After a recent and very enjoyable round of golf at the Phoenix Golf Links (which was constructed atop a former landfill) in Columbus Ohio, I had several design related questions running through my golf-oriented mind.
I decided to contact a golf course architect who is currently designing just that, a golf course atop a former landfill. I contacted Mr. Paul Miller of Miller Golf Course Design, and he was kind enough to take some time to answer some questions about golf courses that are constructed atop former landfills.
A little about Mr. Miller himself. Paul Miller is the President of Paul Miller Design, Inc., a golf course architecture firm in Northfield, Minnesota. Mr. Miller entered the profession of golf course architecture with a degree in landscape architecture from the University of Minnesota in 1987. He has 31 years of experience in the golf course design, landscape architecture and golf course maintenance fields. Over the past 17 years he has successfully managed numerous golf course design and construction projects for all levels of private golf clubs and public golf facilities throughout the United States. Prior to opening Paul Miller Design, Inc. in July of 2004, Paul was a partner at Gill Miller, Inc. At Gill Miller his design portfolio included The Legends Club and The Meadows at Mystic Lake, that were both named top ten new golf courses nationwide by Golf Digest magazine. Currently PMDI has golf course projects in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.
How many courses have you designed or consulted on that were built atop landfills?
The firm I was with until 2004 had completed several landfill golf course projects prior to the Burnsville landfill project that I am currently working on:
Paul Miller Design has established a multi phase golf course implementation strategy for Waste Management at the Burnsville Sanitary Landfill where an 18 hole public golf course will be the end use product when landfill operations are completed. The golf course at Burnsville Sanitary Landfill will be developed as the landfill cells are brought to final grade. The development is proposed to take place in 4 major phases starting with a practice range and four golf holes. The final phase will see the creation of an 18 hole, 6,900 yard golf course that takes advantage of the dramatic views into the surrounding river valley and Minneapolis skyline. The golf course will have a distinct Scottish flavor with hummocky mounding, rugged sand and turf bunkers, waving grasses and native plantings that will enhance the unique golf experience that this “island in the sky” will offer to area golfers.
Is this something that will become more "commonplace" as land becomes more expensive?
Landfills tend to be municipal projects or partnerships where the golf course is a valued end use project. The front-end regulations, construction costs and long time maintenance issues would offset the cheaper land. I think landfill projects will continue to represent a specialized sector of the golf course market. Landfills are generally located in highly populated areas with good access so the potential golf market at landfill sites is good. Revitalizing the area around a landfill with a golf course as part of the development seems to work well.
Is landfill land cheaper, what I mean is, can the course developer get this land “on the cheap”?
The land is cheaper. However there are long-term restrictions on the land that cloud the legal liabilities for the new owner. I would envision development partnerships where the land would be leased or developed without taking responsibility for methane collection and environmental issues.
Assuming the developer buys this land, who remains responsible for what lies below?
My understanding is that regulations call for up to 30 years of responsibility for the after treatment of the landfill. This is not something that developers would be able to provide in most cases. There was some legislation enacted in 2002 that offers some protection from long-term liability issues. Older landfills would possibly have less long-term legal issues but it invariably costs more for construction and maintenance on a landfill golf course.
Could one get the federal or state governments to provide money in exchange for building a golf course on a brownfield or superfund site?
The history of most landfill golf course projects represents some involvement in the government in reclaiming the land as a viable commercial development.
What sorts of hardships are encountered when planning a course on top of a landfill area? (i.e. collapse, gasses, etc…)
Settling, methane collection / release, and ground water issues are the big three. Newer landfill regulations with improved capping and methane collection reduce some of the problems that were inherited on older landfills that were not properly capped. Generally the golf course features are built above the landfill and final landfill cap so that you have a minimum of 3’ – 5’ above the cap over the landfill.
Are these types of layouts destined to be of the LINKS style? Can trees be planted or do the root structures cause instability?
