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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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The best golf courses in Ireland

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For a tiny island with fewer than 10 million people, Ireland has an abundance of magnificent golf courses.

But which ones are the best?

The best golf courses in Ireland

Pinning down 10 to even 50 of Ireland’s best courses is a thankless task, with a country that boasts so many hidden gems along with world-renowned tracks. The island is split into four provinces—Leinster, Munster, Connacht, and Ulster—and here I’ll highlight some courses you must visit in each region for anyone heading to the Emerald Isle.

Mount Juliet Golf Course, Kilkenny

C/o: @golfmountjuliet

Host of the 2021 Irish Open, the Jack Nicklaus designed golf course is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful in all of the country. With five lakes and over 80 bunkers, the challenging course measures over 7,200 yards and features a unique ‘bunker walled green’ protecting the pin on the 16th hole.

C/o: @golfmountjuliet

Speaking on the course while playing the 2002 WGC-American Express Championship, Tiger Woods said

“I think the golf course is absolutely gorgeous, the fairways are perfect, the greens are the best greens we’ve putter on all year, including the majors. These things are absolute pure.”

Druids Glen Golf Course, Wicklow

C/o: @brendanboyle79

You don’t get the nickname the ‘Augusta of Europe’ without being a little bit special, and Druids Glen is undoubtedly that. The perfectly manicured inland course boasts some of the most picturesque holes with each hole offering stunning backdrops.

C/o: @breandanboyle79

The course also offers up an incredible challenge. It helps to be a high-quality ball-striker, with the likes of Colin Montgomerie and Sergio Garcia winning titles when the course hosted professional events.

Ballybunion Golf Club, Kerry

C/o: @evanschiller

Founded in 1883, the Ballybunion Old Course lives up to its tag as ‘One of a kind’. Measuring 6,739 yards from the tips, the wonderful dunescape sets the scene for a true links challenge, with the golf course often touted as possessing the best back nine in the country.

C/o: @womensgolf

President Bill Clinton on Ballybunion

“I love Ballybunion. It’s perfectly Irish: beautiful, rough, and a lot like life — you get breaks you don’t deserve both ways. You just have to keep swinging and know it will all even out.”

Waterville Golf Links, Kerry

C/o: @kevinmarkham

The remote Waterville Golf Links is situated on a promontory surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean. With undulating fairways, the course sets out relatively flat on the front 9 with tall dunes welcoming players home for the back 9.

C/o: @greagolfholes

One of the most impressive and picturesque links courses that you will set your sights on that will instantly provide you with a mystic feel that only Ireland can provide.

Sam Snead on Waterville:

”The beautiful monster – one of the golfing wonders of the world.”

Rosappena Old Tom Morris Links, Donegal

C/o:@rosapenna1893

An incredible setting for a course that offers up a wonderful mix of a traditional and modern links feel. Measuring over 6,900 yards from the back tees, the course only offers up relief on the three par-fives.

C/o: @eigtravel

The course runs along Tramore beach overlooking Sheephaven Bay and offers up sensational views no matter what hole you are on during your round. Blustery conditions can turn this into a brutal links test.

Royal County Down

C/o: @eigtravel

Often cited as the best golf course in the country and even the world. Royal County Down offers up monstrous blind shots, several bunkers and glorious views. The ultimate links golf test.

C/o: @eigtravel

Rickie Fowler on Royal County Down:

”Royal County Down is my all-time favourite.”

Lahinch Golf Club, Clare

C/o: @greatgolfholes

Lahinch Golf Club is a step back in time golf course often compared to the Old Course of St. Andrews. The course offers up a quirky test wth a classic out and back layout, while providing stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean.

C/o: @vinnyfiorino

Phil Mickelson on Lahinch:

“Some of my fondest memories of great golfing holes in the world include the number four and five holes at Lahinch.”

Sligo Golf Club, Rosses Point, Sligo

C/o: @jmgolfcoach

Co. Sligo Golf Course features traditional links layout, designed by Harry Colt. The dune-covered landscape sets the scene for a course packed with undulations, elevated tees, and raised plateau greens for a stunning test of golf. The golf course is famed for its tremendous par 3s.

