Australian Golf Digest sat down in Beijing recently with Australian golf architect Tony Cashmore, the creator of such gems as The Dunes and Thirteenth Beach in Victoria, to talk about his start in golf, his design career and now-booming business in Asia. Darius Oliver – Acclaimed in Australia as the designer of well-regarded layouts like The Dunes and Thirteenth Beach, you now live in Beijing and mostly work in Asia. Why is that?Tony Cashmore – My son James joined my practice some 7 years ago and advised me that the best future for us in designing good new courses was in Asia. I no longer had strong ties in Australia at that time, so I established a branch of the business in Asia first in Korea, and then in China. Beijing seemed the most valuable base because a lot of our work involves Government discussions, and Beijing is the Government centre. Also, its a wonderful, exciting city to live in.DO – How has life business and personal changed since your son James became involved in the business?TC – Enormously. James drives the business he is highly qualified and clever in management and marketing things which Im not so good at and his efforts have been rewarded with the scope of work we now enjoy in Asia and elsewhere. From a personal viewpoint, life in China is happy for me the work is stimulating every day, and I travel to so many fascinating places, not just into the thriving cities, but often deep out in villages with warm-hearted people, trying to plan estates and fashion good golf courses in wildly different terrains its a most satisfying life.DO – Did you break into the Asian market on the back of what you had done in Australia, or was it a matter of starting again and having to establish your credentials once again?TC – It was a bit of both. Our first project was in Daegu, South Korea, and resulted from a nice Korean businessman ringing me from Thirteenth Beach he just loved the Beach course, and wanted his new course to have some of that golf character. I met him, signed the contract, and went to Daegu worked and lived there for several months whilst the course was being constructed. At the same time, a Chinese project manager came to Australia, studied the work of several architects, and selected me to design a new championship course for his clients in Beijing. That project manager is now a firm friend, and we are designing a further course for his clients.And yet, of course you have to establish yourself in this complex market place its taken us over 6 years to now have several major golf estate projects underway, in China, Vietnam and elsewhere, something which certainly partly stemmed from the success of that early Asian work. For example, there is much to digest about how the Chinese actually regard and use their golf courses its no use trying to force your personal ideas into most projects you can lead, introduce your thinking, but must never try to dominate the design thrusts. Your ongoing credibility and success as a designer here depends on continually doing good work in a teamwork situation. DO – Whats the best thing about working in China?TC Oh, its the excitement of working with good people on big golf-related projects in the most diverse terrain conditions imaginable, from seaside stretches to ancient river beds to forested mountains with deep valleys, around vast lakes the country is so beautiful, the clients ideas and intentions generally so magnificent. Just to be part of the huge push forward which is China and Chinese life is stimulating every day. And life is so good here, so free, with kind clever people and exciting modern cities. Love it! DO – And the worst
.?TC – I guess the most frustrating thing is the long delays and struggles to actually get approvals, to get contractors and machines onto the land, and then to control the work of those contractors often not very experienced so that your hard-won designs are carried out successfully. We normally put one of our construction managers on site during the entire construction program or I visit the site many more times than other designers do, simply because its necessary. DO – Back to the beginning, what was it about the game of golf that interested you enough to want to devote your life to course design?TC – Long story. My father was a fine golfer, he introduced his 3 boys to golf very early, we loved the game, got to play it pretty well, and even as a teenager I was sketching the strategy and visuals of golf holes at Royal Melbourne and Kingston Heath where we often played golf fascinated me the whole every-day changing challenge and joy of playing good golf on great Melbourne courses with good mates. So when I was eventually working as an architect, I got the chance to plan a couple of golf estates in France, and it all started from there.DO – Your best courses have been built on great land, but I wonder whether you derive equal satisfaction from courses built on inferior sites?TC – Perhaps I dont agree with your premise here. Obviously wonderful sites like at The Dunes yield fine golf courses (although you might be surprised how much of the terrain