Most trees exist in the upper couple of feet of the soil so its not impossible to plant trees on a landfill. The nature of the starting terrain suggests more of a links layout with naturalized areas less impacted by settling or shifts in the terrain. In the mounded areas there could be 10 – 15 feet of fill, which can easily accommodate tree roots. There is remedial value in trees, particularly poplars, taking up some of the water, minimizing leachate issues and providing root structures that minimize erosion and potential cap exposure. Since the majority of the settling happens in the first few years after closure a tree planting master plan will allow the trees to be planted at a time when the landfill is stable.
Is the EPA heavily involved in all facets of the construction?
Landfills are highly regulated and various agencies on the federal, state and local levels review and approve the construction plans. The agencies are most actively involved on the front end to ensure proper construction methods. Site reviews during construction vary by locale and project requirements.
Is the landfill "capped" with concrete and then fill dirt added over the top of it?
Landfill caps are designed based on the specific requirements of the remediation site. Clay or geo-synthetic liners are frequently used as the landfill cap with the golf course built on top of the landfill cap.
Are there limitations as to what types of heavy equipment can be used to shape the holes?
From a practical standpoint bulldozers are more manageable than earth scrapers. Since the golf course is constructed entirely out of fill, placing of the fill is the largest component of the earth moving. Heavier equipment would move the material in place to be shaped by bulldozers. Like every construction job the amount of moisture in the soil impacts the use of heavy equipment. Landfill operations are a large enough industry to have a strong track record of construction equipment that performs well on landfills. Haul roads developed and used during landfill operations are the most stable access points for large equipment.
Are you familiar with Phoenix Golf Links in Columbus, Ohio? It was built on a former landfill.
I know of the golf course but I have not played it. Landfills by definition are elevated so you have dramatic views into the surrounding area. The Burnsville site has been described as “an island in the sky”. You can get a sense of the golf course by being on the landfill in the early evening with a bit of a surreal mystical quality that you wouldn’t expect being on top of a landfill. People love the views.
Again, thanks for answering a few simple design and construction questions about landfill golf courses. I would bet, that a lot more of these types of golf courses will be created in the future.
Golf Course architect Paul Miller.
Stop by and check out some of Paul’s current and past course designs at PaulMillerGolf.com
The Long and Winding Road to The Old Course
St. Andrews holds a special and historic place in every golfer’s imagination. Anyone who has the faintest chance to play St. Andrews should do whatever it takes to get there. My journey to The Home of Golf was a circuitous one, filled with random twists and colorful characters along the way. It all started with a wedding. This is my story.
Palm Desert, California 2006. I was living the charmed and unglamorous life of a club professional. My soul was slowly being crushed by too many Couples Twilights and Ladies’ Guest Days. The love I once had for the game was waning and I needed something authentic to rekindle the passion. One day my friend Aaron called from Minneapolis with some exciting news: “Dude, my cousin Paul is getting married in a castle in England next month and we…” I cut him off with a quickness. “Forget the castle. We have to go play St. Andrews.” My response didn’t surprise Aaron one bit. His mind was already heading in the same direction, and he knew what I was going to say before he picked up the phone. We started forging a plan for the trip.
Aaron and I were both fairly seasoned travelers, but we weren’t without our limitations. There were family and work obligations to consider, as well as Aaron’s recently rebuilt knee. He was going to be a game-time decision for every round. I’m not saying Aaron is Brett Favre, but he’s a pretty tough guy so I felt good about our chances.
Our limited itinerary called for a Friday arrival, a Saturday groom’s dinner and a Sunday night wedding — all in the company of the wildly entertaining Reid and McIllrick clans. After that, if we survived, there would be golf: Monday at 7 a.m. on the Old Course, Tuesday at Carnoustie and Wednesday’s game at Loch Lomond before heading home. The difficult feat was going to be leaving from the wedding on the outskirts of Leeds, England around midnight and getting to the first tee at St. Andrews by 7 a.m. the next morning. Make no mistake; this was going to be intricate work.
You should know a little bit about the cousin/groom Paul Reid. A successful aviation executive and a native of Edinburgh, Scotland, he is perhaps best known for being the older brother of former Hibernian Football Club Goalkeeper Chris Reid. As teenagers the Reid brothers would visit their Minnesota cousins, and we all became fast friends. Paul and his bride-to-be Kay didn’t actually invite me to their wedding, but they knew I was coming as a guest; albeit a guest with ulterior motives.
