Date: Thu 12 Dec 2019

10 Questions for ... Leopoldo Espinosa 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?

Since a child, I have been close to everything related to golf, which I loved. My father, Ramón Espinosa a renowned golf course architect and EIGCA member, taught me everything about the golf industry, especially design, projects and construction, since he also worked at the construction company Garden & Golf. I used to accompany my father to his office on Núñez de Balboa St., in Madrid. There, I saw him working on the golf course projects he was designing, such as Golf d'Aro, Fontanals Golf, Bonalba Golf, etc.

My father was one of the founding members of the European Society of Golf Course Architects (ESGA) and was president from 1994 - 1998. He was a leading advocate of the amalgamation of ESGA, the British Institute of Golf Course Architects (BIGCA) and the French AFAG which created the EIGCA in 2000 as the sole representing body of European golf course architects.

In short, the golf industry is something that I have lived with since I was very young and have always been very excited about. I decided to study to be an agronomist engineer so I could acquire the necessary technical knowledge to be able to be a Golf Course Architect (topography, earthworks, drainage, irrigation systems, fertilizers, plantings, etc ...)

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

  • Ramón Espinosa - my father and mentor. Without him, I would not have learned much of what I now know.
  • Jack Nicklaus - as a designer I love practically all of his designs, the perfection he demands in each of his fields and all the care he puts into the details and figures of the course (greens, tees, bunkers, everything). As a person, I find him very friendly.
  • Robert Trent Jones - he is one of the best designers in the world and in Spain he designed important courses like Valderrama, Sotogrande and Las Brisas. He was also mentor to many great golf course architects, who have learned this art from him, such as his sons Robert Trent Jones Jr. and Rees Jones, and others such as Kyle Philips and Cabell Robinson.
  • Javier Arana - a well-known golf course architect and the first from Spain to have a large number of his designs in the best European rankings. I love his style!

3. What is your proudest design achievement?

It is very difficult to select a single course, since each project has its own uniqueness to be proud of. But if I have to highlight one, it would be Alborán Golf, located in Almería, Spain.

This 18-hole Par 72 course is located in a privileged place facing the Mediterranean Sea and next to the Natural Park of Cabo de Gata. It was designed to be the official course of the XV Mediterranean Games in 2005. The construction times were very tight to reach the inauguration date, but finally we got it and the championship was a success. It is a very versatile field, as it can host both high-level championships for the European Tour, as well as amateur players with high handicaps.

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

  • Old Course at St Andrews: Located in St. Andrews, Scotland. It is considered to be the "home of golf” and is one of the oldest and most iconic golf courses in the world, where golf has been played since the 15th century.
  • Pebble Beach Golf Link: Located in Pebble Beach, California. I loved this California course where many of its holes surround the rocky coastline. It is located in a unique place!
  • Golf d’Aro: Located in Gerona, Spain: In honor of my father Ramón Espinosa. They moved more than a million cubic meters on the top of a mountain, but it seems like the course had always been there. In 1992 it was recognized as "Best European Golf Tour" by the European Society of Golf Courses Architects (ESGA)

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

Getting a good laying out of the golf course, as it is the basis for obtaining the best design and meeting all the needs and objectives set by the client. Getting the best laying out of the field on each occasion is not an easy task, since you have to keep in mind many factors at the same time. You need to have good preparation and training which in my case came from my engineering studies, experience working with my father, Ramón Espinosa, and working with the construction company, Garden & Golf, on wonderful golf courses of renowned golf course architects from all over the world.

Among the factors to consider in the laying out of the golf course, we can highlight the original topography of the land to make the least possible movement of land, respect for the environment, safety, the situation of the clubhouse, orientation of the holes, location of the driving range, greens 9 and 18, tees of exit 1 and 10 and a long etc ...

In short, the challenge of every good golf course architect is to achieve a design with a balanced, fun route that attracts players and respects the environment in all its phases (construction and maintenance). An environmentally sustainable golf course that is integrated into the surrounding environment and at the same time challenges the player to play the course over and over again.

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

Currently, designing sustainable golf courses is one of the primary objectives of golf course architects. The environmental or sustainable initiatives that I consider in my designs are mainly the following:

  • Perform the least possible earthworks and minimize transport distances.
  • Integrate the golf course to the surrounding environment.
  • Recycle runoff water with a good system of surface and buried drains that return the water to the lakes.
  • Reduce the planting area for less water consumption.
  • Design a modern, efficient, uniform and sustainable irrigation system.
  • Use types of grass that need less water.
  • Plantation of native species.

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

Honestly, I don't think that big changes will be made in the golf course design industry in the next 20 years. What could happen is an important progress from a technological point of view. In the near future I believe there will be great advances and we will have many more tools that will provide us with more and more data and information to help optimize our designs with more precision. We will probably have the option to view our designs virtually as if they were real with all kinds of details, even before construction starts.

Perhaps we will also have to design courses with 6 or less holes, so that people can play golf in less time, without having to spend 4 or 5 hours playing. Of course, I think that sustainability progress of golf courses should continue in the future. But who knows, we are talking about the future...

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

Normally, what makes a great rather than just good course is not only one reason, usually it is a set of reasons such as the location of the golf course, a good design, followed by good construction, perfect and detailed maintenance and a course with its own personality that makes it different from others.

As in all facets of life, when they are done with love and dedication it shows in the final result. The same thing happens with golf courses - when a golf course receives that level of affection and dedication in all the phases mentioned above, the result is a great golf course.

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

First of all they need a lot of patience as it is not a short or easy path. Once you are clear that you want to be a golf course architect you have to train and study, but you also have to feel it, live it, take it inside, have that desire and that art necessary to create and imagine the golf course before construction.

I advise studying to be an agronomist, and landscape engineering. Then, gain experience through internships in a company together with a recognized designer or in a company that builds golf courses. I also recommend playing golf. You have to know the game very well to design golf courses according to the needs of the players, since the course is built for them.

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

Practically everything. From the first step when a client appears through the door with the idea of starting a new golf course project, the illusion is maximum. Each golf course is unique.

Visit the original land where the golf course is going to be located, start the challenge of the golf course laying out with the topographic plan in front, study the different possibilities, draw the final laying out of the course, imagine on the plane each hole, each green, etc, visit the site and check the works during the construction process to see how it evolves. Then when you see the finished golf course it is simply wonderful!

Click here to read more about Leopoldo Espinosa

Golf Course Design
Sustainability