Faldo has designs on future

Andy Farrell talks to the Master about the next empire he plans to dominate
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The Independent Online
Nick Faldo's interest in becoming a golf course architect began only shortly after he became intent on a career as a player. At the course he played over and over again learning the game, Welwyn Garden City, Faldo would visualise extra bunkers, or water hazards, or other dangers that increased the precision with which he was required to hit his next shot.

As his playing career developed, Faldo got to study the work of some of the great course designers around the world at first hand, from Harry Colt at Sunningdale to Alister Mackenzie at Royal Melbourne. "The skill is to make it look natural," Faldo said, "so that it does not scream at you 'why did they put that there?' or 'why did they do this?'"

Those experiences culminated in the design of Chart Hills, Faldo's first course in England. Built with the assistance of his American associate, Steve Smyers, Chart Hills, near Biddenden in Kent, opened three years ago.

Interviewed in the final stages of construction of what Faldo termed his "calling card", he revealed the wish that once Nick Faldo the player wound down his efforts to win major championships, Nick Faldo the designer's ambition was to build the best inland course in Britain, and the best links course.

This week, Chart Hills was nominated as the Best Inland course by Following the Fairways, an annual guide to the best courses to play in Britain. "It is a good start," said Faldo, as if he had just won the first major he played in.

"I am delighted it should be thought of so highly. I phoned Steve straightaway. There are a few things we need to do to keep it there. You learn things for the next one, learn from your mistakes." He might have been talking about his golf swing, for they are both subjects for which the Masters champion has an unending enthusiasm and fascination.

As for building a new links course, that could take longer. The inspiration came from a conversation with Michael Bonallack, the secretary of the Royal and Ancient. "I asked Michael if anyone ever built a new links, would you ever consider it for the Open? He said, yes, straightaway. But finding the land in the right area is a major, major problem. It is just not finding suitable links land to build the course on, it also needs to be in the right location, near a town for the hotels and transport."

While that idea remains a pipe dream, there are two strands to Faldo's future design work. "One is good quality pay-for-play courses, golf for the masses. The other is that I'd love to do a real purpose-built tournament golf course - so that spectators have a great route, it's in the right area, designed for TV, tented village, everything. We have some big ideas. We just need to get permission."

While Faldo has 11 courses built or under construction outside Britain, having been signed this week to a project at Mission Hills in China, his office at International Management Group sift through a mountain of possible sites in Britain. They thought they had a good one at Gadbridge Farm, near Maidenhead, in Berkshire, but planning permission was blocked by local councillors.

This was despite having the backing of planning officers, and groups such as the rivers authority who were delighted to see a ditch reinstated as a river. There were also, unbelievably, problems about holding charity days and putting in facilities for the disabled. "You are beating your head against a brick sometimes," an exasperated Faldo complained. "Some people just want to see you fail."

The Faldo courses

England: Chart Hills

Germany: Sporting Club, Berlin

China: Wuhan International GC; Royal Orchid; Mission Hills

Vietnam: Ocean Dunes

Philippines: Eagle Ridge

Thailand: Great Lake G&CC; Floraville G&CC; Century CC

Indonesia: Cikarang G&CC; Royal Sumatra