Golf Course Architecture: Issue 57 - July 2019

57 Victoria GC in Sri Lanka was designed by Donald Steele and Martin Ebert and had a reputation of being quite a good test. Unfortunately, the course fell into disrepair due to lack of pretty much everything. The equipment, minimal to begin with, wore out; the irrigation system that was supposed to keep at least a bit of fairway green was so under-designed that the grass, established essentially by lucky weather in the beginning, succumbed to the heat and weed competition in the hot, dry periods over years to come. There was just no money to properly maintain a golf course in the tropics. Every hole is interesting and memorable. One of the ideas was that maybe an Asian Tour event world work. And this is how I became involved. I am a friend and business associate of the then chairman of the Asian Tour, and the logical progression was to ask me to swing out there for a look to see if it had any potential as I sometimes do for them. We started out with a US$5 million budget to bring the course up to international standards which subsequently was cut to three million and finally the US$1.2 million we had to work with. I know that still sounds like a lot of money for a ‘shoestring’, but I believe the bang for the buck here is by far the best I have ever accomplished. When you take away new equipment, golf carts, clubhouse refurbishment, cart facility, and pump houses, we stretched US$1.2 million amazingly far. Consider that a typical modern automatic irrigation system in the tropics easily runs well over our entire budget and this project faced a tremendous engineering problem in drawing water from a reservoir that fluctuated over 60 metres seasonally. It was clear we would have to prioritise, and painfully so. The grass, other than what was on the contaminated greens, was essentially non-existent. Golfers played on weeds mostly, green in the monsoon and brown in the dry season. It was clear we would have to find a way to get some reliable water on the site. The few bunkers were being inundated with water flowing directly into them from greens and surrounds. And of course the grass was gone and we would have to find something that was disease- and insect-resistant, and could survive on minimal fertiliser and water. I went back to my early days with auto irrigation in Texas where we were building whole courses for less than two million, and resurrected all the old tricks I could remember. While maybe not the perfectly consistent coverage of today’s elite; we came up with a sporty little system that allows spacious landing zones, and good greens and tees, all for a fraction of the typical venture. There was no budget to regrade the putting surfaces so the only solution was to rearrange the bunkers, sometimes splitting them in two, sometimes turning two into one, sometimes eliminating them altogether and using grading techniques to replace one challenge for another. We were able to maintain the integrity of the design while building something that would last and be maintainable. And finally, the grass. Here we wanted the best we could get and that turned out to be zoysia. We planted a small nursery and were stunned at how fast the new zoysia strain established. We knew after a couple of months we could repropagate the nursery and have plenty of grass to complete the project. Victoria GC, Sri Lanka Sam Sakocius describes the renovation of Victoria GC in Sri Lanka Photo: Sam Sakocius