We landed in Glasgow and drove to York, England (mistake) to meet up with the rest of the wedding party. The first two days was a boisterous blur of pints and greasy fish ‘n’ chips. I don’t remember much, but I do recall a few things; most notably, the groom’s dinner that featured a James Bond soundtrack. Not James Brown: James Bond. I’m a pretty solid dancer, but there’s only so much you can do with “A View to a Kill.” But it’s the groom’s night; if it’s Duran Duran he wants, then it’s Duran Duran he’ll get.
When Paul and Kay’s wedding finally came, it was a beautiful and lavish affair. Truth be told, I couldn’t get out of the place fast enough. When the clock struck midnight, Aaron and I hit the road. We were stone-cold sober and in front of us lay a cold, wet, five-hour drive through the dark Northern night. There was no place else in the universe I would have rather been.
It didn’t take long for doubt to start creeping in. Keep in mind, back in 2006 the car rental GPS systems were suspect. We were rolling through the rural countryside with MapQuest print-outs on the left side of the road in the driving rain. And don’t forget we were powering through a 3-day hangover fueled solely by adrenaline. This was nothing short of a herculean challenge.
Every good road trip has a soundtrack, right? Somehow, somehow, the only CD we had was by a band called Granddaddy. “Rear View Mirror” was their only jam. Late night/early morning Scottish radio offered little relief as “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley was on every time we sought refuge on the FM dial. There was no Belle and Sebastian, no Big Country, no Simple Minds (thank God) and not even Teenage Fan Club. Just Gnarls Barkley every single time. I’m not making this up.
Three hours into our journey, we were starting to fade hard. Luckily, we came across a roundabout that had a 24-hour gas station/convenience store. Stepping out of the car I realized that what I thought was a light drizzle was actually rain. It wasn’t enough to keep you from playing golf, but it was a legitimate stop-a-Little-League-game type of rain. And it was cold. I bought a few extra-large coffees that tasted about as bad as you would expect rural Scottish gas station coffee to taste at 3 a.m. and headed back to the car.
Then it happened. As I hastily scrambled to get back into the car and away from the freezing rain, I fumbled the coffee. Not in the parking lot, not the side of the car, not even in the floor of the car. I ham-fisted all 32 ounces of java directly into Aaron’s lap. Talk about furious. Aaron was sleep deprived, had a right knee as swollen as Frank Gore’s and was freshly soaked with a gallon of lukewarm coffee. To rub salt on the wound, the only MapQuest sheet that we needed was also ruined. We would have to make the last two hours to the Old Course on feel, and I wasn’t sure our friendship would last that long.
We found our way to town around 5:30 a.m. We had rented a few rooms in a house about 10 minutes from the course and the plan was to change clothes and go play. The schedule was all working out, but the weather wasn’t. It was still raining, windy and maybe 40 degrees. But we changed and headed to the Old Course, hoping at least one of the elements would relent.
It’s not easy getting the 7 a.m. tee time at The Old Course. As the saying goes, “It’s who you know that counts,” and a friend of mine who was a member of an exclusive club that somewhat guarantees members tee times at courses all over the world had set it up for us. I had no confirmation or booking number — just an email from my friend telling me to be at the first tee by 6:45 a.m. If you knew this guy, you’d realize this wasn’t as risky as it sounds. So as we parked the car and started to walk to the historic first tee, only two things were going through my mind:
- It is still lightly raining, windy and cold
- Considering it’s 6:45 a.m., there are a lot of people here
As we approach the first tee and the Ellis Island-like crowd that surrounded it, the sense of place really started to sink in. Then suddenly, like Moses parting the Red Sea, two men split the crowd and walked toward us.
“The professionals from California, I assume?” said the shorter dark-haired fellow named Robert.
“Yes sir,” I replied.
We stumbled through introductions and Robert went on to say that everything had been handled. There would be no need to pay for anything. Then he asked if we’d take a few singles to play along in our tee time. We happily agreed.
