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Our approach to design is land-based

Land-based design means that the design of each hole is primarily influenced by our first-hand experiences on the site, rather than relying solely on ideas conceived while separated from the actual site experience. The key to building on time and on budget lies in the quality of preparation during the design process, before construction begins.

Quality is achieved by spending the necessary amount of time on site, and in consultation with the client and the client’s consultants to resolve most of the issues related to the design and construction of the course before construction begins.

The inherent characteristics of a property that can give tremendous character to a course are there to be found, as long as we are receptive to them. No maps, pictures, videos, or literature of or about the site can adequately supplant the personal experience on the land. Our approach is a reversal of a bad trend in design offices. Many offices have eagerly pursued the marketing and brand name frenzy to the point that this consumes more than half the office hours. Left with little time for design, the design work has been passed down to second and third level designers who do most of their creative work on a client’s project in the office, rarely, if ever, seeing the site. Many offices are preoccupied with their own packaging and marketing, course rankings, and generating fame and notoriety for themselves. For us, land-based design allows us to leave behind this mass-market approach, and open up our minds to the land dedicated for a golf course. Land-based design begins and ends with a face-to-face encounter with the land, with nature. In this way, we are more willing to cooperate with nature, not impose a will to make it conform.

The window of time for this process is short because there are hard and fast schedules to meet for permitting and construction commencement. Putting aside precious time on the property is absolutely necessary since we are ultimately the vehicles through which the vision of the course will emerge. The routing and design development phase is a bit like the birthing process; it must have a beginning and evolve along a natural progression that is a part of the mystery of creativity and creation. We believe our fine-honed sensitivity and receptiveness to the natural characteristics of the land best serve this process.

Practical Considerations of Land-based Design

There are many practical considerations that benefit the design of a golf course through our land-based approach. Briefly these are as follows:

Our golf course construction documents, including the shot-by-shot perspective sketches, are developed directly from the design development we do on the land. This means our plans are precisely what we intend to build on the land. A contractor’s bid will contain contingencies based upon their judgment of the accuracy of the documents, and the reputation for the quality of the architect’s input during field visits. The contractor is assured that our documents used as the basis for their pricing the project are accurate because we have gone to great lengths to design the course appropriately to the land. Our plans provide a high level of detail that can reduce a contractor’s typical contingency factor, resulting in lower construction costs by 10% to 30%.

The construction phase will require Mr. Aashish Vaishnava to make frequent appearances to the site to ensure that his design intentions, as expressed in the construction documents, are properly interpreted by the contractor in the field. He will be on site almost every alternate week till the course is under construction, and in the process of preparing for opening. He will not rely upon a construction supervisor to implement the design. President Reagan’s famous adage about the nuclear disarmament of the Soviet Union applies here: inspect, not expect.

Our thorough preparation during design development gives the client maximum input into the design process if they desire to have a formal voice in the type of course they will receive. The client can easily access the design process through the detailed three-dimensional sketches we do of each fairway and green.

Strategic Design Considerations of Land-based Design

Working the routing to the site’s natural features puts much more emphasis on the strategic design, making the course more challenging, interesting, and pleasurable for a wide range of golfing abilities. Ideally, as a player improves their physical and mental playing abilities, they find new ways to play each hole, and discover new challenges and pleasures in the course. In this way, a course that captures the organic spirit from deep inside the land will never become outdated or boring. The course will remain intriguing, mysterious, and enjoyable as the player graduates to the next higher level and becomes more familiar with the natural and manmade features that make the strategy of each hole.

Our design is all about marrying the natural elements of the land with the strategy of the course. While beauty is a critical element in a golf course, and man made elements detract from the quality of the golfing experience and should be disguised or eliminated in the golfing experience, strategy is of the highest concern for our course designs. Many architects believe they are artists and showmen, and that their primary goal is to create an artful production on the land. We believe that the artfulness of art in golf course design is a wide path that leads no where, that at the end there is no soul or integrity in the design, and it is more of a general seduction of the senses, a mass visual media. The natural elements that make the land beautiful actually play a major role in the strategy. Therefore, a course strategy that cooperates with nature, enabling it to release its power through its own particular beauty, rather than imposing an artificial idea of beauty on the land will always be a beautiful golf course. And, the golf course will only get better as all traces (construction) of our having been there vanish.

