Feature Interview with Paul Jansen, pg. ii

12. Monsoons and high humidity plague Asian golf. Do some of the new grass strains improve playability and allow you to offer viable ground game options?

My motto, and it’s been successful so far, is to use the grass type that grows locally in that part of the world. Before I start any design work, I explore the region (not just the site) which often gives me design inspiration but it also allows me to study what grasses grow and survive in the climate with limited input. That’s the key.

I’ve seen cases where a foreign grass species has been introduced into a tropical environment at a high cost with disastrous effect. The new species invariably require more input and are more labor intensive than the native grasses. Importantly, the native grasses are generally easier to maintain and harder to kill, so if you make mistakes, it won’t be catastrophic. This is less so with non-native.

These new grass species generally require more water, which can necessitate a new irrigation system (at least where it is a renovation). Once you start throwing more water on the play areas, the native grasses start to reintroduce themselves or where they are confined to the rough areas compete more aggressively with the non-native. More labour is required to manage this work. You get the picture and sometimes it is a bleak, never ending, costly battle.

The best way to do things is to work with what grows locally and make that the best it can be.

13. What are some of your preferred, local grassing schemes in Asia? 

I am a fan of local grasses that require minimal input. In South East Asia, this includes Manilagrass which I’ve used on projects in Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia. I also believe Tropical Carpetgrass (also known as buffalograss) is another grass species that grows well in that part of the globe and other areas in Asia where it’s hot and humid and where they get a lot of rainfall. I recently used it in Sri Lanka and it worked out well.

The one real benefit from a playability perspective is that the zoysia grass is relatively drought tolerant and given the right conditions can produce fast playing conditions. It’s much harder to achieve this using Carpetgrass, for instance since this grass has a thick leaf and can get sticky like Kikuyu grass. It’s possible to achieve fast on other non-native grasses but this means more stress on the grass or more input.

Manilagrass in Indonesia.

Tropical Carpetgrass in Colombo.

14. When and how did you start working with Mark Lawson from Australia? With whom else do you like working?

Mark and I first met in Vietnam on the Laguna Lang Co project in 2008. Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans are relatively similar so it was easy to work with him from the get go. He was the construction manager on the contractor side of that project and then he worked on projects with me directly in Thailand and Indonesia. He has also helped me from a far with other projects, most notably in Sri Lanka. Mark is one of those guys that can do everything from start to finish, is reliable, easy to work with and quickly adapts to any situation. Most importantly, he is just a great guy to be around.

I also have a Nepalese guy who works with me on select projects in the sub-continent. I can leave him on his own and know that he can do the job properly. I am currently working on a project in Japan and Keith Cutten is helping me out on the ground. He is another one who is really good at his craft and can manage a work site by himself. He has a very promising future.

15. What projects are you all working on now?

I have two projects currently on the ground. One in Japan at the Keya GC, outside of Fukuoka, where we are reworking the bunkers to begin.

The bunker project at Keya GC in Japan.

The other is a new 18 hole golf course in Coxs Bazar, Bangladesh. I am working with the Bangladesh Golf Federation, R&A, local stakeholders and the army to create the first 18 hole designed public course in that country.

Off they head to route holes at Cox Bazar in Bangladesh.

Recently, I completed design work for a new 9 hole course in Romania and new 18 hole golf course in Sri Lanka. Add to that I am working with friend and golfer Shiv Kapur on the design for a par 3 nine hole golf course in India. I also consult at a number of clubs around the globe.

Having said that, my main focus these past 8 – 12 months has been helping short game golf guru Dave Pelz and his son Eddie develop Pelz Player Greens (www.pelzplayergreens.com) and also developing the short game and practice service side of my business. It’s been a wonderful experience for me to spend time with Dave, possibly the world’s best short game golf coach, and understand the dynamics and intricacies of short game practice. Both Dave and I believe that practice areas are an afterthought at most golf clubs and we both see this as an opportunity to improve that side of the business.

Everyone on this forum believes that golf courses need to be fun and similarly Dave sees the need for practice to be fun. It’s hard to motivate yourself and get better when a practice area is dull and uninspiring (this applies to golf courses too). Dave wants the golfer to be creative, use his/her imagination and be motivated to hit an extraordinary shot and not dictated to try only one type shot.

The idea is to recreate as many shots as you would find out on the golf course and more. If you look at his backyard for example, his design is not constrained by any rules other than the fact that bunker shot is away from the house. Every pin location asks interesting questions and calls for imaginative play whether it’s feeding your ball off a mound 15 feet from the pin or over a tree to the same location.

