Denis Griffiths has created golf courses all over the world, including, in Georgia, various courses at Chateau Elan Golf Club and Resort near Atlanta, Hard Labor Creek State Park, in Rutledge, Brasstown Valley in Young Harris, and the Georgia Club in Statham. He also created St. Andrews Bay, in Scotland; and President’s Reserve at the Hermitage, in Nashville. Griffiths holds a B.S. in landscape architecture from Iowa State University and is a past president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects.
I was working with Ron Kirby and Rodney Wright when we received a phone call from our project manager in Southeast Asia. He had been finishing up a new course on a small island republic there.
“You guys have to get out here immediately,” he said. “I’ve got word that the wife of President Ferdinand Marcos, Imelda Marcos, wants to build a new golf course for her husband’s sixtieth birthday. Since we’re already working here, she’s inquired about us.”
Within the week we were in Asia and flown to the site with the First Lady in her private, King Air aircraft. As we toured the site and discussed the project, the First Lady made it very clear she would only commission the project if it could be finished and playable in time for the President’s birthday in early September…in three months. Three months! It was an impossible, unprecedented request.
It was at that moment reality set in, but we were eternal optimists and had never disappointed a client, so we told the First Lady it was possible and agreed to the deadline. But, we told her, there would be certain things we would need: good base information, aerial photography, and topographical maps.
In about thirty minutes a black Ford car with flashing red lights rolled up and a General from the island’s Air Force met us to discuss our needs.
We talked about flying over the property to obtain an aerial photograph, which the General indicated would be no problem. He meant it, because in a few more minutes a Huey helicopter landed and was made available to take us over the site.
The pilots took us wherever we wanted, but it was hard to keep focused as the military pilots skimmed along the ground or went vertical in the doorless beast. When we were done with the helicopter and returned to the hut for lunch, we spotted a C-47 flying back and forth at 2,000 feet gridding the property!
The next morning we were awakened at 6:30 by two Air Force sergeants. They delivered a box of nearly fifty-meter-square aerial photos of the site from the C-47 flight the day before. The photos were still wet with unbelievable clarity! We took them to the hotel swimming pool deck and spread them in the sun to dry.
Over the next seventy-five days, we worked from a makeshift office in a hotel in the capital city, flying almost daily to the site on whatever military aircraft was available. We were headquartered in the capitol city to maintain close communications with the president. Each afternoon, a call would come and a limousine would pick us up at a designated time to take us to the palace. The meeting with the president would usually take place on a royal three-hole golf course with a bandstand as the centerpiece or on the sports courts, though sometimes the President would meet with us on his yacht!
This was the drill for some two-and-a-half months while the government equipment toiled on the site to complete his birthday present.
We did get nine green, somewhat playable holes ready in time for his birthday party through the miracles of rye grass in the tropics. Over the next nine months we completed the loose ends on the front nine while building the back nine. Mission completed!