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The Colonial Experience

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Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, is home to the longest-running non-major PGA Tour event held at one location. The course opened in 1936, and it’s been hosting the Invitational at Colonial, now called the Charles Schwab Challenge, every year since 1946.

It was the golfing home of Ben Hogan, five-time winner of the event, and it’s still where most of his trophies and accomplishments are housed. The 1941 U.S. Open was here and won by Craig Wood. The Players Championship was here in 1975 and the U.S. Women’s Open was here in 1991. Colonial, quite simply, is rich golf history in a town that is proud of where it came from. And you can feel the past as soon as you step foot on the grounds.

Walking through the gates towards the course, you are immediately hugged by a “wow” moment. There’s Mr. Hogan, his follow through forever posed, larger than life and overlooking the 18th hole. Also in view is a manually operated leaderboard, permanently tucked away inside the closing hole’s dogleg, reminding you subtly that you are about to play a Tour course. It’s up year-round, and as the tournament nears, Mr. Hogan’s name always appears in the first place position.

   

18th Hole

Down the steps and around the corner, past the caddie shack and old school bag room, is the starter house and number one tee box. And shadowing over the professional tees is the Wall of Champions, with every winning player’s name and score etched to watch your opening tee shot. Hogan’s name is there five times. Sam Snead. Arnold Palmer. Jack Nicklaus. Ben Crenshaw, Phil Mickelson and Lee Trevino all on there twice. Tom Watson. Sergio. Spieth.

Some courses are second shot courses, with approach shots being more demanding and more important than driving accuracy or distance. Some courses require length. At Colonial, you need both. That’s why the list of past winners is so impressive on the Wall of Champions. You can’t just drive or putt your way to a win at Colonial. You have to be solid in every aspect of the game. You have to earn it and deserve it. You have to be a shotmaker.

Number One Tee

Par 5 1st Hole

Colonial was designed by Texan John Bredemus and well-known architect Perry Maxwell, who also designed Prairie Dunes in Kansas and Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It opened in 1936 and currently plays as a 7,209-yard par 70 that meanders along the banks of the Trinity River. The greens are bent grass, which at one point in time was an unheard of idea for a course in North Texas. Marvin Leonard, the club’s founder, was determined to build a world-class club in the region that could sustain bent grass. And he did it. Just five years after the club opened its doors, the 1941 United States Open was held in Fort Worth. Colonial was on the map and the Marvin Leonard dream had come true.

The course holds only two par 5’s, the first hole being one of them. A 565-yard dogleg right to a slight elevated green, getting home in two isn’t out of the question with a perfectly placed drive. But this introductory hole is the perfect way to start a round. Nothing too demanding. Get warmed up. The second hole, a short par 4, is no different. Start off easy to get some good holes under your belt.

And then you get to the Horrible Horseshoe.

Hole 3 Tee box

The third hole at Colonial is a 483-yard par 4 that plays even longer than that, due to the severe 90-degree dogleg left near your drive’s landing area. A straight 250-yard tee shot will put you in decent position away from trouble, but you still have 230 yards into a multi-tiered green. Longer hitters can try to cut the corner, protected by bunkers at the corner, but the landing area for that shot is so narrow that the reward is often not worth the risk. This is a tough hole.

Hole 4 Teebox

The fourth hole is a 220-yard par 3 from the men’s tees. But it tips out to 247 yards for the pros during tournament week. The green is elevated and often very firm, making it incredibly tough to stop a long iron or hybrid on the dance floor for even the best players in the world. This is a tough tough hole. Short is the safe play, though there is no easy up and down from the front, as the green is elevated to eye level and making most chip shots blind.

Hole 5 Tee box

Hole 5 Approach

Hole 5 Green

The fifth hole, ending the Horrible Horseshoe, is one of the finest and toughest holes in golf. Your tee shot dog legs just enough to the right to require a left-to-right ball flight. Something to make you think about standing over your ball. Anything off the tee that is too straight or has any right to left movement is going to cross through the fairway and into an oak tree-lined ditch with rough high enough to swallow a ball for weeks. If you start in the ditch, you finish in the ditch. So don’t miss left.

Don’t miss right either. Anything with too much fade or slice action is going into the Trinity River, which borders this hole on the right all the way to the green. And if you can somehow manage to find the fairway, you’re still a long way from home as this is a 481-yard par 4 leading to a well-bunkered green. This is a tough, tough, tough hole.

