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Landfill Golf Part 2- Paul Miller, Architect Interview

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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
 

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  1. Jerry Greupner

    Mar 22, 2009 at 12:56 am

    I am lucky to live in Mr. Miller’s area and to have played nearly all of his designs. They are truly wonderful golf courses.
    The Ponds at Battle Creek is a 9-hole layout that will test the skills of the very best players. A friend who is a panelist fof GD states it is the toughest 9 hole course he has ever played. It could be one of the toughest of any 9’s most anywhere. Tough, in this case anyway, is still fair and lots of fun. Just don’t expect to play to your GHIN and be sure to bring plenty of golf balls.

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Courses

Kingston Heath: The Hype is Real

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We touched ground late in the afternoon at Melbourne Airport and checked in very, very late at hotel Grand Hyatt. Don’t ask about our driving and navigating skills. It shouldn’t have taken us as long as we did. Even with GPS we failed miserably, but our dear friend had been so kind to arrange a room with a magnificent view on the 32nd floor for us.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The skyline in Melbourne was amazing, and what a vibrant, multicultural city Melbourne turned out to be when we later visited the streets to catch a late dinner. The next morning, we headed out to one of the finest golf courses that you can find Down Under: Kingston Heath. We had heard so many great things about this course, and to be honest we were a bit worried it almost was too hyped up. Luckily, there were no disappointments.

Early morning at Kingston Heath C) Jacob Sjöman.

Here’s the thing about Kingston Heath. You’re driving in the middle of a suburb in Melbourne and then suddenly you see the sign, “Kingston Heath.” Very shortly after the turn, you’re at the club. This is very different than the other golf courses we’ve visited on this trip Down Under, where we’ve had to drive for several miles to get from the front gates to the club house.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Nevertheless, this course and its wonderful turf danced in front of us from the very first minute of our arrival. With a perfect sunrise and a very picture friendly magic morning mist, we walked out on the course and captured a few photos. Well, hundreds to be honest. The shapes and details are so pure and well defined.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Kingston Heath was designed by Dan Soutar back in 1925 with help and guidance from the legendary golf architect Dr. Alister MacKenzie, who added to its excellent bunkering system. Dr. MacKenzie’s only design suggestion was to change Soutar’s 15th hole from a 222-yard par-4 (with a blind tee shot) to a par-3. Today, this hole is considered to be one the best par-3 holes Down Under, and I can understand why.

I am normally not a big fan of flat courses, but I will make a rare exception for Kingston Heath. It’s a course that’s both fun and puts your strategic skills to a serious test. Our experience is that you need to plan your shots carefully, and never forget to stay out of its deep bunkers. They’re not easy.

The bunker shapes are brilliant. (C) Jacob Sjöman.

Kingston Heath is not super long in distance, but it will still give you a tough test. You definitely need to be straight to earn a good score. If you are in Melbourne, this is the golf course I would recommend above all others.

Next up: Metropolitan. Stay tuned!

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Barnbougle Lost Farm: 20 Holes of Pure Joy

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Another early day in Tasmania, and we were exploring the Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw-design, Barnbougle Lost Farm. The course was completed in 2010, four years after the neighbor Barnbougle Dunes, resulting in much excitement in the world of golf upon opening.

Johan and I teed off at 10 a.m. to enjoy the course at our own pace in its full glory under clear blue skies. Barnbougle Lost Farm starts out quite easy, but it quickly turns into a true test of links golf. You will certainly need to bring some tactical and smart planning in order to get close to many of the pin positions.

The third hole is a prime example. With its sloping two-tiered green, it provides a fun challenge and makes you earn birdie — even if your tee and approach shots put you in a good position. This is one of the things I love about this course; it adds a welcome dimension to the game and something you probably don’t experience on most golf courses.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The 4th is an iconic signature hole called “Sals Point,” named after course owner Richard Sattler’s wife (she was hoping to build a summer home on the property before it was turned into a golf course). A strikingly beautiful par-3, this hole is short in distance but guarded with luring bunkers. When the prevailing northwesterly wind comes howling in from the ocean, the hole will leave you exposed and pulling out one of your long irons for the tee shot. We left No. 4 with two bogeys with a strong desire for revenge.

Later in the round, we notice our scorecard had a hole numbered “13A” just after the 13th. We then noticed there was also an “18A.” That’s because Barnbougle Lost Farm offers golfers 20 holes. The designers believed that 13A was “too good to leave out” of the main routing, and 18A acts as a final betting hole to help decide a winner if you’re left all square. And yes, we played both 13A and 18A.

