ASGCA Secretary John Sanford of Sanford Golf Design has current projects dotting the globe, from rennovation at Kona Country Club’s Ocean Course, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii to a new course in Egypt. He recently spoke with GolfAdvisor.com about the projects and the improving state of the golf industry.
Following is an edited version of the GolfAdvisor.com interview. The complete interview can be found here.
GolfAdvisor: What’s the status of the renovation work at Kona Country Club’s Ocean Course?
John Sanford: We are getting it finished up. The irrigation is complete. That is what has taken a good bit of time. (We were) trenching through lava. There is this stuff called blue lava. It is the hardest rock in the world. There were some delays because of that. We are in the grow-in and landscaping phase to finish.
GolfAdvisor: When will it open?
Sanford: It is going to be later on in the summer. I’m going to say July or August. We’ve got some extensive landscaping coming. One of the things we wanted to do was to make it better and sustainable and take some areas of grass out. The entire course was wall-to-wall Bermuda. We are taking out about 12 acres of turf and replacing that with native landscaping. It will have a cleaner look. Over time, there was a lot of settling. It was built on lava. There was a lot of leveling of the fairways to fill in the potholes. What will be most noticeable will be new bunkering and new landscaping.
GolfAdvisor: What other projects are you working on these days?
Sanford: We are fortunate to have a few projects going. We are working on some renovation projects in Florida and the Northeast. We are pursuing more of the same, and we are still fortunate to be working in the Middle East.
We have an interesting new course in construction on the north coast of Egypt. We’ve got a background in resort courses in Egypt. We started this course before the revolution. It was this time of the year, in 2011, four years ago. It was about 50-to-60 percent built when the revolution kicked in. Everything stopped. I won’t get into the politics, but it took three years. Things are beginning to become stable. It’s the Hacienda Bay Golf Resort, a good-sized resort right on the beach west of Alexandria right on the Mediterranean Sea. It is very cool. What is interesting, it is the location where the Allied forces stopped the “Desert Fox” during World War II. The Mediterranean in this location is breathtaking. We will have nine holes done this season. The other nine holes open next year.
Even though the original design was done, we are redesigning the course and re-purposing it. The owners felt like they needed to be more sustainable. Originally it was a championship venue at 7,300 yards. They wanted to reduce the turf area and water consumption. We reduced the course and they added some hotel and villa areas to the master plan. Seven or eight holes are completely being rebuilt. It will be a 6,600-yard par 70. I actually was all for it, to make it more sustainable, to help them garnish some additional revenue through real estate sales and hotel rooms. The world has more than enough 7,000-yard courses. The 6,600-yard course is a great solution, especially over there. It will be plenty of course for the guest.
GolfAdvisor: Do you feel business is growing these days?
Sanford: We always feel like we could be busier. Even when had six-to-seven projects going, we could use more work. There has been a bit of a resurgence in renovation work. Everybody is pretty much aware of that. The last few years, we are seeing these private clubs — there is a concentration here in south Florida — they deferred improvements. The good news is the existing clubs who lost members from 2008 through 2012, now these clubs are starting to realize, we have to do these projects. Whatever the features are on the course, they all wear out. We have to improve these things to stay attractive for new members.
GolfAdvisor: Let’s switch gears and talk about Ferry Point. What’s going to be the reception when it opens?
Sanford: I think it will be well received by the public. It was a dual mission for us and the Jack Nicklaus, ASGCA Fellow Design team. The city requested from the beginning that it be a public course, but a tournament venue. At the same time, it has to be playable and enjoyable for public golfers. We all talk about doing that. We always want it to be challenging for the best players but enjoyable. That’s a tough thing to do. Courses are either overly challenging and suitable for single digits or not that much of a challenge. We were able to combine both of those concepts.
GolfAdvisor: What about the Ferry Point project was a challenge?
Sanford: Obviously having Mr. Nicklaus on the team, his insight and talents helped, but a big reason why we were chosen, we had experience building on a landfill in Boston at Granite Links. Even though this was a different type of landfill, we were aware of a lot of the issues and the additional infrastructure needed to close a landfill and build a course on top of it.
GolfAdvisor: How much does it bother you that your name gets lost when people give all the credit to Jack Nicklaus and Donald Trump?
Sanford: I have tremendous respect for both Mr. Nicklaus and Mr. Trump. I’ve known Jack’s family since I was a kid. They are great people. I’ve come to know Mr. Trump through this project. They are a fantastic organization that has done great things for the golf industry. They came in to grow the turf. They have done an exemplary job. The Trump brand brings attention. The project itself garners attention. I understand that those are two of the biggest names in the game.
Myself and my firm were honored to be involved and to have seen it through. In the end, people in the industry, they know (what we did). We managed the project, and we are collaborating with Jack on the design. Our big role was to make sure that Jack’s concepts and strategies got implemented into the landfill. That was the magic of the project. It didn’t always allow what he wanted to happen. We had to work around site constraints. Jack couldn’t be better as far as special constraints. He was great with different ideas and being flexible. He was great in getting high quality and strategy.
GolfAdvisor: And last question, I’m curious what course developers are looking for when you’re pitching new projects. Is the message different? Shorter courses? More sustainable?
Sanford: For us, to be honest, it’s not that different for Sanford Golf Design. Even 10 years ago, we were pitching sustainability. We break that down to economic and environmental and social. It has to be good for a community. Being a landscape architect first, sustainability has always been on top. We opened a course in 2007 (called) Juliette Falls that was built during the heyday. Even while things were flying high and people were spending too much on developing courses, we still built a course in Ocala (Florida) that worked with the land. It wasn’t expensive to build. It has been ranked among the top 10 courses in Florida. There’s only 70 acres of turf because of the way we approached project. It survived because of what we designed and the way it is maintained. It is doing well and real estate has picked up. A lot of projects in early to mid 2000s didn’t make it because of overspending. Our pitch isn’t that much different than five to 10 years ago. We are looking for that next new course.