The golf course must be a positive use on the land, and it must be an exceptional experience for all levels of players. There need not be any compromises to the land or to the strategic experience of playing the course. Every course should be designed to challenge the very best players and to encourage the least gifted or least experienced players. Most of our courses have six sets of tees for all holes, however the final set of tees are depended on the type and size of the golf course. For the expert player, the course should provide considerable distance from the championship and back tees. Despite traditionalist’s claims, distance matters. One interesting development in United States, and it seems to be spreading, is that players who have played very well over a number of years are starting to see the effects of age on their game. They also have developed a tremendous source of pride in their past accomplishments. The combination of these two factors, age and pride in their skills, has resulted in the renaming of tees, the introduction of the “championship tee” where it once was called the “back tee”. The “back tee” is now designated where it once was the “regular or member’s tee”. Now the ageing and gifted players who may be losing a little distance can make up for this by moving up to the former regular tees, yet save some pride by calling them the back tees. This has compelled us to actually add an extra tee between what was once the regular tee and the back tee. Excellent players are getting away with playing from the former regular tees because now they are designated the back tees, and this has a tremendous affect on the design strategy for the course. Ladies can play from any tees that match their skill level. Two sets of tees have been specifically located for ladies based upon research provided by Alice Dye, one of the preeminent designers and players in the country. The lesser-accomplished players will find a variety of teeing areas that make the course play at a reasonable distance for their skill level. At appropriate facilities, we include a set of junior tees that play approximately 2,800 yards for the 18 holes, so that junior golfers who have a minimum level of skill, at appropriate times during the day, can enjoy the big course at a reasonable distance. As their skills improve, as well as their understanding of the game’s traditional etiquette, they can graduate to the next set of tees.

We survey the natural elements and think how can an interesting hole be played over this terrain, and how can the natural elements be incorporated into its strategy. We survey the land along the direct route between tee and green, not just along the designated centreline of the doglegged hole. This direct route has been referred to as the “line of charm”. Good players always check this route because it is the shortest distance to the pin. Therefore, on our courses we make most par fours and fives doglegged holes because this allows for different avenues through which to play the hole depending upon the amount of risk one is willingly to assume in hopes of achieving a big reward. Doglegged holes make for exciting strategy: a good player can chose different routes to play a hole depending on whether they need to be conservative or aggressive because of the circumstances of their match. In addition to many doglegged holes, we try to make a routing plan play different directions, and to have great variety in distances for all par categories, meaning that there are short par 3, 4, and 5 holes, ranging up to very long par 3, 4, and 5 holes.

All courses should give the greatest amount of pleasure to the greatest number of players. It can be said with great confidence that a course can provide a strategic design of the highest order, can provide for the lesser player to enjoy the course, and can respect the exceptional value of the natural features of the land, and incorporate these features into the experience of the course. We have discovered that what is basic about the goodness of any course is its strategy. Land-based design, with a strong emphasis on the course strategy is a specific engagement with the land that can produce a highly imaginative design. Land based design has mass appeal. It has been employed at all our courses that are open for play, and people are having strong, positive reactions to the look and the strategy.

Environmental Considerations of Land-based Design

For our use in creating a golf course, modern culture has equipped us with computer software, large earth-moving equipment, and the opinions of golfers and writers. Yet, the past resource, nature, has been redefined by packaging and marketing, and replaced by the term environmentally friendly, meaning that when making something with mass appeal we downplay how we imposed our will on the land. Land-based design reestablishes nature as the primary resource in the creative design process.

