Bangkok, Thailand: The name Amata Spring Country Club will conjure up fond memories for the world of golf. Host to some of the region’s most prestigious championships, the unique golf course has been a mainstay on televisions around the world for over a decade.
So, many will be glad to hear that an exciting new championship will be taking place this December at the coveted club. The Amata Friendship Cup presented by Toyota will see Team Thailand take on Team Japan in a mixed format. Inspired by the world’s best-known team events – the Ryder Cup and Solheim Cup – this event has introduced an added twist by mixing the teams with men and women and including two amateurs (one male and one female) into the fold.
Whilst the event proposition is certainly one of the modern breeds of golf events, a major renovation programme has been taking place the award-winning venue, a Golf Course Facility Member of the Asian Golf Industry Federation.
In the first instalment of an exclusive two-part interview, David Townend, General Manager at Amata Spring Country Club and Principal of Azalea Hospitality, explains what the players, spectators and viewers can expect and why the course has undergone such an advanced development programme.
AGIF: What inspired the change at what is known as one of Asia’s finest clubs?
DT: I have been at the club for coming up to 18 months now, when the Board of Directors appointed Azalea Hospitality as the management and operations group. Given the reputation and vision of the club, it was necessary for me to permanently base myself at the club, as acting General Manager.
What was immediately apparent on early inspection was the course had fallen behind the club’s global reputation. There are so many compelling features to the Schmidt-Curley design, but it was clear that it wasn’t playing as the design intended.
On further examination, it was clear that some of the practices were not matching what we believed had been envisaged. We felt with some concentrated efforts, we could create improved conditions, far more consistently, whilst tweaking the playing traits of the course.
There are of course features that are irreplaceable at Amata. Our membership is as strong as ever, with some great characters. The spectacular 17th hole is without doubt one of the world’s most unique and recognisable par-threes. The island green, only traversable via boat, is the signature centrepiece. Fixtures, such as the mystical Amata Castle stand stronger than ever and make for as fitting a backdrop to this masterpiece as you could wish to find. The clubhouse as well, which shapes club life, is as distinguished now as ever – with a welcoming atmosphere, underneath its Mediterranean style.
AGIF: What was it about the course you felt needed to be changed?
DT: The course surrounds were so heavily vegetated; the lack of strategic landscaping had meant vital aspects needed for great course conditioning were impeded.
The vegetation had become so cumbersome on the course, blocking air flow and sunlight to many corners that disease was a more frequent occurrence and grass quality was weak – with low coverage and density. Every effort was being made to maintain quality standards, but it was futile without the re-engineering of key requisites. The playing experience was also an obvious challenge for me. There was no roll to any shot and the course had taken on a character dictated by its surrounding environment, as opposed to managing it.
By eradicating some of the unsightly vegetation we would enhance the aesthetic, whilst giving the course a much-needed rest bite. We could see the golf course was struggling to win the battle for nutrients, as some of the wilder plant life and condensed tree population sprawled deep into the course. This is a problem many courses come across – but with more detailed planning at construction phase can be avoided.
The reduction in surrounding vegetation also gave the course far better airflow, by unblocking some of the natural wind corridors. If we could improve circulation, allowing for more natural moisture management we would help prevent the threat of disease.
AGIF: How expansive is the renovation programme?
DT: We are still in Phase One, which was prompted by the Amata Friendship Cup. The passion for the game and the desire to bring great events to Thailand is an undeniable feature in the Board’s vision at the club. I would be surprised if golfers hadn’t at some stage caught at least a glimpse of the course given the roster of events the course has staged.
Once I had a chance to understand the course, its character, but importantly the climactic conditions in the area, I was able to set about refining where I felt improvements could be made and what would yield the best results.
One area that was a common reference point was the depth and severity of the rough. Many of Thailand’s most popular and best-known touring professionals were once common visitors at the club. Over the last few years, their visits had become less frequent, which when enquired upon centred on how severe the rough had become – risking injury and reducing the enjoyment. We stripped back the rough, so it was more manageable in the short term, but with the renovation plan, we knew the grass would behave more consistently. Since doing so, the club is now buzzing with a swathe of Thailand’s best players, which adds to the energy and atmosphere around the club.
Any time you are fortunate to work for a group whose over-arching vision is to safeguard standards and invest in surpassing expectations, you are in a fortunate position. On sharing my new vision for the course, the support was unanimous, and we set about authoring a three-year programme.
AGIF: So, what have the early signs shown you?
DT: The course’s response was immediate. We saw a dramatic improvement in consistency close to many of the over-populated areas. We saw deeper roots forming and far better coverage. It gave us the ability to vary the management of the turf, bringing green speeds up when we chose to, but delivering the most consistent surfaces to our membership.
One of the areas that has caught everyone by surprise is the aesthetic of the course. With the removal of some of the most dense canopies, we have introduced previously unseen vistas. You can see so many more parts of the course – which gives you a proper appreciation of the undulations, but in fact the true beauty of the property.
We have also introduced a woodchip initiative, which has allowed us to reduce grassed areas with a mahogany coverage that really helps define the course parameters. We will be introducing flora and fauna species amongst the woodchip which is going to give us some dramatic splashes of bright colour – leaving us with a rich canvas of colour and contrast.
*Part two of the interview will be published tomorrow.
Singapore: Michael Braidwood, one of the most respected educators on club management in the EMEA region, will be the presenter for the third instalment of the Asian Golf Industry Federation’s Sustainability Series.