As I went to put my peg in the ground, I could hear whispers from the de facto gallery: “Look! He’s the pro from California!” I wanted to turn and tell them, “No! Look away! I’m just a hack club professional and I haven’t slept in two days! Look away!”
Instead, feeling every ounce of the onlooker’s expectations, I pulled driver because it had the greatest chance of getting airborne. I swung as hard as I could and snap-hooked a line drive about 230 yards (85 yards of carry) into the 18th fairway. I was strangely content with the result. Just as we were about to walk off the tee, Robert approached and we shook hands as if to say thanks and good bye. He suddenly pulled me in closely and whispered, “At the conclusion of your round, there will be a silver Range Rover parked behind the green. Get in that vehicle.” Then he just turned and left. It was weird. The whole thing felt very covert. There was something about Robert and his sidekick that had my radar up. I wondered if the James Bond soundtrack from the groom’s dinner was a premonition of things to come.
We were paired with an Englishman who was a very solid player and another man from Houston, Texas, who was far less capable. The Texan, as we came to know him, probably shot over 150. To call him eccentric would be a gross understatement; he made Bill Murray look like Tom Kite. He sported a big, bushy gray beard and a flannel button-down shirt. The only thing guarding him from the elements was a picnic blanket he wrapped around his husky frame. My guess is he slept on that same blanket the night before, probably on the first tee. Whether The Texan was entirely there mentally was a topic of hot debate. “Nice shot,” I untruthfully said to him once. He looked back at me (through me?) for about 10 seconds before uttering, “They all are.” Curious words for a man who just shot about 150.
People will often tell you how great the caddies are at The Old Course, but they didn’t have my man Stevie. Again and again, I asked Stevie not to read the greens for me because I wanted to figure them out myself. I also asked him not to club me, but rather to just give me yardages. As we approached the 10th green, I was pleading: “Stevie… please, for the last time, please don’t give me a read unless I ask for it, OK? I really want to read the greens myself.” His reply: “You got it, sir. Sorry, sir… You got it.. This one’s right to left, sir. About half a foot.” He hands me a putter, walks away and grabs the pin.
By the time we reached the historic Road Hole, my relationship with Stevie (not his real name) was beyond frayed. A good drive left me in the middle of the fairway. I asked Stevie for a distance and he clubbed me. “Just the raw distance, please, Stevie.” He clubed me again. And then again. I asked one more time and he finally relented. I took 8-iron — one more club than Stevie recommended — and hit it pure leaving a ball mark about five feet past a middle pin. The problem was the ball ended up well over the green on gravel. Triple-bogey seven. Stevie was right. The shot called for a 9-iron hit short and right of the sucker’s line I had played.
As we reached the 18th green, we all shook hands and gave our thanks, good lucks and goodbyes. I embraced Stevie as if asking for his forgiveness. I looked up and there it was, the silver Range Rover. Robert and his accomplice jogged out to meet us, grabbed our bags and loaded them in the back. “Off to the castle for lunch now,” Robert said. It was not a request, but a requirement. Our golf bags were like hostages so we followed orders.
Again, we didn’t know these guys from Adam and the whole scene was just a little north of uncomfortable. Defenses were slightly up. I knew Robert and his cohort wanted something from us, but I wasn’t sure what. Robert told us we were about five miles away from “the castle” where we could “have lunch and discuss a proposition.” When we got there, it was more clubhouse than castle. There was a garden, a pool and stables. It reminded me of an Oasis video. I was half-expecting Liam Gallagher to be passed out on a billiards table in the parlor.
As it turns out, Robert was just trying to sell us memberships into the club, which would be like joining all of the world’s finest clubs. It would guarantee us tee times “anywhere but Augusta National” as Robert reiterated half a dozen times. Instead of calling him to the carpet on the false promise of global tee times, I explained that I wasn’t in the market to join any club and thanked him for his hospitality. After a nice lunch and few beers, they drove us back to our car.
Aaron and I hadn’t slept in well over 24 hours and we were spent. We had plenty of daylight to play more golf, but we just didn’t have the energy. Kingsbarn, The Jubilee, maybe even a replay of The Old Course; it was all right there in front of us. But instead we went back to our rooms to warm up, dry up and rest; a decision I’ve regretted ever since.
