California Design Firm Busy in Asia

The course architects at Golfplan, a firm based in Santa Rosa, Calif., will break ground on five separate renovation projects in 2011 at sites all around the Pacific Rim.

In Shenzen, China, Golfplan will begin the second phase of a greens renovation at Xili Golf Club in April. Outside Seoul, South Korea, the firm has already broken ground on a comprehensive 27-hole renovation and a nine-hole addition at Lakewood Country Club, while bunker renovations have also been inaugurated in the American West at both El Paso (Texas) Country Club, and Albuquerque CC in New Mexico.

Meanwhile, Golfplan's redesign of Singapore Island Country Club (SICC) is under contract and in planning, with an anticipated construction start slated for later this year or in early 2012. The planning will be considerable. Golfplan will ultimately refurbish three of the four 18-hole tracks at the club. The Island Course will be first, ahead of SICC's Sime Course and the vaunted Bukit Course, designed in the 1920s by the Scot, James Braid, and frequent host to the Johnnie Walker Classic and Singapore Open.

Since being founded in 1972, Golfplan has designed more than 150 new courses in 50 different countries, with more than 90 separate renovation projects in 17 more. Its Asian work has taken place in China, South Korea, Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia and India.

"Renovation of existing courses is a sign of that maturation: Established clubs are obliged to compete with newly developed clubs for members and resort golfers," said Golfplan partner Kevin Ramsey, who will direct the Xili renovation, plus the U.S. projects in Albuquerque and El Paso.

"This first wave of new courses is now showing the signs of having endured 20 years of heavy play. Golf courses wear out, like anything else, and new standards of maintenance and design are continually established across Asia. Our work at Xili, Lakewood and Singapore Island will allow these clubs to meet those rising standards."

Xili Golf Club, for example, is already known was one of the best-maintained courses in southern China. But Shenzen has seen an inordinate amount of course development since the club opened in 1995, especially the last 10 years. Managed by Shangri-La International, Xili GC recognized the need to regrass all 36 greens with dwarf TifEagle bermudagrass.

"This particular turf was not even available for commercial use in China until recently," Ramsey explained, "and this technical leap forward will provide a significant upgrade in the quality of course conditioning. We will also renovate each bunker and green complex, though we are doing just 9 holes per year, to minimize disruption of play. This second of four nines will go offline in mid-April, and play will resume the 1st of October [2011]."

Golfplan partner David Dale will direct the work at Singapore Island CC, where the Island Course is the first of three layouts to be renovated, as the main clubhouse is located there. The Island Course is scheduled to reopen in 2013.

"Each renovation is distinct, even when a single club like SICC is refurbishing three separate courses in its charge," said Dale. "Our plans for the Sime Course call for a complete re-imagination of the 18 holes there. At the Bukit Course, we will hew as closely as possible to the design intents of Mr. Braid, who won five British Opens and is responsible for St. Enodoc, Brora, Carnoustie and the Kings and Queens courses at Gleneagles. This will require interpretation, as the tropical, fecund nature of the climate in Singapore - and the extraordinary amount of play the Bukit has seen over the course of 80-odd years - has greatly diminished Braid's influence.

"The Island Course renovation is something else entirely. We will regrass wall to wall, renovate all 18 greens, modernize each and every bunker, and improve drainage throughout - in a climate like Singapore's, drainage is the priority. There are numerous Tembusu trees on site, which complicates the mission there. These slow-growing, massive jungle trees are endangered. Some are so big and sprawling, they have been cabled to keep them from collapsing! A few are being removed for safety reasons, but those that remain are not to be touched - and their presence prevents us from radically changing the shape and strategy of certain holes. Elsewhere on the Island Course, where the trees are not present, we have authored quite substantial changes to enhance design, strategy and aesthetics."

Lakewood CC, just 30 minutes from downtown Seoul, provides yet another distinct renovation scenario. This 27-hole private club was opened in 1972 and 38 years of play have taken their toll. Yet in order to receive city and regional approvals, the club was obliged to incorporate public golf holes into its renovation plan.

Dale and the Golfplan team, authors of 23 original designs in Korea, will ultimately create at Lakewood 18 private holes beside 18 public holes, complemented by a double-decker driving range open to the public.

"When we're finished, approximately half of the existing 27 holes will be recognizable but completely renovated," Dale said. "The remainder, plus the new nine, will look and play like a completely new golf course, which it will be. One thing will not change: The site is nestled right beside a national park, which will continue to afford golfers an unmatched serenity so close to the city."

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