Faldo & Smyers to Collaborate on Iceland Links

By: Mark Leslie

PGA Tour great Nick Faldo calls it “a plus-10 site.” Golf architect Steve Smyers declares the Black Sand Golf Club he and Faldo are designing “will be the Bandon Dunes of Iceland,” referring to the 54-hole resort in Oregon that has taken American golf by storm.

Iceland native Margeir Vilhjalmsson, one of four partners who are developing the 900-acre property in the village of Thorlakshofn on the Atlantic Ocean and Olfus River southeast of the capital city of Reykjavik, said: “We think we will have a product that will be recognized worldwide. The land is perfect for a links course, with lots of dunes and Iceland’s distinctive black sand.”

Vilhjalmsson, the general manager of Reykjavik Golf Club, the country’s largest golf club with 2,400 members, said he is excited to have Faldo and Smyers co-designing the 18-hole resort golf course. Citing Faldo’s worldwide popularity and, having spent a week playing Smyers-designed golf courses in Florida, Vilhjalmsson added: “We are very fortunate to have Steve involved because, in my opinion, he’s a genius. He has a view on things that broaden our minds.”

Smyers, who is designing the private Bella Collina Golf Club in Monteverde, Fla., with Faldo, said the six-time major winner will be very involved. “This is absolutely true links golf and Nick is one of the finest links players who ever lived,” Smyers said. “I’ve played a lot of links courses and have a good knowledge of it, but not the understanding of a guy like him. Using links land is different than anywhere else. His expertise is absolutely invaluable in a situation like this.”

Smyers said Black Sand’s land is so powerful, so loaded with dynamic movement, that “we’re not building the golf course; we’re discovering it. It’s simply astounding. There must be a hundred golf holes out there. We have to find the best 18 that are contiguous. We will move so little earth that we only need one shaper on a dozer to do the job.”

Tremendous dunes flow throughout the property, with the ocean on one side and big hillsides on the other. “Blowouts” that will be used as natural bunkers pock the site. Lava is adjacent to the site, but the glacier till is black sand. Smyers predicted Black Sand Golf Club will be “a golf connoisseur’s must-go-to course.”

Vilhjalmsson, who spent three years overseeing construction of the new course at Reykjavik Golf Club, said the Icelandic golf market has been maturing over the last 10 years and he expects Black Sand Golf Club will take golf in the country to a higher level. “An international-class golf course like this will raise the standard of golf in the country as a whole,” he said. “That is one of the main aims. We want to use this course to bring tourists to Iceland.”

Because it is situated so far north, Iceland’s summer days last 22 to 24 hours. Golfers, especially tourists, often tee off at midnight. Vilhjalmsson expects construction to start this summer, which would mean it would open in 2008, one year before celebration of the 75th anniversary of golf on the island nation.

Along with the golf course, Vilhjalmsson and his partners will build a hotel and health spa. Iceland is known for its geothermal spas where underground hot water is pumped into pools.

The first golf club established here was The Golf Club of Iceland in 1934. Today there are some 50 courses in the country, most of them nine-holers, and Vilhjalmsson said 30,000 of Iceland’s 300,000 population play golf. Nearly half that number are members of the Iceland Golf Union.

Besides golf, tourists pour into Iceland for its site-seeing and outdoor recreation, including snowmobiling, horse riding and world-class salmon fishing.

Vilhjalmsson predicts Black Sand Golf Club will become a major attraction. “If you have a world-class links course with black sand and you can play it over midnight, would you want to miss that?” he asked.