The Arnold Palmer Design Company stays on the road with a host of top projects around the world
It wasn’t that many years ago that golf was regarded as a distinctly Western—even a specifically European—sport. No more. Golf is now the world’s game, and the Arnold Palmer Design Company is leading the way in making sure everyone has a place to play.
To that end, APDC has built more than 300 courses in nearly 30 countries around the planet, pioneering the game in the Far East and setting the world standard for what defines a top quality golf experience. That tradition, established nearly 40 years ago, continues today with projects ongoing in South America, China, Cambodia and elsewhere. Time was you only needed a driver’s license and a set of clubs. In the modern game, you’d better have a passport in your bag if you’re going to visit any of the following international offerings from Arnie and his excellent team at APDC.
APDC Executive Vice President and Senior Architect Erik Larsen is set to become president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects after being elected at the organization’s recent meeting. The long-time ASGCA member and current treasurer will be taking the prestigious position once held by Ed Seay, whom he counts as a mentor, and also by Robert Trent Jones and Pete Dye, among others. Larsen plans to promote the “value of the golf course” as a recreational, social and economic amenity.
Also in the spirit of awards and accolades, APDC architect Thad Layton has been picked to judge the 2010 Lido Competition, a prominent golf design contest. Co-sponsored by Golf World and the Alister MacKenzie Society, the competition awards the designer whose hand-drawn entry best utilizes MacKenzie’s design philosophy within the confines of a two-shot par–4. The Lido is based on a magazine design contest MacKenzie won in 1914. His winning hole, a par–4 with triple avenues of play, was later constructed by contest founder C.B. Macdonald on his Lido Golf Club on Long Island, NY. Sadly, the course, and hole, did not survive World War II. Layton, the 2003 Lido Prize winner, is an excellent choice to judge this year’s entries.
The APDC-designed Rivers Edge Golf Club in Myrtle Beach, SC, celebrated its 10th anniversary last September with improvements to the greens and a heartfelt pat on the back from Mr. Palmer himself.
“All of us at Arnold Palmer Design congratulate Rivers Edge on their 10th anniversary,” offered the King. Greens have been transitioned to the environmentally friendly SeaDwarf® Seashore Paspalum turfgrass, a grass APDC has utilized with success at other courses, Palmer says.
“All the courses that we have designed that use paspalum grass are very pleased with the results and we think everyone at Rivers Edge will enjoy the new greens.”
Moving south from Myrtle Beach—way south—APDC architect Eric Wiltse has been working on a course near São Paolo, Brazil, called Fazenda Boa Vista. The site, which will feature 18 holes from APDC, reminds Wiltse of the rolling hills of Kentucky and is simply beautiful, he says. Look for more golf in Brazil, with the sport returning to the Olympics in Rio in 2016. Not content to stay in the land of girls from Ipanema, Wiltse is also working on a course in Uruguay. Named “Las Piedras” for its boulder-strewn landscape, this project near Punta del Este will feature rolling hills, beautiful views and a storied atmosphere. Larsen says the project represents authentic golf with minimal impact and a complete sense of respect for both the game and the environment.
“It’s core golf.,” he says. “There’s very little earth movement, wild flowers and native grasses can grow easily and will remain as features of the course. The best word for it: Authentic.”
Some 25 years after building the first golf course in China, APDC is continuing to create that country’s premiere golf venues—and the latest have been exquisite indeed. Beijing welcomed the amazing Beijing Cascades from APDC in 2007, and since then the rest of the country is moving to host their own APDC clubs. Future clubs, like a project at Huizhou that would offer views of Hong Kong, are in the works, while The Golf Club at Kunming is likely within a year of opening and should be one the most beautiful anywhere. People with vertigo should be warned: Kunming’s latest gem is going to feature some serious elevation changes. The beautiful lake below should distract from any issues with heights, but craggy cliffs and forced carries might add to the stress a bit.
Brandon Johnson, the APDC architect who’s been working on the project since the start, says numbers 12 and 14 are especially challenging.
“There are big ravines in front of them and it’s dramatic,” he says. “There’s room for error but, yeah, if you miss it there, wide in the right spot, you fall off into oblivion.”
APDC architect David Couch isn’t having the same issues with his project, also in Kunming. While the inspirationally named Chinese Entrepreneur Home Golf Club doesn’t offer the dramatic changes in elevation of its neighbor, it does feature a freshwater lake nearly five miles in length. And with 27 holes, there will be plenty of challenging golf for all.
Yet one more APDC course under way in China, Panda Valley Golf Course should be a stunner. Just 45 minutes from Chengdu, it offers unique mountain play, a fast-moving river and incredible views. Layton, who’s working on the project, explains: “Usually mountains are arranged such that they form ridge lines that connect.” In contrast, he says, “These look like they’re dropped out of the sky… Independent mountains, thousands of feet high.”
Its name comes from its proximity to a panda reserve, near 50 miles away. Incorporating terraced slopes that have held kiwi, rice and other crops, the project is part of a local rebuilding effort following a massive quake two years ago.
Not far from China, Johnson is also continuing work on a project from Cambodia’s Sokimex development group. Construction on the 18-hole wonder should begin this year, and they’re hoping to get a few basics completed before the rainy season kicks off. The incredible downpours Southeast Asia experiences between May and October are followed by severe dry weather, making course maintenance a bit of a headache. However, the fantastic natural beauty makes all efforts worthwhile.
“We took cues from the existing natural jungle terrain,” Johnson says. Because of the thick jungle (chasing balls will be a daunting experience), “There’s big, bold movement in the fairways that will allow people to play, and a lot of strategy around that, too, because your angle of approach could be better from one side of the fairway versus another.” Set on the edge of a national park, and with planned hotels, a casino and entertainment, look for this to be most impressive.
As engaged as APDC is around the world, there’s more to come. In the meantime, APDC is also getting creative at home. In addition to updating existing designs, the company is moving forward with plans to refit and reposition distressed golf courses currently without stable financial foundations. Bank-held properties that could be viable investments have the potential to benefit from APDC’s design and business expertise. “It’s a response to the economic condition in the U.S.,” says Larsen, explaining that the new effort has the potential to help banks clear their books while also giving communities positive recreational possibilities.
With forward thinking at home and ongoing interest from Mexico, China, South Africa, South America, Russia, India and other locations abroad, the architects at APDC will be busy for a long time coming up with fantastic new projects. We’ll be right there behind them, passports and driver’s licenses up to date, ready to travel as far or near as needed to play their great designs.