A Legacy Of Least Disturbance
With a portfolio of over 100 courses in 34 countries, Greg Norman’s design firm has a mantra of ‘least disturbance’. Sean Dudley reports.
When Greg Norman established his golf design firm in 1987, it was done so with a focus on preserving landscapes, respecting mother nature, and creating truly enjoyable golf courses.
“Greg’s upbringing in Australia really made him an outdoorsman, and he’s always loved the environment,” explains Chris Campbell, senior vice president of Greg Norman Golf Course Design (GNGCD). “When he got into golf design, he really embraced that part of it. Growing up in Australia, his favourite courses were in the sandbelt – places like Royal Melbourne and Kingston Heath. These are very natural courses, that meld beautifully with the area’s environment. When he played those courses as a young man, it really inspired him and ultimately became part of his design philosophy.”
Fast forward 30 years and Norman’s firm has established a rich portfolio of course designs based on those initial principles. “We have a definite least disturbance approach, but every site is different,” says Greg Norman. “Each course we have is a true reflection of the region in which it’s built, and I feel that sets us apart from other designers. Sometimes, if we have a good site, we work with the features throughout the design and construction, and disturb as little as we can. If we don’t have a good site, we try to mimic something within that region to make that golf course fit architecturally and from a landscaping perspective.”
One of Norman’s most high-profile openings of 2017 was Cathedral Lodge Golf Club near Thornton in the Australian state of Victoria. Located on the banks of the Goulbourn River in a natural valley, this private course has been heralded as a potential ‘Top 100’.
The design at Cathedral Lodge favours playability, with the project team initially looking to identify the most spectacular potential green sites on offer. From there they worked backwards, taking into account the site’s numerous wetland and water features, as well as its impressive topography.
With the course now open for play, highlights includes the 250-yard uphill twelfth hole, the par three seventeenth – which shows little mercy to over-faded shots – and a 593- yard finishing hole with numerous water hazards for players to negotiate.
Away from his homeland, Norman’s global appeal has helped GNGCD gain develop an equally global span. The firm is at the forefront of developing new courses in a number of emerging markets.
“Greg played in events and helped promote golf in areas such as Asia and the Middle East in the 1980s and 1990s,” explains Campbell. “As a firm, we’re now reaping the rewards of Greg’s efforts during that time.”
The emergence of Vietnam as a golfing destination is something GNGCD has actively supported, having designed two of the country’s top courses at Danang Golf Club and The Bluffs Ho Tram. In 2018 the firm will open another links course at KN Royal Links in Cam Ranh, which is poised to be another marquee course for Norman.
“Cam Rahn is a great coastal dunes site,” says Norman. “When we approached it and started thinking about routing the golf course, it was certainly more about what not to disturb than what to disturb. We asked the owner to let us route the golf course before he did any land or infrastructure planning. The owner told us to build the best course in Vietnam. We said ok, let us go out and route the golf course as we see it, and you’ll have a good chance of getting it.”
The course at Cam Ranh features ocean views from most holes, while also boasting indigenous plant material throughout.
“As we had to disturb the ground to plant the grass, we pulled up the dunes grass and replanted it in the outer areas,” explains Campbell. “It’s all native material, and there’s not a tree on the site, which favours links golf. We balanced dirt to create playability, but the course’s true strength really is its routing.”
GNGCD is committed to developing courses in parts of the world where golf is yet to truly take off. The firm’s design at Ayla Golf Club opened in April 2017, becoming one of the first golf courses in the country of Jordan.
“Ayla is the first grass golf course in Jordan, and we’re very proud of it,” says Norman. “In this case we moved a fair amount of dirt, but it looks like something that belongs in the desert. It’s all indigenous plant material, and the stream features look like the stream features that come out of the mountains close to the site. Even though we had to create most of the course, there was a lot of inspiration taken from the natural landscape.”
Naturally, when designing a course in a landscape such as that of southern Jordan, environmental factors were front and central of the project team’s mind.
“On most projects, we will sit down with environmental agencies and work out what their objectives are,” says Campbell. “Greg himself is often involved with that process. For example, at Ayla Golf Club, Greg spoke to the owner there before work began. The owner wanted everything to be recycled, to have reusable energy, to have things running via solar power, and for the water system to be recirculated and pumped back to the irrigation lake. We bought into this with the design and looked to support this sustainable approach as best we could.”
Norman helped form the Environmental Institute for Golf, an organisation that was created by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America to help establish a standard of environmental stewardship. Norman served as chairman of the organisation, recruited high level board members, and helped its initial development. He’s also been involved with Audubon International, with many of GNGCD’s courses Audubon certified.
“For projects with protected trees for example, we will walk the centre lines with an environmentalist, who will tell us what they want to save, and we’ll incorporate that into our routing,” says Norman. “It’s the same with other natural areas like plants or wetlands. Least disturbance isn’t necessarily just about minimising earthworks, it’s about protecting and preserving what makes a site great, and incorporating a golf course into that. This approach really is a pillar of what we do.”
GNGCD’s combination of environmental stewardship, appreciation of nature and desire to bring golf to more corners of the world have been cornerstones of the firm’s success to date. With courses such as Cathedral Lodge, Cam Ranh and Ayla open to be enjoyed, the firm is expecting similar success in 2018 and beyond.
“We believe in what we do, and want to continue to reach the levels we have set for ourselves as we move forward, while adhering to the beliefs that have brought us success so far,” concludes Norman.