Beau Welling Design Leads Renovation Project in Singapore

EVERY once in a while, in order to be sustainable, a golf course has to go through a tweak, revamp or makeover, and layouts are also occasionally changed for championship tournaments. Often, the option is to go for complete renovation and redesign.

This doesn’t come cheap. In 2010, Jurong Country Club decided to revamp its 18-hole course – it did the front nine first, and then the back nine – at a cost of around $23 million. In 2007, Sentosa Golf Club’s Serapong course was tweaked to the tune of $12 million. The work involved rebuilding the greens and tee boxes and strengthening a few holes, in addition to installing a sub-air system on the greens.

Raffles Country Club (RCC) is laying down the foundation for a complete overhaul of its Palm course which is 24 years old. While approval has yet to be given by its members, the club has taken a proactive approach in putting plans in place ahead of an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) to be held at either at the end of next month or in early June. A golf course architect has been chosen by the club’s Palm course redevelopment sub-committee, and, if the two-year project goes ahead, work could start as early as September or October.

From an original list of 10 designers who threw their hats in the ring, Beau Welling was picked. The shortlisted contenders were original architect Robert Trent Jones Jr, Schmidt-Curley and Ernie Els.

RCC president Simon Yuen said: “When you have first-class designers, you have to look at how you select the designs. We went back to our design philosophy, which had the criteria we gave them.”

“We wanted a championship course that forces championship players to think, and we looked at a number of ways to get such a course. For example, some holes you need to draw, some you need to fade, and some, you just want to play straight.”

He added: “We also wanted memorability, which Beau translated into variety: If you give golfers variety in the holes, they will remember them.” Mr Yuen noted that Mr Welling was the only designer to take time to play the Palm course, from where he decided which holes he wanted to retain.”

Mr Yuen added: “We felt he was the only architect who gave serious thought to what we wanted – the design philosophy behind making the course a thinking course. We didn’t want a 7,500-yard course because that’s for the ‘bombers’. We wanted a course long enough that nobody would laugh at, so it had to be 7,000 yards. He gave us a course between that and 7,100 (6,500m) and while it was short by championship standards, it was long enough so that people wouldn’t laugh and call it a Mickey Mouse course.”

He added: “His par-3 holes range from 127 m to 186 m and are in different directions. One hole, you’re playing into a head wind; the next hole, you’re playing in a down wind, and the next, a right-left wind. So he gave that variety.”

“He also gave us the most detailed design philosophy in the write-up – how he designed it, why he did it that way and how he would expect the players to play it.”

After working on around 90 courses for golf architect Tom Fazio, Mr Welling set up Beau Welling Design in North Carolina, USA, and in addition to working on projects in Tianjin in China, Georgia in the US, he is now doing the master planning for a 54-hole resort in Hua Hin in Thailand.

So, if the redevelopment is approved, what will be new aside from the Palm course being lengthened to championship course length?

Landing zones will be pinched to provide a greater demand on accuracy and “Tournament” pins will be designed tucked close to a hazard or isolated on small sections of the green. A new practice facility at the site of present holes 1 and 9 and near the Clubhouse will be double-ended. The Clubhouse end will be used primarily as a warm-up area; the other will be for driving and short-game practice. Holes 5, 6 and 7 will be completely new, while a number of others will be improved and changed. For example, hole 14 (305 m) has been made into a drivable par-4 – a teaser hole in the sense that the long-hitter will go for the green. There will be an extra hole built (par-3) which can be played in case any hole needs to be down for serious maintenance or can be used to train people in golf course maintenance.

Mr Yuen said that he hopes the cost will be around $24-25 million. With around $15 million now available in the club’s coffers, another $10 million will need to be raised. The club will plan to do this through selling around 100 corporate memberships (two nominees) to corporations – in particular the ones located nearby. The entrance fee will be $140,000. Present corporate members will be offered an opportunity to enhance their membership to two nominees at $60,000. Members will also be asked to contribute roughly $100 a month, capped at $4,000, with perks going back to them, for example, in golf vouchers. Asked why the club thinks it has to overhaul the entire 18-hole course, Mr Yuen replied that the problem was with the infrastructure.

“The Palm course is serviced by underground irrigation piping. The pipes are breaking down and the joints are leaking. Many of the pipes which allow circulation between the ponds have broken down, and as a result, the ponds are looking very murky. If a pond does not circulate well you get algae bloom.” He added that general members he had spoken to were very supportive of the need for a new Palm course, though some asked questions like why the renovation could not be done for half the cost or why everything had to be pulled down and rebuilt from scratch. “I’ve said that if everything is rotten, there’s no point in having parts of it brand new and parts rotten. Eventually, the whole thing will collapse. So, if you’re going to do it, then you do it all the way.”

Story By: Justine Moss,
Originally featured April 27, 2013
Courtesy of The Business Times