After recharging, we dragged ourselves back into town and drank half a dozen pints as we recounted the day. There were so many surreal quirks that we had to take a mental inventory. Was that the hardest five-hour drive ever? Did we almost crash into a few roundabouts? How horrible does a lap full of coffee feel at 3:30 a.m.? Did that scene at the first tee really happen? Is The Texan is still alive? Was he even real? Was being shuttled away from The Old Course by strangers in a silver Range Rover to a castle for lunch with two kind of strange guys we didn’t know the most James Bond move ever… or the least James Bond move ever? Who knows.
But I know one thing: I’ll be back at St. Andrews someday, hopefully with my daughter if she chooses to play. I’ll show her where my smother-hook on the opening hole ended up. We’ll laugh at stories about The Texan. Maybe I’ll birdie the 18th again. As we’re standing on the green hugging, I’ll pull her close and whisper: “If you see a silver Range Rover behind the green, don’t get in. They’re just trying to sell you something.”
Cape Wickham Links: The Treasure of King Island
After catching an early morning flight from Auckland, we did a short stop in Melbourne before our flight down to King Island. In Melbourne, we had to store almost half of our luggage in a storage locker so we could fit into a significantly smaller plane taking us further down south to King Island and Cape Wickham Links.
Cape Wickham Links was finished late in 2015 by American golf architect Mike DeVries and Australian golf writer Darius Oliver. It was ranked the 24th greatest golf course in the world by Golf Digest (U.S.) in 2016. As a newcomer, it’s very rare to receive a ranking that high, and the course was one of the real highlights in our golf trip.
When we later flew in over King Island in that small plane I could almost hear the Indiana Jones theme buzzing in my head as we approached that short airstrip and prepared for landing. The airport at King Island is very small, as you would expect, but everything worked out smoothly and we got our golf clubs from the plane directly. A gold Nissan X-Trail then carried us forward on some bumpy roads before we finally reached the northwest tip of the island and Cape Wickham Links.
King Island is a fairly small island with roughly 1600 inhabitants. I found it to be very charming and friendly, and I strongly believe King Island soon will be on every golfer’s bucket list. It has two excellent courses, the other being Ocean Dunes.
The first thing we saw when we approached Cape Wickham was the majestic lighthouse, which is also the tallest lighthouse on any golf course in the world. This lighthouse from 1861 serves as an icon for Cape Wickham, and it can be spotted from most of the holes throughout the course.
Since I am a big fan of courses positioned on remote locations and always speak highly of the road less traveled, I really wanted to play and experience this golf course. We were fortunate to play it twice. It has so many key features, thrilling challenges and interesting twists. As a golf course photographer, it was also dream to capture through the lens.
Cape Wickham Links delivers some truly fantastic holes on a beautiful location along the Bass Strait, a stretch of the Australian Seacoast that once shipwrecked many voyages. It’s not a secret that the weather can often be quite challenging, but don’t let that fact scare you off. You need to try this world-class course, as it’s one of the best golf experiences you can find anywhere.
Your round of golf starts out with a big bang as you hit your first tee shot from a tee box flirting with the ocean. It’s one of the most scenic opening holes I’ve ever came across. Just look at the view.
The routing is also brilliant, starting first along big rocks. It lets you hit your golf ball just next to the roaring coastline where the wind usually plays a big role. Then you are moving more inland at the 6th before returning to the ocean edge at the downhill 10th. After you’ve hit some tough shots among the large dunes, you will ultimately face an incredible finish with Nos. 14, 15, 16, 17 and foremost the 18th curving beautifully along Victoria Cove beach. If this does not entertain you, I don’t know what will.
I also had a quick little chat with one of the designers of the course, Darius Oliver.
“The golf course routing takes you to all points of the compass,” Oliver said. “The four par-5s play four different directions, and the grass is wall-to-wall fescue on greens, fairways and tees so it’s easy to maintain the traditional links surfaces. In fact, we only have a Super and five staff down at Wickham, and they do a wonderful job. There are more than 30 hectares of turf to maintain, so twice the average area of a Melbourne Sandbelt course, and the annual maintenance costs are half the Melbourne Sandbelt. We always wanted it to be easy to keep and sustainable, which we think has been achieved.”
