It would be an exaggeration to say that Paul McGinley’s course design style is based on ‘Little Old Lady Theory’ but it’s not too far from the truth.
After a decade that has brought us a host of massively difficult trophy venues that would tax even Rory McIlroy on a good day, the 47-year-old Dubliner’s philosophy reflects the kind of attention to detail that made him such a huge success as a Ryder Cup captain.
Knowing yourself is one thing, but knowing your client and their clientele is even more important in a business which looks likely to occupy more of McGinley’s time over the next few years.
Early last week, the architect of Europe’s latest Ryder Cup win was in Portugal at Denis O’Brien’s Quinta do Lago resort to unveil his €9.6m redesign of the North Course in close collaboration with American architect Beau Welling.
It took him just two minutes to explain what the project, and McGinley as a course architect, was all about.
“As I said in my closing speech at the Ryder Cup, the game faces many challenges around the world,” McGinley says as he surveys his handiwork. “The number of people playing the game is not increasing at the level we’d like it to increase.
“A lot of people find the game very difficult, some professionals too. So the idea of renovating the golf course here was to make it playable. We are not trying to make the course more difficult but to encourage more people to play the game in a beautiful, aesthetic place.”
Joe Bedford is project manager for Paul McGinley Design and, all going well, he could find himself in places as far afield as Kenya, Vietnam, the Congo and South Africa over the next few years as new business opportunities arise. His relationship with McGinley started at Macreddin Village nearly 10 years ago and having worked with him on projects in Ghana and Bulgaria, not to mention an on-going renovation of Portsalon in Donegal, he knows what makes the Dubliner tick.
Just as he showed in the way he got to know the idiosyncrasies of every member of his Ryder Cup team, knowing exactly who will be playing his courses and what the owner or developer wants to achieve, is key.
“When we built Macreddin, he sent his mother up a few times to play it, to make sure the tees were right for the ladies and they could get over the creek,” Bedford explains. “He’ll often look at a hole or a plan and say to me, ‘How’s the little old lady going to make that carry Joe? Or, ‘How’s the senior player or the young kid going to be able to get up around that green?’
“He’s got a lot of things he likes to see in a course — he wants you to be able to see all or as much of the green as possible and there always has to be a run-in to every green.
“He loves false fronts and run-offs; he likes his par-threes to play downhill, if possible; hazards should be in front of you. If there’s a lake, it has to be at one side rather than straight in front so there is another route in there.”
Harry Colt would be one of McGinley’s great heroes and in making sure a course is playable for the average player — man, woman or child — before creating additional difficulties for the better player, McGinley has certainly achieved his goal on the North Course at Quinta do Lago on Portugal’s Algarve. O’Brien has invested massively in bringing the resort’s South Course and the Laranjal Course up to luxury standards so that clients will be encouraged to come back again and again.
While some designers go with the belt and braces approach — severely undulating greens protected by cavernous bunkers set just beyond the inevitable water hazard — McGinley’s wants to challenge you, not kill you.
“His influences would be Pinehurst and Sunningdale and Baltray,” Bedford says. “It’s about shot-pinching or taking just one shot off you at a time rather than massively punishing you.”
That’s especially important at Quinta do Lago, where the redevelopment of the North Course is just part of a €29m investment programme that began in 2009, with a further €21m earmarked for further resort improvements over the next three years.
As renovation projects go, the North Course was a huge job requiring the design team to strip every sod from the 6,776-yard course and replace it all within 12 months, having redone everything from scratch.
All greens, tees, bunkers, irrigation, drainage systems and cart paths were rebuilt using the latest state-of-the-art technology, with multiple sets of tees introduced on each hole to accommodate players of all levels.
Landing areas that once repelled decent tee shots into the trees now gather the ball into the fairway. Greens, such as the 18th, have been re-situated to offer a more enticing approach. In short, it’s been redesigned to get you coming back for more
“The main thing we want is for people to enjoy the golf experience,” says McGinley, who likes to see golf made easier and quicker for club players rather than more difficult.
“Our aim is not to intimidate but to encourage.
“We all know how difficult this game is and the idea around the renovation of this golf course is not to change the template or the routing that has been there for 40-odd years now but to keep that in place and upgrade it and bring it into the modern world.
“We’ve tried to increase the landing areas to make it fairer so the ball doesn’t run off the fairways any more but gathers onto fairways. But we’ve also tried to make it as visual as possible, so you can consistently see where you are going.”
Pointing to the green at the short, par-five 18th behind him, he says: “The 18th is a great example of that. The previous green was up on top of the hill on the right-hand side and all you could see was the flag at the top of the hill.
“But by dropping the green down here to the left you can see 85% of that green now, maybe 90%. We’ve tried to do that on all of the holes as best we can.
“The main thing is to make the golf course playable so you can go out there and have fun. That’s what the game is. That’s what’s going to bring you back.
“If you play the golf course and think, ‘God, I left a few shots out there, I want to come back and have a go tomorrow’, then we have achieved our aim.
“It also creates a challenge, too. We can easily step up to the plate here with pin positions but it is also a challenge and a risk-reward.
“There is plenty of challenge out there but it is also very fair.”
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