Tech Opinion :: The Development Lessons Part 2

We’ve been rushed off our feet recently with one major client so the blog posts have been few and far between! One of the major exercises whilst we’ve been busy was the creation of the golf course design brief for a new development. The concept design stage is now complete on that particular job and whilst the brief has been amended a few times it has once again proved to be a critical “line in the sand” for all consultants to refer to. We finished the last post by promising a discussion on how we create the brief so a good place to start is to ask what are the key points we need to investigate before we put pen to paper.

IDG have used our own golf development checklist for years now and whilst this checklist adapts to the current market conditions and locations, the fundamental principles of the golf development checklist are always present. When visiting the site for the first time, we will always look to investigate the following ten key points:

1. What are the aspirations for the golf developer? Is this an exercise in real estate profit? Is it for the development of the sport in that country? Perhaps it’s about boosting golf tourism? This is absolutely key when setting budgets and technical specifications for the golf course?

2. What particular style should the golf course development take? For example in Nevada, a desert style course is very popular, not to mention spectacular whereas in India, we have found the most popular style will be a very ornamental garden landscape. What does the end user expect? And what will be considered the most premium?

3. Water is a worldwide issue with minimisation of water usage now critical in some countries. There are now restrictions such as permits will not be given to courses which cannot utilise 50% of treated sewage water towards the total irrigation demand. If there is one issue which always seems to arise it is electricity supply – it never seems to get connected in time to commence the grow-in irrigation. The very nature of golf developments mean that often they are “off grid” from the start. On a recent project, the entire development including a huge hotel and theme park is currently running from generators. It is rumoured that the price of bringing electricity to the site for the hotel and theme park is more than the cost of the golf course itself. Question: Where are the utilities coming from? And how secure are they?

4. Climate can have an enormous effect – we would never have guessed that golf would now be the major tourism driver for the desert country of Dubai. What is the climate and how does this affect the design decisions?

5. Politicians can affect the process. Irrespective of the corruption involved in many countries, tax breaks, removal of import duties for materials imported, government development grants and tax incentives for high net worth people to live in the developments are common but there are also other areas who have not yet understood the lessons such as Cuba where freehold land can no longer be purchased or Turkey where it is impossible to build on designated government forest land. Question: is the country politically stable and will elections or other government movements affect the design process?

Crete Golf Architects 17

Whilst a golf development can be built almost anywhere these days, the costs incurred both financially and environmentally must be carefully considered. At the Crete Golf Club, we had two rock crushers working around the clock to produce the material required to shape up the course.

6. Soils and site conditions are becoming less important – in the old days rocky or clay soils were a problem whereas today we can even create soils. On a project in Scotland we recently created a rootzone from the waste material left over from coal mining. However, this does have an impact on cost so is useful to know the site conditions. No amount of photos and site reports can replace the experience gained from the architects carrying out a site inspection. 

7. In many of the less mature golf markets or smaller islands / countries it is impossible to obtain the machinery, people and materials needed for construction. This just adds cost. For instance there is no available sand on the Mediterranean islands – all the sand needed for a course in Cyprus has to be brought from Egypt. Question: how do we import machinery and supplies if necessary?

8. It is important for all but the richest developers that the feasibility of the development is monitored during the pre-contract and subsequently the contract phases of the development. In this way the project budget can be maintained. Question: where is the funding coming from and how will it affect the development progress. Is the reason for creating a concept design package part of the business plan or will the project gain funding without this stage?

9. Integrated resorts, such as marina, hotel, villas, condominiums, clinic and retail offers the maximum attractions to potential guests and uses their presence on site to market property to a captive audience. Commercial development can deliver very high rents from office and hi-tech property built in the ambience of golf. Question: what else features in the business plan and how will it affect the design decisions. What is the product mix for the remainder of the development?

10. Last but perhaps most important the developer must understand the exit route, For a club there may be no exit route – many clubs are over 100 years old in the UK and hopefully will continue with no end in sight but for some developers they want to capitalise their profits and walk away to the next development. One of the latest trends is the equitisation of courses. Developers wishing to avoid any possibility that running costs will exceed income in the future are treating golf courses like infrastructure and offering to give the course to those who have bought property as soon as the last property has been sold. For the developer the risk has gone – for the property owners the need to understand management has arrived.

Once these key questions (and a hundred more detailed questions) have been investigated, even if we can’t answer everything, we are in a strong position to write the development brief which forms the backbone to the entire design process. It avoids abortive work and sets out the expectations and aspirations of all stakeholders right from the start.

Even with all these questions answered, there are always challenges along the way. Next time we’ll tell some stories of the challenges we’ve faced and how we solved the problems as they arose. 

Jon Hunt

 Jon Hunt  ::  Group Director