Tech Opinion :: The Development Lessons Part 1

I’m at risk of letting all of my secrets out now but in the interest of sharing, let’s talk. Years ago virtually all golf courses were built by groups of interested sportsmen who came together to form golf clubs.

Since then the world has changed at a fantastic pace and with it the game of golf. The majority of courses are now created by developers of one sort or another. For these people the course is often a means to make money with the quality of the course or the social aspect of a golf club being unimportant.

Such developments start with a vision. Recently the Mediterranean island of Cyprus decided that after enormous pressure from developers they would create a development policy and allow 14 golf resorts. They looked at Spain and thought that they should allow property around the golf course in order to encourage developers to create 14 championship courses which would bring high spending golf tourists to the island.

In some ways they were right – in other ways they were completely wrong. This process has forced all major land owners to register their property for development since they were under the often false impression that resort development is a licence to print money.

Golf Resort Design

Since taking the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism on a study tour, they created one of Europe’s leading golf destinations at Belek, Antalya.

Before this happened we took planners from the Turkish Ministry of Tourism to see the good and the bad developments in Spain and there really are some good and some really bad. Courses such as Valderama (famous as the venue of one Ryder Cup) are beautiful but mostly because the owner will not allow property development and wants to manage the whole development in an environmentally friendly way. The majority of courses in Costa del Sol (60 courses within 50 kilometres drive along the coast) are so highly developed that 20 storey apartment blocks line the fairways and balls frequently exit the course into surrounding property after designers give in to developers pushing them to build courses in the minimum site area and allowing architects who understand nothing of safety on a course to build right to the edge of fairways.

Sadly the number of accidents is increasing rather than decreasing as we learn lessons.

One thing is certain, the developers have visions – good or bad they can be turned into golf developments but to do this properly the designer must understand what he or she is trying to do. This requires a statement of the developer’s requirements to be written down and then a design prepared which meets the Clients demands – or in the case of responsible designers as close as possible to those demands without compromising safety and our environment.

We are not dealing with cutting edge science – so most of the mistakes which can be made in development have already been made. This is not to say that development stands still but rather that learning from the mistakes of others is an excellent method of avoiding wasting money.

There are some great examples of good developments – developments which got it right. But it is very worthwhile looking at the ones which got it wrong as well. The lessons are equally as valuable.

When a car company asks a designer to design a new automobile the brief is clear – sports car, 4 wheel drive, saloon, hatchback etc etc. In my experience, this seldom happens in golf development. Golfers, particularly “big name” golf designers (many of whom cannot even read a topographical plan) are allowed to go on ego trips and create courses as monuments to themselves. In some cases immature golfing markets assume that the addition of a signature guarantees a great course. In most situations this is true since the designers who actually do the work for many of the big names but whose names you will never know are excellent.

For the developer he must be assured that the fee can be recovered by the added value of the name and the added cost of construction of a course where the designer will insist that he has absolute freedom. We took over the grow in on one signature course where 6 weeks before handover the designer returned to the site and asked for every bunker on the whole site to be raised by 25mm. Now this may have been important on some bunkers but not all of them surely?! The developer refused but after the threat to withdraw the signature we worked for six weeks to deliver this. Please do not ask me how many bunker lines we really raised before the designer returned to say that it was now perfect.

The primary lesson so far is that the creation of a brief is absolutely vital to avoid costly mistakes and misunderstandings. Developers must be completely open and honest in order to get the most out of their design team. If the primary reason for building a golf resort is to make money (which I suspect is the case in the vast majority of cases) then share this with the designer – you’ll be surprised how much value can be added or how many costly mistakes can be avoided.

Next week, we’ll look at how we create this brief and what questions are asked.


Jon Hunt Jon Hunt  ::  Group Director