Marc Westenborg

Date: Thu 14 Jan 2021

10 Questions for ... Marc Westenborg 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?

I didn’t really. I was a Quantity Surveyor (which ironically proved a useful Golf Course Architectural tool) before returning to college with the view to becoming a Golf Course Manager. However, one thing led to another and I ended up participating in the “Gleneagles Excellence in Golf Award” (which I won) during which time I worked with a Golf Course Architect, David Mclay Kidd.

My interest developed from that point and he advised that if I wanted to be a Golf Course Architect, that I work in golf course construction. I did this for one year in America following which I was lucky enough to be employed by Hawtree. It turned out that, although not being able to draw or having any particularly artistic qualities, that when it came to designing golf courses, I seemed to have some degree of aptitude for it, so along with that, combined with my project management, greenkeeping and golf construction background, my career advanced from there.

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

The obvious answer would be the old greats of Mackenzie, Colt and Braid. I’ve been lucky enough to consult for many golf courses that they designed and without doubt, they had an extraordinary ability to route and design stunning golf courses and all without the modern-day technology we have today.

As for modern day architects, although no longer with us, it would probably be Pete Dye. When working in golf course construction in America I worked on two of his golf courses and also met him briefly. He was an inspirational character, not afraid to try different styles and his golf courses certainly seem to be standing the test of time.

3. What is your proudest design achievement?

I’ve been designing for over 20 years now, so there are quite a few proud moments.

Rockliffe Hall near Darlington is the first one that comes to mind. The budget was healthy, and the client allowed me free reign on a piece of land that by all intents and purposes, was plain. However, for me, it was perfect; a blank canvass that with the budget I had, was able to make good use of my creative juices. The course is now a stunning, ecologically rich area of land and I always look forward to playing there.

However, Dun Laoghaire and the 18-hole renovation of the beautiful Dooks in Ireland, as well as Purdis Heath in Ipswich, all come a very close second, as well as the fact that Dun Laoghaire being voted Number 1 parkland golf course in Ireland 2013 and 2015 by the Golfers Guide to Ireland and 2016 by the IGTOA ; an unexpected icing on the cake.
Most recently, being commissioned by Southport & Ainsdale, such a famous and iconic golf course, to act as their consultant for all future renovation works, was a moment I won’t forget in a hurry.

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

  • I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to play the Trent Jones designed Las Brisas in Marbella Spain on many an occasion. It is a beautiful golf course full of strategic strengths and with it doubling up as an arboretum, is beautifully landscaped and was always in pristine condition.
  • This may come across as slightly biased, but I absolutely love playing Rockliffe Hall. Perhaps it is partly influenced by the fact I designed it, but it is truly wonderful experience from start to finish; there is not a hole on the course that cannot be easily remembered which for me, is always the mark of a good golf course.
  • But my favourite, and I would happily play it every day for the rest of my life, would be Dooks GC in Ireland. Once again, nothing to do with the fact that I was responsible for its 18-hole renovation, if Joe blog had designed it, it would still be my favourite. It is located in quite simply the most stunning of settings one could imagine. It’s a links course, but with low dunes there are beautiful views of the sea, coastline and majestic hills that surround the golf course from every hole. Ecological wise, it is incredibly rich with great variety of plants, some quite rare, and the golf course itself can only be described as great fun to play, which is exactly the point of the game.

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

Without doubt it would be securing new projects. Compared to the amount of work available, there is a huge amount of competition out there. Not just from fellow experienced Golf Course Architects, but also those who are able to convince potential clients that designing a golf course is really not that hard. This of course could not be further from the truth. Golf Course Architecture requires a huge depth of knowledge and experience to guarantee the success of a project. But it can certainly be a challenge at times convincing potential clients that we add value to projects.

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

The list is endless. As an example, my CPD study for the “Raising the Standard of Sustainable Golf Course Design (RSSGCD) was Rockliffe Hall. In summary, the area of land was transformed from a plain flat potato field into an ecological haven of wetlands, lakes, species rich grasslands and thousands of trees planted. The same applies to Dun Laoghaire GC in Ireland. There is nothing more satisfying than transforming bland, ecologically stale pieces of land into something that is environmentally rich. If anyone ever confronts me with the “golf courses are bad for the environment” phrase, they are ill advised.

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

Renovations will always be the mainstay of our work. Even golf courses that have already been renovated, will eventually require some form of renovation again. Fewer and fewer new golf courses are being built, in fact, at the moment, more golf courses are closing rather than opening. However, there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon for Golf Course Architects. Hundreds of golf courses are located on what could be described as incredibly valuable inner-city land that are being targeted by property developers. The equation is relatively simple; the developer covers the cost of relocating the golf course to a site reasonably close to the current golf course and they develop the original site into much needed real estate.

Dun Laoghaire, a 27-hole course I designed 10-years ago, is a good example. The Club moved from an 18-hole inner city course that was beset with H & S problems and whose future was in doubt, to a new 27-hole facility close by, while the developer acquired some immensely valuable land for real estate. Everyone was happy.

Additionally, many golf courses may start examining the possibility of “down-sizing”. Maybe reducing to 9-holes with a variety of tee locations, or 9-holes and a more substantial practice facility with perhaps a Par 3 course. The remaining land, sold for development and henceforth securing the future of the Club.

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

Not a difficult question. It’s all down to the opinion of the golfer who plays it. One golfer might love a golf course, while his playing partner may hate it; although this is often linked to how well the golfer played on that particular day. My theory is, that if a golfer walks off the 18th green after a terrible round of golf, but still thoroughly enjoyed the experience, then it is without doubt, a great golf course.

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

In my view, without a solid golf background in golf, becoming an architect is difficult. Greenkeeping and construction experience is essential as well as some sort of qualification in golf course management. It’s important that they play golf but certainly do not have to be a “scratch” golfer and personally, I do not think a landscaping qualification is required. Most importantly, a passion for all elements of golf is required.

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

In the changing rooms at Dooks GC following completion of their renovations, a member approached me. He had been vehemently against the renovation proposals but now wanted to apologise and say how impressed he was with the work. Similar moments have occurred over my years of being an architect and it is immensely satisfying when someone compliments your efforts and hard work, especially when they were initially sceptical. Nothing beats the thrill of playing a golf course you have designed or renovated.

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