GAF Story

Scott Champion

ISS Institute
Golf Course Architecture

Scott Champion, ISSI fellow

Scott Champion is a golf course architect who is especially interested in the role of environmental management in golf course construction. An ISSI GAF Fellowship allowed Scott to examine some of the game's most influential courses and observe international best practices in the environmental management of golf course design. He also had the opportunity to meet with leading golf course construction bodies to discuss ways to promote sustainability in the sport. 

Scott was kind enough to share some of the highlights of his study tour with us, as well as the ways in which the fellowship opened doors that he otherwise would not have had access to.

The travel component of the Fellowship allowed me to spend five weeks in the UK, where I visited 26 courses in Scotland and 9 in England. They included a mix of classic and contemporary courses, including some that have been among the most influential in the development of the golf architecture profession and the game in general (Old Course, Prestwick, North Berwick, etc.). I also visited a number of new courses built within the last ten years (Castle Stuart, Trump Aberdeen, Machrihanish Dunes, Renaissance, etc.).

There were so many highlights to the trip, one of which was having the chance to visit the Machrihanish Dunes. I spent three days in Machrihanish, a lovely small seaside town on the Kintyre Peninsula with a population of about 500. Despite this, the town has two golf courses that lie side by side within magnificent sand dunes that are listed as a 'Site of Special Scientific Interest' (SSSI), Scotland's highest level of environmental protection. The first course has evolved for over 130 years, while the other course has existed for less than 10. Machrihanish Dunes opened in 2009 and is the first golf course in Europe to be built on an SSSI, making it an important case study in designing courses within sensitive dune environments. While being created more than 120 years apart, there are similarities in the design approach required to best fit a golf course within this environment. In both cases, they were unable to undertake significant earthworks albeit for differing reasons - originally, from it simply not being feasible, and now from not being permitted to. I met with Course Manager at Machrihanish Dunes, Simon Freeman, and discussed his approach to maintaining a course within a highly protected environment. This favoured natural greenkeeping techniques and was consistent with his fine-tuning approach in his previous position at the Machrie on neighbouring Islay. It was pleasing to note that Machrihanish Dunes has seen an increase in plant species diversity since the establishment of the course. 

I also spent five days in St Andrews, known as the 'The Home of Golf' where I studied the Old Course and some of the surrounding courses in the area. I met with Steve Isaac, the Director of Sustainability at The R&A, which are based in St Andrews and governs the sport of golf worldwide (outside of the US and Mexico). The discussion with Steve centred around the role of The R&A as an advisory / governing body and how they promote sustainability in golf. Particular emphasis was on their responsibility to provide leadership and guidance in developing the game in emerging markets.

And finally, having the chance to meet with Sam Thomas from the Golf Environment Organisation to discuss GEO's role in the golf industry, their current publications, and where they think improvements can be made was invaluable. The Golf Environment Organisation (GEO) is an international non-profit dedicated to supporting the responsible growth of the sport primarily through technical guidance and certification. 

It would not have been possible to undertake the itinerary I did without the Fellowship. Of course, financially, it made the trip possible in the first place. However, one of the most important benefits was the credibility that it added when writing ahead to propose visits to Clubs and people to meet. It opened doors to organisations and golf courses that would not have been possible and allowed me access to some incredible people that were so keen to share their extensive knowledge. The contacts that I have made will be very helpful as my career progresses, and the travel has had a significant influence on my approach to golf design.