Jeju Island, South Korea: In opting for a first-in-the-region Durabunker installation at The Club at Nine Bridges, architect David Dale and the PGA Tour’s Steve Wenzloff are looking to transform a reconstruction ritual from every other year to every other decade.
Dale’s design at The Club at Nine Bridges, which opened in 2001 and is now the highest ranked modern course in Asia, is poised to host Korea’s first US PGA Tour event. The much-feted Scottish Highland-themed layout will host the inaugural CJ Cup from October 19-22.
Crews at the club had been in the habit of rebuilding its 15 revetted bunkers every two-to-three years. According to Dale, pre-tournament renovations will reduce the number of stacked-sod bunkers by a third, but he expects the Durabunker method to increase longevity five-fold.
“We may do better than that, but the climate here is much wetter and more humid than comparable Durabunker projects we investigated – at St. Andrews in Scotland, Royal North Devon in southwestern England, at Tiburon in Florida,” said Dale, a partner with California-based Golfplan, a Full Business Member of the Asian Golf Industry Federation. “We’ve been impressed everywhere we’ve seen it done, and we did extraordinary due diligence before finalising this decision.
“The playability over time is exactly what one would expect from stacked-sod, in terms of look and bounce. But the owners here are like owners anywhere: They thought it unnecessarily expensive and disruptive to rebuild with such frequency. Considering this product is built from 100 per cent recycled materials, maintains design integrity, prevents sand contamination, and requires no watering, ever – there’s a lot to like.”
Wenzloff, Vice President and Player Liaison with PGA Tour Design Services, was first introduced to the Durabunker product during a casual round of golf in Florida.
“It seemed like a good design solution; that got my attention,” he said. “Then we got involved with this new project in Colorado” – The TPC Colorado, scheduled to open later this year and the first new-build to use Durabunker – “where they wanted to go the revetted-bunker route. This seemed like the right solution for that environment, too.
“I had made a visit to Nine Bridges in 2012, when we were analysing the course as a potential Presidents Cup site. Fast forward to the fall of 2016: I was back at Nine Bridges and I could see several of the revetted bunkers had sloughed off. It came to my attention that they rebuilt them every other year and were planning to do so again. Do the math: That’s nine or 10 times they’ve gone through that process.
“Of course, we’re putting a competition in there, so we wanted to ensure they’re viable. We did a test bunker, got buy-in and decided to rebuild them all using Durabunker.”
Dale opted to deploy in-house crew this winter, in concert with Korean contractor Daejung. All parties are well familiar with the layout: Dale’s original design opened 16 years ago and despite quickly earning a place in GOLF Magazine’s World Top 100 (it currently sits at #43, the highest of any Asian club built after 1940; Golf Digest ranks it #59 on the planet), Nine Bridges has been the subject of almost continual upgrades and tweaks.
Over the last 15 years, Dale has authored design refinements here on nearly an annual basis. This winter, with the PGA Tour set to visit, he has refurbished bunkers, re-established the relationship between pond and putting surface (at the stunning par-three seventh hole) and added back tees (on the par-five finisher, that has meant an additional 55 yards). But most of the renovations are bunker related.
“Stacked-sod bunkering has always been a feature here,” Dale explained. “In terms of terrain, the similarities between Nine Bridges and Gleneagles are pretty striking. From the outset, we wanted to accent this unique upland site in the way James Braid would have.
“But they are a maintenance headache (to say nothing of expense) if we’re replacing bunker walls every other year. We also wanted to provide players and television viewers maximum visibility. So, over the course of 15 years really, we’ve reduced the number of stacked-sod bunkers by 75 per cent and rebuilt the remainders with Durabunker. We’re also removing several traditional bunkers on the course, again, to provide maximum strategic and visual impact.”
Nine Bridges has played host to numerous Korean PGA and LPGA Tour events. It was instrumental in bringing the LPGA to Asia, hosting the first of four events in 2002 (what would become the LPGA KEB HanaBank Championship).
For Korean golf, this fall’s CJ Cup will mark the first visit from the US PGA Tour, which has signed a 10-year deal with the owners at Nine Bridges, the CJ Corporation. This new Asian swing will annually bring the world’s most lucrative, star-studded Tour from Kuala Lumpur (CIMB Classic), to Shanghai (The HSBC Championship), to The Club at Nine Bridges.