Simon Gidman

Date: Wed 19 Feb 2020

10 Questions for ... Simon Gidman MEIGCA

The latest in the popular series of Member Profiles where you can get to know our members better.

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

Golf was slightly forced on me at school as it was, for a time, the only sport I was allowed to play, but straightaway I absolutely loved it and getting down to 2/3 handicap in as many years gave me further encouragement. My interest in design blossomed in my mid-twenties when I started appreciating the layouts and challenges of golf courses where I was an assistant, such as Crowborough Beacon G.C. (Colt) and Sandy Lodge G.C. (Vardon). The idea of merging my love of the game and creating a sporting canvas was too much to ignore.

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

All golf course architects enjoy the works of their early predecessors, the Colts, the MacKenzies, Braids etc. and you can see why. You can tell almost instantly who designed each golf course, for they all seem to have had their own particular signature and style. A golf course architect who I admired for his uniqueness was Desmond Muirhead. He was a very individual architect, never afraid to try new ideas, note the work at Stone Harbor G.C. Some of his designs were probably too extreme and have been altered or bulldozed out altogether but he was never afraid of novelty.

3. What is your proudest design achievement?

This is a very difficult question. From an architectural point of view perhaps the most demanding and challenging was the Blue Course at Frilford Heath G.C. The Club had two very good courses and needed a third for society play. I was given a limited budget on a flat farm site to create something of interest. I like to think I achieved that - but others can be the judge. The golf course that always gives me goose pimples when I go back to it and see its evolution is the Centurion G.C. north of London. A great course for both amateur and professionals alike.

4. What are your favourite three golf courses in the World from a design perspective, and why?

In my early days when I was studying golf course architecture, I had always been fascinated by Shinnecock Hills in the USA and its history as a former burial ground for the native Indians. It did not disappoint when the BIGCA had a chance to visit the USA and play it – a wonderful occasion. Like most courses it has gone through a transformation from Dunn’s early layout to the major changes in the 1930’s under Dick Wilson. Whilst not a truly links course, it comes close to it. A very natural course, beautifully to scale.

Another course I have enjoyed enormously was the Red course at the Berkshire – a great site with a rather unique layout including 6 par 3 holes /6 par 4 holes and 6 par 5 holes. Who wouldn’t enjoy that variety?

Finally, if I was asked to visit a course for the last time, I would have to choose the Old Course at St Andrews. Whatever people say about it and its oddities nothing improves that first glimpse of the old Clubhouse and the walk past the 17th green. I absolutely love it!!

5. What are the greatest challenges you face as a golf course architect?

A lot of my work recently has been with modifications to existing golf courses as a result of housing schemes, road realignment etc. Trying to develop new golf holes within the confines of an existing golf course where members are generally unhappy with the disruption and intrusion is a real challenge, particularly as it is so difficult for them to appreciate the time it takes from seeding to maturity.

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

When I was first starting in the industry I had visions of creating woodlands or heathland wherever I went .This hasn’t materialised in every design, but I have always tried to incorporate large planting schemes into my designs along with ponds, streams and hedgerows - anything to return a field to a more harmonious landscape ! Seeing woodlands evolve and heathland spreading is a real thrill.

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

I hope that golf will move away from the very expensive and unsustainable layouts of the past 20 /30 years to more basic facilities, even small 9-hole complexes. Golf cannot really develop from a top downwards approach, though we’ve all been saying this for many years! I have always liked the idea of Swin golf as a simple means of getting into the game, cheap to build, fun to play and safe!

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

Without doubt the first requirement should be its setting. I don’t know of a great golf course in poor surroundings. After that it must be a course that challenges every aspect of a golfers’ ability, the fades, the draws, the long irons, the short irons and putting prowess. Not many courses do all of these.

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

Don’t be afraid to sell your wares abroad at shows, conferences, etc., keep up to date with all important ecological and sustainable movements and, even when times are quiet (which will happen) be grateful you are not an accountant!

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

I never lose the thrill of seeing golfers playing on my courses. It is a simple emotion but not many people in life can say they have created a sporting facility which is enjoyed by so many people. On the other side of that same coin, seeing a torn-up card in the bin after the third or fourth hole is a little depressing!

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