This week on the podcast, Rob Collins of King-Collins Golf disclosed a proposed concept for the Pinehurst Resort. Collins’s plan was for potential new courses at an undeveloped property in Aberdeen. This is the same property where the resort just announced Tom Doak’s new design, Pinehurst No. 10. With 900 available acres at this Aberdeen site and only one project officially planned, it’s possible that this concept is still being discussed by the resort, but that’s pure speculation at this point.
Rob and I discussed the plan on the podcast and later he posted it to Instagram. These are the basics:
- 140 acres
- Five different courses (Red, Blue, Green, Purple, Black)
- 24 greens used to create these five courses.
Each day the resort would change routing. For instance:
- Monday – Red
- Tuesday – Blue
- Wednesday – Green
- Thursday – Purple
- Friday – Black
- Saturday – back to Red
- Sunday – Blue
And so on…
This is a unique idea. We have seen reversible designs pulled off (The Loop and Silvies Valley Ranch) in the modern era. The King-Collins plan also has similarities to Tom Doak’s version of the Sheep Ranch at Bandon Dunes, but it takes the idea to a different level. Doak’s Sheep Ranch was a golf playground on the plot of land where Coore & Crenshaw’s 18-hole course exists now. The course featured 13 greens on 105 acres and a multitude of different potential routings. Greens were to be built to be approached from a myriad of directions but would never have to endure steady regular resort play. Collins’s plan is more ambitious. We have never seen a single-course footprint attempt to execute more than two courses. This plan calls for five!
Stones – You have to appreciate a young architect getting the opportunity to pitch one of golf’s biggest resorts and doing the complete opposite of playing it safe.
Variety – The ability to turn 140 acres into five courses is wild to consider. More courses would incentivize resort guests to stay longer. Pinehurst already has 10 golf courses, if you count the Cradle, and one more on the way with Doak’s Aberdeen design. The King-Collins complex would take that number to 16. From Pinehurst’s perspective, this design might entice people to return because of unfinished business rather than simply extend a stay. This would likely translate into increased demand to visit and more potential revenue.
Rent-outs – As Rob indicated on Twitter, this property would be desirable to rent out for specific time periods. Imagine doing a solstice event where participants could play all five routings in one day. The versatility could create a premium rate for daily rentals.
The great debate – One of Bandon Dunes’s enduring virtues is that everyone debates which course is the best. Since there are five 18-hole courses, you get wide-ranging opinions on how to rank them. The King-Collins Aberdeen course could create that same debate without taking up the land and cost of five courses.
What are the best courses? – The above debate occurs only if all five courses are exceptional. The courses at Bandon also have the huge advantage of inhabiting different locations and aesthetics. Five courses on the same plot of land could struggle to create unique identities. I don’t want to doubt the talent of King-Collins, but let’s use the Old Course at St. Andrews as an example. Originally, it was a reversible course. Over time, the acceptance and lore of the current routing grew, and the reversible routing was shut down. So if certain versions of the King-Collins concept were to be more popular or discernibly better, the resort would be in a tough situation. Do you continue to feature one of the five courses when a majority of golfers and resort guests would rather play some established “better” course? King-Collins could build five equally great courses and this point could be moot, but it seems like a real challenge.
Increased maintenance and construction costs – This course would cost significantly more to maintain than a standard 18-hole design. Building a course that has more “in-play” areas requires a greater amount of maintenance. For example, a green that is approached from three different directions would create three different “approach areas” to maintain, and those require more attention than your standard fairway.
You get five different courses but you don’t get increased capacity of golf. On a given day, there is still the same amount of tee times per day as a standard 18-hole course. That 18-hole course would also carry a lower maintenance cost. So if you knock that 18-hole design out of the park and it’s full all the time, you will make more money on it because of the lower maintenance cost. If the green fee and demand for the five-course design and a single 18-hole design are the same, the 18-hole course will be significantly more profitable over time.
For reference, Tom Doak estimated that The Loop, a reversible design that has two courses in one, costs roughly 15% more to maintain than if the course were played in only one direction. The Loop uses the same 18 greens for its two courses (Red and Black). The King-Collins project calls for five different routings and 24 greens. More in-play areas along with additional greens increase the maintenance costs. I would guess that number would also jump to around 40%, at a minimum, but I am not an agronomy expert.
In addition to maintenance, construction will be more expensive. Greens are one of the priciest aspects of golf course construction, and 24 greens cost more than 18.
I do want to make clear, however, that these additional expenses could be mitigated by extended visitor play and return visits. There are just larger startup and ongoing cost concerns to consider.
Crossing holes – Crossing holes are cool as hell but they are best used at courses with limited play. These holes create safety and pace-of-play issues when a course is crowded. On the King-Collins plan, there are a number of crossing holes:
- Red Course – 7&12, 8&11
- Green Course – 8&14, 7&15
- Blue Course – 9&14, 8&15,
- Black Course – 12&16, 7&18, 13&15
Playing over unused greens – Six greens per day would not be in use. In some routings, these greens find themselves in the line of play on other holes. What happens if your ball ends up on them? Do you get a drop? Can these greens be built up? If they are, they would obscure the view of the hole. Overall, it’s not ideal.
Different start/end locations – Three of the five courses start and end in one spot and two of the courses start and end in another. This is not an ideal situation for a resort. It’s one of the many added logistical challenges this plan presents.
Some final thoughts
We should celebrate, not scoff at, the attempt to bring an innovative proposal to the table. I have never thought or written about a golf course proposal this much, let alone one that isn’t for sure going to happen. That certainly means something. You want golf architecture to make you feel things, and this concept has certainly done that. It’s clear that Rob Collins and Tad King want to do new things, and they’re doing so at a time when the majority of golf outlets’ golf course coverage is about to focus on a lost Long Island course that was recreated in Wisconsin mostly by computers, as opposed to a contemporary architect’s original design.
That said, I would like to see this five-course-in-one concept on a larger and flatter plot of land. It would give these talented architects the space to explore and ability to mitigate some of the crossing holes, play over unused greens, and different start and end locations. If you want to make it work on 140 acres, what does it look like with three courses? The point here is that creating one exceptional course on 140 acres is a challenge for any architect in the world. The thought of creating five exceptional courses is daunting. If the site were flatter and 300 acres, I think the concept could really work. Someone with a site like that should give Rob a chance.
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