If you can get through these three holes, arguably the hardest three-hole stretch on tour, unscathed, you’ve done something.

Hole 6 Teebox

The rest of the front nine is easy, in comparison to the horseshoe, but by no means simple. Six and seven are wonderfully partnered par fours, running parallel in opposite directions. The par 3 8th hole brings the Trinity River back into view, but the water itself is not a real threat. The hole plays 194 yards from the back tees to a three-tiered green. The safe play is always aiming to the middle of the green and letting the putter do the rest of the work. Missing this green completely will not likely result in par, as deep bunkering and wide trees protect on all sides.

The closing hole of the front nine requires a precise tee ball between large bunkers on both sides of the fairway. The green is tucked behind a scenic pond and in front of the starter’s house and number one tee box. Any miss, left or right off the tee, will most likely force a layup in front of the water. But if you do have a shot at the green, make sure you don’t miss short.

From nine green, you can see much of the front, hopefully recalling fond memories of the first half of your round. Thankfully, not much of the horrible horseshoe is in view…let’s keep that in the past.

9th Green and Fairway

That back nine at Colonial is an absolute blast. The two par 3’s on this side are both world-class holes, 13 being the course’s signature. The lone par 5, hole 11, is a straightaway 635-yard-long mammoth with a troublesome creek along the entire right side.

But it all starts with the absolutely tremendous 10th hole. Only 408 yards from the tips, the hole plays tricks on the eyes. From the tee, it looks like you have plenty of room off on the right, but course knowledge can go a long way on this hole. You absolutely have to keep your tee ball hugging the left side of this fairway, which feels like a horrifying proposition while standing over the ball. The tee box falls off into the water, which doubles as approach shot hazard on nearby 18. Driver just isn’t the club here, though it feels like it should be. Any miss slightly right is going to be shielded from the green from overhanging trees and a deceptive angle.

Hole 10 tee box

View of 18 green from 10 fairway

10 green with fairway behind

The back nine has a bit more undulation than the front. The formerly brush-covered Trinity River land still has plenty of mature foliage, mostly oaks, pecans, and cottonwood trees,  to maintain the feel of an old-school course. It is truly a classic layout in every sense of the phrase. The bent grass greens, made famous by Mr. Leonard’s passionate pursuit, are pure most of the year, though fans are erected during the Summer months to keep them cool.

Hole 12 tee box

13 tee, par 3 over the Trinity

The par-3 13th hole is a tournament spectator favorite. 190 yards from the pro tees and 171 from the men’s, this hole is as beautiful as it is treacherous. The further you miss right, the more carry you’ll need to land safely. During tournament week, the professional caddies are in on a long-standing spectator event: the caddie races. Fan’s surrounding the green pick a player’s caddie to root for, then they cheer (and maybe even gamble) for that caddie to reach the green first. I’ve seen all-out sprint races and slow walk dramatic finishes alike. First foot to touch the green wins, and the caddies are hilarious about it. They eat it up.

14 approach

15 green

The home stretch at Colonial is designed for drama. The 16th, a par 3, is another stunner. 185 yards over creeks and ponds to the most difficult green complex on the course. Only two tiers, but a pretty drastic climb from front left to top right. And the Sunday pin placement, top right, has caused more heartburn than any other spot on the track. Miss too far right and you’re out of bounds and in the Colonial parking lot. There is a great patio just beyond the 16th green where members can sit to watch the approach shots.

Par 3 16th

17 green with fairway behind

17 is a strategic short par 4, where iron is the safe play off the tee. A dogleg right, the tee shot is more about angles and accuracy than length. Miss too far right and your approach into the green is dead, blocked by trees. A proper drive on the left middle of this fairway sets up a great chance for birdie. And at Colonial, you need to take advantage of these holes. Especially with 18 coming up.

The closing hole is a classic. Now you need a long draw off the tee to this 441-yard dogleg left. The fairway slopes right to left as well, so a shot on the right side here usually ends up in a wonderful position. The green is slightly elevated and guarded by incredibly deep bunkers short and on both sides. With that sloping fairway, the approach is generally a side-hill lie that works the ball left. And remember, that pond we saw on the 10th fairway is very much in play here. Any miss left and you are wet.

