Frank Pont specialises in renovating classic courses, with great success at Top 100 courses such as Le Touquet, Royal Hague and Hardelot. This is how he does it.
Our Continental Top 100 favours traditional courses more than any other ranking list. We just enjoy the style of Golden Era architects.
But look at the descriptions in our 100-1 list and you will see several courses we believe could benefit from a skilled restoration – or already have done so.
It is much more than just tarting up some bunkers, and there is one man in Europe who specialised his architecture business in restoring the classic courses on Europe.
His name is Frank Pont, a Dutchman with an intriguing backstory of his own. This is how he goes about restoring a classic course…
Pont on… the background to a renovation
We initially walk the course to get a good feel of what are the strengths and weaknesses. Afterwards, we study the aerial pictures, current and historic, and the topo map to get the details right. And we like to play the course at least once, mostly to get a feel for how firm the playing surfaces are and to experience the variety of the short game around the greens.
Pont on… what the club wants
It is good to have a general feel for what the club is looking for i.e. a bunker renovation or a course plan. However, it usually is not very useful to get very detailed instructions, like we want to reduce the left green bunker on hole five by 40 per cent.
We believe that you can design courses for the whole spectrum, from scratch to bogey players. This was Colt’s philosophy and he did pretty well using it.
Pont on… poring over old images and plans
For a classic course, sourcing old aerial and normal pictures is key. It gives you the best possible historical understanding of things such as bunker numbers, sizes, shapes and positions, mowing lines, green sizes, tree vegetation etc.
I would not call the process fun, it is rather hard work to get the images and then to analyse them, but you do find many surprises when you are successful. A good example is the fact that we discovered that the 17th fairway of Le Touquet La Mer was a dogleg right instead of the current dogleg left. When we walked into the jungle, we found the old fairway still there as a meadow in the jungle.
Pont on… presenting in person or written form
We always present our findings in person. The main reason is that there are always many questions the committee, board or the membership have that you can then answer in person.
Pont on… the perfect job that got away
I have been fortunate enough to win a lot of great jobs, but like any architect you also lose a project once in a while.
We obviously hate to lose any high-profile jobs involving Colt, Simpson, Fowler or MacKenzie.
Pont on… the agronomic aspects
You always have to think how the greenkeepers are going to sustainably maintain any design you make. So any slope has to be mowable, greens should not be in the shade etc.
You also have to agree with the club what budget they have available to maintain their course.
Pont on… the courses ripe for renovation
There are so many, especially in the UK, but if I had to choose one, I would love to restore Timber Point, an Allison course on Long Island.
El Saler is a great Arana course which I would love to restore. Having worked on several other Arana courses (Neguri, Aloha and Rio Real), El Saler is probably Arana’s finest work, and one of the few links-style courses in the Mediterranean.
Pont on… different approach for different designers
How could you not? A Simpson course requires a completely different approach to a Colt or a Fowler course. This is a bit of a problem in that a lot of the restoration work we see in the UK nowadays looks very similar, no matter who the original architect was.
Pont on… when clubs steal your ideas
This happened a few times to me, most notably a very well known links course in GB used my ideas working with another architect. Not much you can do about it other than making sure the industry knows who came up with the idea in the first place. Intellectual leadership is the key differentiator in our industry.
Time spent on site on average…
We spend a lot of days on site when we do renovations. On Hulencourt, a top Belgian course we renovated during the last two years, we spent more than 100 days on site. Typically, we are there at least two to three days a week.
Designing an original vs renovating a classic…
Completely different animals, but both can be just as satisfying. More important is the amount of freedom, the budget and the quality of the site and soil you get to work with.
:: Clayton, DeVries & Pont is a partnership of three of the world’s foremost architecture practices with long-term experience building and restoring courses on links land, sandbelt, heathland, parkland and more eclectic sites around the world.