During our conversation, Oliver also pointed out that it was very important to create a world-class course that people would like to return to since it’s very remote. And looking at at it, I can only say they’ve been successful so far. We have also to keep in mind that this course is still very young and will most certainly evolve over time.
A important thing to remember while you are playing Cape Wickham Links is that in most cases you should not try to go for the pin… and if you do you will probably end up long and off the green. The best thing to do is calculate your bounces landing short in front of the firm greens and use all of your imagination and creativity to master the tricky slopes. Sometimes you will need to aim left or right to let the ball bounce onto the green. That’s why I recommend you to play it at least twice so you can study and learn the course properly.
Both my friend Johan and I lost a lot of golf balls during our first round when we were struggling hard in the wind and figuring out how we should play the course correctly. Johan even ended up hitting a ball into the WC at the 9th! Despite our bad golf, we still adored the course. It’s a true masterpiece that clearly brings something new and fresh. We would definitely like to visit again… and again.
Up next: Ocean Dunes on our very last day at King Island. A course that is rumored to look like Barnbougle Dunes on steroids.
Cape Kidnappers: The Ultimate Bucket List Course
After 7 hours of driving down from Tara Iti, we finally arrived to a big gate that said, “Cape Kidnappers.” A big dream seemed to finally get real for us. It’s a course that has been designed by one of our best golf architects of our time, Tom Doak. I’d seen it in so many glossy golf magazines for more than a decade. Now it was within reach. My heart was beating faster with every passing second.
We gently pressed the button at the front gate and a polite voice answered. We said our names and nervously added “from Sweden” for no reason at all. It was completely quiet for a moment. I remember thinking maybe they wouldn’t let us in after all.
Five seconds later, the gate slowly started to open. We soon found out that we needed to drive for another 15 minutes in order to reach to Cape Kidnappers. It was like a film trailer, building up our expectations even more. Driving through the beautiful landscape on swirling roads that climb up to the top of the cliffs where Cape Kidnappers sits comfortably 500 feet over the sea is something I’ll never forget. The scenery was seriously off the charts and the word dramatic hardly describes it.
Upon our arrival to the club house, we received a warm welcome from the friendly staff. Quickly, we were all set and out on the golf course in a golf buggy. Our tee time was scheduled for the next day, and I guess we should be thankful for that because the winds were now blowing like crazy. While I tried to capture some photos at the famous Pirate’s Plank hole (No. 15), a brutal par-5 on the ridge of a big cliff, I accidentally dropped the scorecard. It probably flew farther than all my drives together during the trip.
The next day the wind was still there; it was quite rough, but not at a storm level like the previous day. It sure felt like we were alone on the course when we teed off, and the first five holes prepared us for bigger battles.
We played Cape Kidnappers from the blue tees (6532 meters). The course obviously requires good shots to be successful, but also keep in mind that the fairways are pretty wide. If you are playing strategic golf and hit the ball solid, you can shoot a good score.
So what’s my opinion about Cape Kidnappers then? To me, it was a solid and great golf experience. It sure felt like that bucket-list course in the A category. I particularly enjoyed the last nine, which is maybe a bit more flat compared to the first nine. But still there are breathtaking holes like No. 15, Pirate’s Plank, and the magnificent tee box on No. 16.
“Some of the most tempting green sites at Cape Kidnappers were on the ground below the No. 6 and No. 13 greens,” Tom Doak told. “It would have been super dramatic to hit a shot to them, but there was no reasonable way to get down there to putt out and [get] back to the next tee. If someone ever perfects the jet pack, I have a couple of holes there I will redesign. The other part of it is that people have seen so many photos by air and almost none from ground level. It’s much different to play than expected.”
Was it the best golf course I’ve ever played? No, but it’s probably one of the coolest spots in the world where you can build a golf course. This course needs to be on your bucket list; I simply don’t believe you can’t leave it out.
The next stop for us will be Cape Wickham Links in King Island. It’s one of the most interesting courses that has been built in recent years, and I can’t wait to see it.
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