18 tee

18 approach

As if the water left isn’t enough pressure, the clubhouse is right there watching, typically bustling with activity and eyes on your shot. Plus, there is Mr. Hogan’s statue, always there to intimidate golfers as they walk off the green to end their round. The house that Hogan built.

Which is a perfect reminder to head inside the clubhouse for cocktail and tour around the Hogan Room. Located upstairs near the main entrance, this small room could take an hour or two of your time if you aren’t careful. Major championship trophies, scorecards, Mr. Hogan’s locker, the famous Merion flagpin, the Ryder Cup. It is a genuine thrill to walk through.

Downstairs, connected to the pro shop, is another Hogan tribute…the man’s personal office sits untouched and exactly how he kept it. It’s a bit like looking into the Oval office for golf nerds.

 

   

The rest of the clubhouse is a tribute to not only Mr. Hogan, but the history of the tournament itself. Every past champion is recognized with a photo of him holding the trophy, proudly wearing the Colonial plaid jacket, and displayed next to a golf club they used to accomplish the win, donated to Colonial. Clubs pulled from the bag of every past champion…walking the halls of Colonial is like walking through the Golf Hall of Fame. History around every corner.

There is also a special tribute to Dan Jenkins. The Fort Worth native and original wild-man golf writer was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2012. Jenkins played golf at nearby TCU and was a beloved member at Colonial. He was also close friends with Mr. Hogan. The display holds all of Jenkins’ wonderful books, including Dead Solid Perfect, as well as his typewriter. A hero of mine, it’s hard not to walk by the Jenkins Tribute and stop to admire. Every time.

Playing a round at Colonial is a special experience. Still one of the finest golf courses in Texas, it remains the home of golf history in the Lone Star State. Golf Mecca for Hogan fans, the course has withstood the test of time. And the clubhouse itself, with all its history and charm, is worth the price of admission. I feel better about the future of golf knowing clubs like Colonial are out there, working hard to keep the past alive.

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What GolfWRXers are saying about Seminole and TaylorMade’s Charity Relief skins match

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@pgatour

In our forums, our members have been discussing Seminole and TaylorMade’s Charity Relief skins match. The course has received plenty of praise from our members, and WRXers have been sharing their thoughts on the event as a whole in our forums.

Here are a few posts from the thread, but make sure to check out the entire discussion and have your say at the link below.

  • tw_focus: “Amazing event all around, golf is back baby. RF played well, but he missed badly on the last shot while Rors was clutch, as always. As good as this event was, it’s just the undercard for next week The Match II. Can’t wait to see TW back!”
  • RainShadow: “Seminole looked beautiful. A course designed for strategy and nuance. Anyone know the individual scores? Rickie 66 maybe, Rory 69, DJ 69, Wolff 70? The players all looked a little rusty, Rory and Rickie looked like they’d played a bit recently though. Need to do more of these after this thing is over. More of carrying their own bags and reading their own putts………..Side note….DJ, go back to a blade putter.”
  • dcfas: “I enjoyed it. Thought it was interesting to see and hear some of the discussion on shots and breaks. Thought it was also interesting to see their performances without caddies, and while carrying bags. Also fascinated to have a “close up” look at Seminole. Added it to my bucket list of courses extremely unlikely I’ll ever get to play. Good cause. Thumbs up.”
  • Lark: “If they do this again, they should have two matches at the same time to avoid so much dead airtime. Have the winners play a one hole playoff for a final prize.”
  • Dave230: “Good concept and some good bits but to be nit-picking: Far too many ads, I know Americans are used to more ads than Europeans, but they hit their drives…ads….hit their second shots….ads. It’s just hard to watch. Too much intervention from the commentators, if the players have microphones on then let them speak and just leave it there, you don’t need to talk over everything. I prefer commentary that’s not afraid of dead space. The phone calls…the less said the better.. Just let it play, even if they’re walking, let us see them talking and the surroundings sometimes. Still manage to overproduce even in a restricted setting. Apart from that, grateful for golf to be on television again and well done to those involved.”

Entire Thread: “Seminole and TaylorMade’s Charity Relief skins match”

 

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