Dave Pelz’s backyard

Within a 2 acre space you are able to play upwards of 70% of the shots you would find on a standard 150 acre golf course. That’s a great use of space.

Paul Jansen, flanked by Dave and Eddie Pelz.

16. Tell us the genesis of this list www.jansengolfdesign.com/blog/top-100-golf-courses-you-may-never-have-heard-of-but-must-visit  ?

That’s a great question. Some of it was born out of frustration of seeing the same lists of golf courses time and time again. As a business, we tend to glamorize a few hundred golf courses, which then typically get labeled the ‘best.’ I thought it would be a wonderful exercise to highlight some of the other fun, unique and distinctive golf courses out there.  These are the golf courses that most inspire me and my work. I wanted to show people that there is more to golf than just playing the ‘best’ as defined by the media.

I’ve visited 74 of the golf courses on that list and am motivated to see all of them. Lorne Rubenstein once told me that every golf course has a story to tell and there is truth in that.

17. Asia encompasses a gigantic swath of land, large enough to hold 48 (!) countries. Which three countries hold the greatest potential for golf and why?

  1. China because of its size, both geographically as well as population wise.
  2. Russia because there is limited golf to date and it’s a big place.
  3. The Philippines because of its magnificent coastline and we know that golf and beach work well together.

18. Talk to us about the ‘Seven Wonders of Southern Asia.’

A few years ago I blocked out some time in my diary to visit the most sustainable and unique golf courses throughout Southern Asia. There was a lot of planning involved and admittedly some of the route was dictated by golf clubs at which I was interviewing. The goal of this adventure was threefold:

  1. Use the trip as an opportunity to highlight the richness and diverse nature of the golf experiences in Asia. Asia gets a bad rap sometimes which I think is unfair because some of the world’s most unique and fun courses can be found on the continent.
  2. Continue my own education, particularly where it related to sustainability. I made a point to visit the most environmentally and socially sustainable golf courses in the region.
  3. Promote the benefits of sustainable practice.

When I was done putting together the itinerary, it included nearly 40 golf clubs in 7 countries over something like 39 days. In discussion with friends they felt I should label the trip the Seven Wonders of Southern Asia. The route was as follows: Sri Lanka – India – Bangladesh – Indonesia – Myanmar – Vietnam – Cambodia. It was a highly successful trip with no serious mishaps and at the conclusion, I wrote a number of magazine articles detailing some of my findings.

The R&A also covered sections of the trip on their website. I tried to use social media as best I could as I moved through the countries which was difficult at times given the length of the days and amount of travel involved. One of the positive outcomes was a sustainable seminar series with the R&A and GEO talking about responsible design, construction and maintenance practice. We spoke to large audiences in Thailand, China, Japan, Korea and India.

I’ve been fortunate to partake in a number of epic trips over the years whether it be in GB&I, Continental Europe, Asia, Africa and to a lesser extend North America but the Seven Wonders tour covered more unique and sustainable golf courses. Plus, it featured the most places that people have never heard of!

19. Most of us can’t relate to playing past 17 pagodas (built 900 – 1200AD). How was the golf at Bagan in Myanmar?!

“Golf at its best is a perpetual adventure” – Bernard Darwin

An adventure is the answer. I knew travelling around Myanmar would be an adventure and I enjoy golf the most when the course promotes a sense of adventure and there was lots of that at Bagan.

Bagan GC, Myanmar.

20. What are several other unique golf experiences that you  have enjoyed via your travels?

There are an abundance in the United Kingdom and Ireland so I won’t get into too much detail for that part of the globe but I will say that Royal West Norfolk (Brancaster) is probably my favorite on the island. It’s unique in so many ways including the walk from the clubhouse to the 1st tee via the beach. My friend Nick Edmund wrote a majestic piece for Links Magazine detailing the course and is a must read. He also wrote about it in his Following the Fairways series. It was Nick that told me to visit.

Brancaster from the beach

As a rule of thumb, the early golf courses built in the territories by the British are unique provided that they still occupy their original location and that the club has not spent money trying to rid the course of its quirkiness. Examples include Nuwara Eliya GC , Hong Kong GC Old and Thayet GC . There are others like the Bangalore GC which has been modernized but is still quirky including have a hole that plays over the car park.

Over the car park we play at Bangalore GC!