The creative process employed in designing a golf course should begin with a face-to-face encounter with the land, with nature. In this way, the architect is more willing to cooperate with nature, not impose a will to make it conform. This is a land-based architect.

Every project seems vast or difficult in the beginning. Technology makes almost anything possible; problems can be solved on paper, and with money. Hard work on the land and confronting the realities of these difficult problems are not necessary because the architect can work a solution on paper without leaving the office, and technology and money can implement the solution. This can make the land-based architect anxious when confronted with difficult problems caused by wetlands, steep slopes, contiguous forests, and awkward parcels caused by property lines. Given these difficult constraints can we find a golf course on this land, or must we leave it to the big machines to rearrange the land to make a golf course? Why try too hard if we have the modern technology and wealth to impose the kind of beauty that has mass appeal?

Land-based design requires a specific engagement with Nature. This engagement is a satisfying creative process. All of the cultural pressures- technology, marketing, mass media, public expectations- are suspended when the land-based architect straps on the boots and goes on the land to become immersed in discovery and curiosity.

The persistent, land-based architect walks the land over and over. The feeling of anxiety is replaced by exhilaration that comes from the awareness of the subtle qualities of the land. Through a slow process, slow when comparing three days walking the land as compared to four hours in the office scratching on a base map, the land-based architect discovers how the course strategy connects with the physicality’s of nature, the terrain, plants, soil, drainage, wind and light.

Trusting the discovery period, the period of walking the land looking for the natural golf holes, is humbling and gratifying. Will this approach yield a good golf course? Where’s the give; where’s the take? Is this approach relevant to the game? With a kind of blind faith, the land-based architect ventures out to find the energy in the land. Incredibly, a day spent on the land seems like an hour. Egotism, arrogance and desire for recognition give way to a wild delight in the beauty and infinite space of the landscape. The routing begins to work with the land.

It takes experience to recognise the natural features of the land, and skill to use them in the right way for the play of the game. More importantly, it takes a willingness on the part of the designer to venture out onto the land to meet nature face to face. We spend several days walking the land in search of the best routing plan for the golf course, and the best locations for the clubhouse site, maintenance site, and practice facility. The best routing for the course is judged by how well we implement the following techniques in order to maintain the land’s integrity:

  • each golf hole design should require little earth-moving;

  • each hole should not adversely affect woodland connections;

  • each hole should accommodate the land’s natural drainage patterns;

  • and each hole should incorporate the land’s natural resources into the strategy and beauty of the hole;

The only way to meet these criteria is through the first-hand experience gained by being on the land. Meeting these criteria can have a major impact on the environment. First, earth moving has the greatest impact on the natural environment. A routing plan developed through our land-based design will result in a magnificent course requiring the least amount of earth disturbance. If earth movement is confined to softening slopes in the playing areas and enhancing the natural terrain then many environmental benefits are gained. While we like to keep the golf course mostly in the open parts of the land, holes that must enter wooded areas will require removal of fewer trees if there is little earth movement. This means we have a greater opportunity to maintain large wooded areas, which are more likely to provide core habitats for a greater number of species, and large wooded areas protect aquifers and interconnected drainage networks. Minimum earth movement allows us to maintain, and use the land’s natural drainage patterns. The natural drainage patterns can be an important part of the strategic design and beauty of the course, and can be incorporated into our large network of drainage infrastructure. Good drainage will reduce disease pressures by removing surface water from fairways and greens. Reducing disease pressures reduces the need to use chemicals.

Second, woodland connections are critical to wildlife movement. Disturbing these connections has a major impact on the environment. A land-based routing plan attempts to preserve the existing woodlands. Where disturbances must occur, a land-based routing plan avoids splitting wooded areas into smaller patches. Furthermore, a land-based routing plan can incorporate existing patches of woodlands into the golf course property, and over time these smaller patches can be connected through the implementation of our landscape plans. These connections can be made in part by using native trees transplanted from the site.

