Date: Mon 15 Jun 2020

10 Questions for ... David Bily 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 have been passionate about the game since I was about 10 years old. My dad played golf and I suppose I just wanted to be like him. Regarding the architecture part, I remember sitting in math class drawing golf holes about age 12, so the fascination has been with me a long time. Later I studied landscape architecture with the idea of probably getting into golf course architecture, but in Vancouver there weren’t a lot of opportunities in golf design at the time and during my studies I discovered many other aspects of landscape and building design which led me in other directions. It wasn’t until I met Erich Steiner in Switzerland in 2005 that I finally began to work in the field of golf course architecture. Thanks, my friend.

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

Well, I suppose I have a lot of admiration for some of the early designers, especially Stanley Thompson. He’s probably not a household name in Europe but in Canada he created some of the country’s first masterpieces from coast to coast. And this at a time when transportation was difficult and construction methods were rudimentary.

3. What is your proudest design achievement?

The fantastic large greens at Golfpark Holzhausern built together with my partner Erich Steiner and Daniel Infanger, Head Greenkeeper. We all had our say and together we did something that none of us could have done on our own. These greens have some wonderful contours and provide very interesting putting for golfers of every level.

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

Well, there are a lot of great courses around the world and unfortunately, I haven’t played nearly as many of them as I would have liked…at least not yet. Of course, I have studied many of these courses, watched them on TV or even seen them in person but I find it’s difficult to judge how great it is if you haven’t played it. So, if I were to choose my three favourite courses that I have played I would say Banff Springs, North Berwick and Machrihannish Dunes. Banff Springs has the grandeur and incredible setting in the Rockies and some fantastic Stanley Thompson bunkering, North Berwick has a great collection of quirky holes that are not only unique but make for great fun and Machrihannish Dunes is a fantastic layout in the natural dune landscape with some wonderful green sites and feeling of naturalness.

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

Simply living in Switzerland in 2020! Space is tight, government is demanding, and public opinion is critical. Designing new golf courses in this country is probably a thing of the past but even renovating existing courses is challenged by local governments and environmental regulations. Somehow, we keep designing and building. A small miracle.

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

We incorporate many simple sustainable ideas into every project. Minimal cut and fill, working with existing landforms to reduce the impact area, low maintenance bunkers, minimal fairway/semi-rough areas and maximising hard rough and no-input eco areas around tees and out of play areas (arid or wildflower meadows), sustainable drainage with swales and soak-away areas to regenerate the underground aquifer, working with local contractors, using native vegetation for hedges or out of play areas, etc. Sometimes the simplest ideas have the biggest impact.

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

Well, it will be mostly renovation work and a strong focus on environmental protection. Golf design teams will be working on increasing habitat and biodiversity, keeping negative impacts to a minimum and reducing use of resources (water, fertilizers, plant protection products and energy). Everyone in the industry will be focusing on sustainability.

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

I feel that it has something to do with authenticity. Probably in many cases a great course will be of a certain age, built when we had few tools to move earth and change the land, so a golf course that is very little changed from its initial landscape. I find the more the golf holes fit naturally into the existing land, the more you feel you are playing against nature and the more complete the experience.

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

Golf course architecture needs to make itself relevant in the 21st century. We need to understand landscape, environment, ecology, sustainability. These themes will be as important if not more important in our field than actually designing interesting golf holes.

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

Combining my knowledge of landscape design with my passion for the game of golf. What more could you ask for?

Click here to read more about David.

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