 Africa: The Skukuza Golf Club is a nine hole golf courses situated in the Kruger National Park that shares its space with abundant wildlife including hippos, crocodiles, water hogs and others. There have been lion and leopard sightings at dusk or dawn. Before you start the round, you sign an indemnity form stating that you are responsible for your own actions and well being on the course. All the “bushveld” golf courses of Southern Africa offer something unique with other examples including Sabi River, Hans Marensky, Elements, Zebula, Sishen, Sun City, Leopard Creek and Komatipoort.

The 9th hole at Skukuza GC in South Africa, complete with hippos and crocodile in the water and waterhogs on the green.

Asia: I will select the Himalayan Golf Club. I visited with some of the Nepalese guys that worked with me in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. That was an enjoyable day and an incredible place. Bring your hiking boots and enjoy the scenery including the Annapurna Massif, at over 8,000m, that frames the course.

Crossing a rushing river at Himalayan GC.

Continental Europe: I have toured a lot of golf throughout Europe and particularly in the Benelux countries but for me the most unique course I’ve visited is in Scandinavia called Royal Copenhagen GC (RCGC). Superintendent extraordinaire Martin Nillson manages the course which is located on 800ha of land owned by the royal family but with public access. The property is fenced because of the 2,700 deer roaming the property and golf course. It’s a multi-use facility so people are cycling, running, walking, riding horses etc in between the golf. The best examples of sustainable golf, in my opinion, can be found in Scandinavia and RCGC is one such example. The golf course is pesticide free due to its location in one of the country’s most highly protected landscapes, they maintain 22ha and I believe there is only 6 green staff in total.

Royal Copenhagen.

I’m fortunate to consult at a few quirky clubs around the globe and the one phrase I use frequently when talking to committees and members is from Tom Simpson’s The Architectural Side of Golf where it reads Roads, railways, sheds and gardens may be thought unsatisfactory and unwelcome, yet they are often the essence of a course; take them away and the difference would at once be felt”. There is much truth in that!

The railway line at Royal Colombo GC.

21. Sustainability is crucial to you. What are some examples of imbuing a course with features that, to paraphrase Colt, will stand the test of time?

This is a big topic but I will name a few areas we can do much better as a business.

I’ve written a lot about the benefit of ground contours over time. They are easy and cost effective to build and maintain, add immense strategic interest and help with drainage. I only truly understood the benefit of ground contours after studying the links of Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland from 2000 – 2005 and intermittently during my time with Faldo.

Multi-use golf courses: Golf courses cover such large expanses of land yet generally speaking, a high percentage of the overall area sees limited play. These limited play areas are still maintained at a high cost and this presents an opportunity to change for good. A lot of the work I do with golf clubs is to focus on reducing the human footprint or where there is a human footprint, make it productive. As with everything, it is place and country specific but a few good examples of multi-use include the Royal Bangkok Sports Club, Royal Copenhagen GC or a golf course like Sabi River Sun where nature and golf co-exist. Making golf more multi-use also helps improve the perception that golf is exclusive and closed walls.

Bangkok Sports Club

On this note, I am a huge advocate for regenerative design. Instead of maintaining a space or leaving it fallow, generate some productivity from that space similar to what was done at Laguna Lang Co.

Rice paddy crops at Laguna Lang Co.

There is a great opportunity to recycle, particularly where it pertains to tree removal. Tree removal is a hot topic at many golf clubs and in my experience, making a case for recycling that tree or stand of trees helps build a case. On many of my projects, I have had a local carpenter recycle trees into everything from benches, signage, steps, bridge platforms and dustbins.

Recycling trees Sri Lanka.

At Laguna Phuket, we were able to recycle all the trees we removed during the rebuild into wood chips which were then spread into the rough areas that was previously maintained grass.

Recycled wood chips at Laguna Phuket are both attractive and low maintenance.

I also believe that there will be more demand for artificial turf at least for tee, green and short game areas as the game moves forward. I wouldn’t advocate artificial for the entire area, that would be unsustainable but I can see the benefit at high maintenance areas that require lots of input, manpower and that see lots of wear and tear.

22. Why should someone hire Jansen Golf Design & Construction?

Our main focus is working with clients that are interested in getting better from an environmental perspective and having them profit from this. We are primarily a course design firm but a lot of our work focus is outside of the play corridors looking at how we can improve such areas and make them more sustainable. If a client is looking at the entire course holistically, then we could be a good fit.

I bring a multitude of international experiences with me having worked on golf projects both big and small on continents around the globe.

Paul Jansen on site in Indonesia.

More niche but still golf related, we assist and support any client who dreams of having a synthetic turf facility in their backyard or at their golf course. Our work with Pelz Player Greens Team and affiliates enables us to work extensively throughout North America and other parts of the globe.

The End