Third, as mentioned, reducing earth movement preserves the land’s natural drainage patterns. A land-based routing plan also preserves the integrity of larger drainage ways through the land like stream and river corridors. Golf holes are setback from these corridors, and native buffers are maintained between the primary play areas of the course (tees, fairways, roughs, and greens), and stream corridors. Substances such as chemicals and fertilizers used for the proper maintenance of the primary play areas can be diverted from entering a stream by proper grading, and more effectively, by maintaining or enhancing a wide vegetated buffer that consists of native materials in the form of grasses, shrubs and trees. The vegetation provides a buffer against these substances entering the stream by providing friction in the form of plant stems and litter, root absorption, and an organic soil that absorbs dissolved substances.

Finally, by respecting the natural elements such as terrain, drainage patterns, and woodlands, these elements can become a part of the strategic design, and the beauty of the course. A common thread through all great golf courses is the exceptional qualities of the land on which they lay. The land-based architect discovers how the course strategy connects with the physicality’s of nature, the terrain, plants, soil, drainage, wind and light. As a result, the land is spared degradation, while much of the area covered by our golf courses can be unmaintained, other than periodic mowing of native grass areas that are in play to avoid players repeatedly losing balls. Typically, a golf course will preserve over 200 acres in open space, of which only 70 acres is actually under maintenance and irrigation for the play of the game.

Land-based Design and the Neo-Classic Architecture Advocacy Group

Some thoughtful analysis has been made of the "classic" courses and their architects. Sometimes, the analysis includes derogatory comments such as today's architects not being able to shine the shoes of the "old masters". This type of analysis over time has actually created an us versus them mentality, causing advocates of the old masters to gather into a loosely organised lobby group. Rather than this group shining a light on the subject of classic design, giving thought to the good and the bad, all toward the goal of educating, they have fallen into the worst habits of an advocacy group that sees only the good in their way of thinking, and only evil in others that do not fall in line.

The oldest courses in the British Isles were a response to the site's conditions. In, A History of Golf, The Royal and Ancient Game, Robert Browning writes that the early courses where “left much as nature made them”. He goes on to write, “ The courses on the commons as a rule did not call for the creation of any artificial hazards, because they offered an ample variety of natural difficulties of their own.” Later, some of the “old masters” copied holes from these courses when designing their courses. These copied courses have now become the sources for designing stylish courses by the neo-classic advocates. A style that is a few steps removed from the purest form of land-based design employed at the oldest courses in the world, the originals. Our land-based design is primarily focused on the natural elements as well, but we do not stop there, rather we use those elements as a means by which to improvise a suitable design on the land. Our land-based design is not an impersonation of someone else’s style, rather when practiced faithfully it is a singular organic style, true to us. Our design becomes our own improvisation with the land. Improvisation comes from a process developed through lots of practice being on the land and seeing. Improvisation requires letting preconceived ideas, paradigms, and the forces of our thought take a rest while we glide over the property, and let the land tell its story. This leads to a sort of detachment where the architect is the observer of the action, and the action is greater than architect, that is the improvising that goes on between the land and the architect. The land-based architect must learn the melody of the place they are walking, and how best to improvise on that melody. The land-based architect must use their eyes to find what the land demands, not what the fashion of the day or an “old master” demands. Land-based design requires heavy thinking and concentration on what is being observed when on the land. In that way each part of the land can tell its unique story so that there is never repetition in the design. Concentration on what is at hand determines an architect’s ability to make a good hole or a great hole.

Land-based design is dynamic because it confronts reality in its specific engagement with the land, making it a power to translate the design into some particular language of its own that is modern, and it is a throw back to a time when nature was a refuge, and links between the human and natural worlds would spring from the land. Rather than imposing on the land a copy of existing work, land-based design generates ideas that spring from the natural land. The golf holes emerge from the land rather than being forced on it. Land-based design embodies the course with a majestic decorum that we never tire of seeing. Land-based design re-installs reason and faith into the creative design process.

"We begin with the end in mind"


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