Golf’s green ‘gardener’ creates eco-friendly courses

As you stroll around the golf course in the Sunday afternoon sun, it may never cross your mind how it got there in the first place.

How long it took to build, the man-power required, the blueprints that were torn up and redrawn, the environmental and political issues taken into consideration.

The average golf course requires 30 hectares (74 acres) to build, while some can take up as much as 60 hectares (148 acres).

With an increasingly limited amount of land to build on, and mounting pressure on conservation, owners are becoming acutely aware of the impact constructing new courses has on the environment.

That is the challenge facing many course architects, including renowned designer Tom Doak.

“The environmental aspect of designing golf courses is certainly a growing part of it,” Doak tells CNN’s Living Golf show.

“A lot of the environmental aspect is politics — what the neighbors think — and if they’re concerned then there’s gonna be a lot more scrutiny.

“If you reshape 80 acres, you’ve destroyed all the soil and you’ve destroyed the microbes in the soil that break down organic material.”

Doak’s minimalist style attempts to disturb as little of the natural lay of the land as possible, instead using the contours in the landscape to help mold his courses, rather than tearing everything up and starting again.

His latest venture takes him to Saint-Emilion, a small commune located 45 kilometers outside of the French city of Bordeaux, and marks the designer’s first project in Europe.

The 55-year-old laments the way courses have been built over the years, which has led people to have negative perceptions of golf architecture.

“Unfortunately, we’ve gotten to the point in a lot of places in the world where golf construction is considered so invasive because of the way other people are building golf courses,” Doak says.

“That it’s something to be kept away from good pieces of land, which is a terrible thing.

“If people took the idea that the Scots did, that golf is a recreational activity and these open lands are being preserved for recreational activities, I think there would be a very different attitude toward building golf courses.”

Doak believes that if people were aware of how little disruption the minimalist style of architecture caused to the landscape, then plenty more “great” golf courses could be built in locations that are currently off limits.

According to Golf Magazine, the American has four courses ranked inside the world’s top 100, but he admits it wasn’t his intention to adhere to the in-vogue minimalist style that is sweeping the sport.

“When I started with minimalism it was mostly to make the construction part easier,” Doak explains. “The less we tore up, the more I could control it, the less expensive it was gonna be to build and the better for the client.

“It turned out the environmental people started coming to me interested in what I was doing because the less you tear up, the less you’ve disturbed the environment.

“If you build a fairway that really is just a natural grade and all you do is take the vegetation off it and put turf back on, it doesn’t take near as much fertilizer. It’s really much better for the environment.”

Doak says he has been approached by people seeking and offering advice on how to further utilize the benefits of minimalism.

“I didn’t start with that in mind but the people that are interested in golf and the environment have been attracted to that,” he says.

“So I get a lot of feedback from environmental people on what we’re doing in design terms and what’s good about it and what’s bad about it, and you can incorporate that into the next project.

“When I got in the business there was a perception that we weren’t allowed to build on really good pieces of land anymore, you know, that they were all gone,” Doak recalls with a laugh.

And as he applies the finishing touches to his Saint-Emilion course, Doak is certainly proving that isn’t the case.

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