers were located short of landing zones to minimise challenging play. Many were positioned well beyond the longest driver landing zone as directional bunkers and as ornamental features with no strategic value. And greenside bunkers were bookends framing the putting surfaces rather than guarding competitive hole locations.”

With Dale’s plan approved in March 2023, construction began in April and was completed in early June. Eighty-six new bunkers provide the Hills with a dramatic transformation in terms of aesthetics and strategy. On the par-five sixth, for example, a new ‘deception’ bunker short of the green delivers both indecision and options. In the process of rebuilding bunkers, Dale was able to reduce the overall square footage of sand by 20 per cent.

Six mini-backhoe teams and nearly 100 labourers worked on three holes at a time, all the way to final shaping, which was directed by a Golfplan shaper and the firm’s regional director.

“The course immediately has better visuals,” says Dale. “It is more three dimensional, strategic, memorable and fun!”

This article first appeared in the July 2023 issue of Golf Course Architecture. For a printed subscription or free digital edition, please visit our subscriptions page