David Williams

Date: Tue 23 Jan 2018

10 Questions for … David J. Williams MEIGCA

David Williams

1. Why did you want to be a golf architect?

As a qualified Chartered (building) Architect, I was always aware that most built things are designed and don’t happen naturally – and golf courses are no different. Being a keen but only weekend player, I started studying the subject during my time at university, and fortunately was given an opportunity to work as consultant golf architect to Huggett & Coles, Golf Course Architects, precipitating the career change from architect into golf course architect in the mid 1980s, and resulting in me forming my own practice, David Williams Golf Design in 1990.

2. Which golf course architects do you admire, and why?

Firstly Harry Colt. I have studied his courses not only in this country but also overseas where, at present, I have the great honour of currently working on his only two remaining Spanish 18 hole courses at Real Golf de Pedreña and Golf Club de Sant Cugat near Barcelona.

Of more modern designers, I suppose Pete Dye who, I feel, was really responsible for the latest phase of modern design, albeit starting over 30 years ago. I was totally impressed with TPC at Sawgrass, which I walked just after it was opened and it was totally eye opening, being almost a complete change from other designs being undertaken at that time.

3. What is your proudest design achievement?

I suppose the obvious answer is the two courses I designed (with Neil Coles and Angel Gallardo) at PGA Catalunya Resort, near Girona in northern Spain, where the Stadium Course has held three Spanish Opens and been acclaimed as Spain’s No.1 course in many recent listings.

On balance however, I suppose an even prouder achievement would be the many repeat courses for clients who return to me time and time again, which I suppose at least means that I must be doing something right. Of these, the 8 courses I built for Barrelfield Golf Network (now 360 Golf) around London during the 1990s and 2000s give particular pleasure, as do the three courses built for Ron Noades just south of London more recently. Of course, not forgetting the dozen or so courses I have built as the golf architect to ex-European Tour Chairman Neil Coles in his design business. To have clients coming back time and time again gives great personal pride, and something I suppose that I am most proud of.

4. What are your favourite three golf courses in the world, and why?

Fairly obvious courses these as I have restricted them to courses I have played.

  • Firstly, North Berwick which epitomises to me all the delights of traditional links golf, which is by far my favourite form of the game. It contains so many features that we never incorporate today, with walls across fairways and directly in front of greens, many blind shots and totally unique greens, but I can fully understand the draw it has to so many aficionados of the game. It just beats Royal Cinque Ports and Formby as my favourite links course.
  • Secondly, Shinnecock Hills on Long Island in the USA which I played as a member when the British Institute of Golf Course Architects held our first Study Tour to that area. Whether it was a happy coincidence of good weather and good company, but everything seemed to come together then, and the course remains a favourite, and I am looking forward to the return of the US Open there shortly.
  • Thirdly, and as I mention above, the TPC at Sawgrass in Florida, which I felt at the time was totally new and innovative – although I dislike immensely the par 3, 17th hole!

5. What are the great challenges you face as a GCA?

The challenges that I feel personally are probably not those which affect younger architects, who are still anxious to build new courses in their own name and essentially ensure they have enough work to keep them and their staff occupied all year round on a full time basis.

For my part, it is ensuring a fairly regular supply of interesting challenges!

6. What environmental or sustainable initiatives have you incorporated into your designs?

We have always prided ourselves on “laying golf courses gently on the landscape”, and making a minimal disturbance to the natural environment. Obviously, to build great golf courses in that manner you need a fairly great site to start with like, for example, those we had a PGA Catalunya and at Surrey National in this country. It is often much easier to build an environmentally and ecologically friendly course when minimal disturbance to the existing landscape takes place, and this is often easier on the more dramatic sites.

7. How do you see the golf course design industry changing in the next 20 years?

I think all golf architects acknowledge that the majority of our work will be restoring or renovating, upgrading and remodelling existing courses, with generally a lack of new course building throughout the world, apart from in south east Asia for example. Catering for the lack of water – both for new, but also on existing courses – will be an increasing, and maybe the most important, challenge.

As such, with few new courses in design, I suppose it is becoming a less glamorous profession but, in one way, this is no bad thing, as it will ensure that only the most dedicated, talented and creative practitioners remain in the industry.

8. What makes a golf course great rather than good?

Memorability – if there is such a word! And this is obviously much easier on a site that is memorable rather than banal.

I think it no coincidence that courses regarded as great by most people are those in the most dramatic settings, whether it be sea views or other dramatic coastlines. Remembering not only every hole, but every shot and virtually every putt, and the challenge set by the designer throughout the round.

9. What advice would you give to an aspiring golf course architect?

Be creative – just don’t think of the obvious solutions, not only with design challenges but with business opportunities that can widen our range of services. As golf course architects, we have a wide range of talents, and these can be used to assist golf clubs in a much wider range of opportunities than often we realise.

10. What do you enjoy about being a golf course architect?

I suppose mainly the opportunity to travel to and work in various places, mainly in Europe, and meet fascinating and enjoyable people from completely different backgrounds. Seeing the delight on their faces when the designs which they have looked at (on paper or on the computer!) for many months or even years are finally translated into reality is something that will never be forgotten.

I recall one recent client looking at a new hole for the first time saying .”I always thought that it would be good, but I didn’t think that it would be this good!”. Comments like that make being a golf course architect a totally rewarding and enjoyable experience.

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