I need to say I liked Lost Farm for many reasons; it feels fresh and has some quirky holes including the 5th and the breathtaking 4th. The fact that it balks tradition with 20 holes is something I love. It also feels like an (almost) flawless course, and you will find new things to enjoy every time you play it.

The big question after trying both courses at Barnbougle is which course I liked best. I would go for Barnbougle Dunes in front of Barnbougle Lost Farm, mostly because I felt it was more fun and offered a bigger variation on how to play the holes. Both courses are great, however, offering really fun golf. And as I wrote in the first part of this Barnbougle-story, this is a top destination to visit and something you definitely need to experience with your golf friends if you can. It’s a golfing heaven.

Next course up: Kingston Heath in Melbourne.

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Courses

Barnbougle Dunes: World Class Golf

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We arrived to Launceston Airport in Tasmania just before sunset. Located on the Northeast Coast of Australia’s island state, Tasmania, Barnbougle is almost as far from Sweden as it gets… yet it immediately felt like home when we arrived.

Launceston Airport, Tasmania. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The drive from the airport was just over an hour, taking us through deep forests and rolling hills before we arrived to Barnbougle Golf Resort, which consists of two courses — The Dunes and Lost Farm — a lodge, two restaurants, a sports bar and a spa. Unfortunately, it was pitch black outside and we couldn’t see much of the two courses on our arrival. I would like to add that both Johan and I were extremely excited about visiting this golf mecca. We later enjoyed a tasty dinner at the Barnbougle Lost Farm Restaurant before we called it a day.

The locals at Barnbougle Dunes. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The next day, we woke up early and got out to The Dunes Course as very first guests out. Well, to be quite honest, we weren’t actually the first out. There were a few locals — Wallabies, lots of them — already out on the course. The natural landscape at Barnbougle is fantastic and my cameras almost overheated with the photo opportunities. After two intense hours of recording videos and producing photos both from ground, we headed back to Lost Farm for a wonderful breakfast (and view). After our breakfast, it was time to try our luck.

“Tom’s Little Devil.” Hole No.7 at Barnbougle Dunes. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Before describing our experience playing the courses, I would like to mention about Richard Sattler, a potato farmer and owner of Barnbougle. In the early 2000’s, Richard was introduced to U.S. golfing visionary Mike Keiser, who had heard about his amazing stretch of farmland in Tasmania and came down to visit. Mike convinced Richard that Barnbougle (which at that stage was a potato farm and still grows potatoes and raises cattle today) might be perfect for creating a top quality golf course.

After an introduction to well renowned golf architect Tom Doak and the formation of a partnership with former Australian golf pro and golf architect Mike Clayton, the development of the Barnbougle Dunes Course commenced.

The walk between the 4th and 5th holes. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Featuring large bunkers dotted between fun rolling fairways shaped from the coastal dunes, Barnbougle Dunes offers the golfer some tough challenges, in particular on the first nine. This is indeed a course that will entertain all kinds of golfers.

After our round, we looked back at some fantastic highlights such as playing the iconic 7th hole, a short par-3 called ”Tom’s Little Devil,” as well as the beautiful par-4 15th. We were just two big walking smiles sitting there in the restaurant to be honest. Lets also not forget one of the biggest (and deepest) bunkers I’ve seen at the 4th hole. The name of the bunker is “Jaws.” Good times!

As a small surprise for Johan, I had arranged a meeting after our round with Richard Sattler. Richard, ever the farmer, entered the car parking just in front of the clubhouse in a white pick-up van with a big smile un his face. We talked to Richard for almost 30 minutes. He is an extremely humble man and left such a warm impression on us. Richard explained the Barnbougle story: how it all began and the property today.

To me, this is a high-end golf destination offering something very unique with two world-class courses in Barnbougle Dunes and Barnbougle Lost Farm, both ranked in the top-100 greatest golf courses by Golf Digest and Golf Magazine (U.S.). With the courses located just next to each other, it’s probably one of the best golf resorts you can find down under and a golf resort that I would like bring my hardcore golfing friends to visit. Everything here is exceptional with the resort providing spacious rooms, comfy beds, good food and spectacular views.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Barnbougle Dunes is a real treat to play for any golfer and will leave you with a sweet golfing memory. Compared to the golf courses available on the more remote King Island, Barnbougle is accessible (given Tasmania is connected by better flight connections) and the hospitality and service at is much more refined.

The golf resort is one of the absolute best I’ve been to. I can also highly recommend playing Barnbougle Dunes; I had great fun and you can play it in many ways. Tomorrow, we will be playing and experiencing the other course at Barnbougle: Barnbougle Lost Farm, a Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw course with 20 (!) holes.

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