there was actually created by the shaping genius of Barry Hudson under direction) but I have fond regard for my courses at say, Goonawarra, Bright, Melton Valley, and elsewhere not very natural sites for golf, some of them tight, the construction budgets even tighter I derive great satisfaction from fashioning golf holes through such terrains as well as I can, hopefully giving golfing pleasure to many people. DO – You are now in your 60s, and probably as busy as youve ever been with projects across Asia and several redesign jobs in Australia. Do you see yourself slowing down anytime soon, or will James even allow you to slow down anytime soon? TC – Ill be 70 next year. Thanks for putting it so quietly! But I feel much much younger life and working in Asia suits me, makes me happy, Im in robust good health thank God, exercise a lot, and I have no intention of slowing up. Bring it on! The more exciting satisfying work the better and James knows, I hope, that Im always there for him, trying to help grow the business as well as I can. DO – Speaking of the business, you have some talented design associates working for you at Cashmore Design and I wonder whether they have had to become more involved in your Australian work with you living overseas?TC – Yes, the amount of golf design and construction work we now are lucky enough to have requires strong input from other creative minds and we have fine designers in Todd Hyland, Michael Henderson , Tim Lovell and my brother Ray, all very good golfers, all with a deep love for the game, and deep analytic knowledge of golf strategy and golf beauty. Technical knowledge too. And Simon Roberts drives our landscaping design work never forget the value of correct landscape treatment of a golf course, its critical. These guys often go into Asia to work on specific projects Tim Lovell has been living a lot on site at Foshan near Guangzhou for more than a year getting that wonderful course finished but they all work on projects in Australia, something which I cannot now control from Beijing. The camaraderie we share, and the challenge to my thinking from such talented people is something very valuable to me. DO – Lets talk about Duncan Andrews (Cashmores client at The Dunes and Thirteenth Beach). Seems on the surface he was the perfect client, because hes so passionate about golf and knowledgeable about design, but I wonder, Duncan aside, whether you prefer to work with owners that are really involved like that, or those who sit back a little and let you create?Duncan Andrews passion for golf, and for getting things right was always a joy to me, still is, and yes, he was the ideal knowledgeable client and friend. But you would be surprised perhaps to know just how much other clients and their people without Duncans wisdom – had far stronger influence on what I had to do and what I could not do. No names here, but never think that the architect is normally allowed to re-fashion or create just as he thinks best and wants to well thats been my experience, often in Australia, and certainly also here in Asia. Ive learned from hard experience to be pragmatic. Some great designers through the world enjoy total freedom in creating their visions budgets irrelevant, no controlling demands from their clients except for excellence, but that has rarely been my lot in the fashioning of golf courses. DO – Can I ask which architects and golf courses have most shaped your design views and philosophies?TC – Early, obviously, the great sand belt courses in Melbourne which I played and loved so much, and their designers, some often not lauded sufficiently look at Woodlands for example with its glorious small greens settings. And then the links courses of Scotland and Ireland and England. I made many trips to play those courses when I was younger still do – learning the wild variety of play options hole after hole, the sheer joy of unencumbered golf on perfect land. Then I was lucky enough to play many of the great courses in America, sometimes several times Merion, and Cypress Point, Augusta, Oakmont, The National, Pebble Beach, Pine Valley – and study the huge variety of approaches to challenging golfers of all skill and strength levels their designers adopted. And a couple of these designers had little or no formal golf design training! But all these courses I hope influenced me in a life of working in golf. DO – Youve worked with Nick Faldo on a couple of projects, how do you view signature design in terms of the quality of the finished product and also the business of having someone else take credit for your work?TC – Its an interesting question. Very often these signature name players have little to do with the design of the courses which wear their names any accolades for quality in those courses normally should go to the real designer, and often, today anyway, the real designer is known at least by the knowledgeable golf world. But the development of golf courses is a business, and the name may better or more quickly sell the real estate which the golf course enhances. Or expensive memberships. That anyway perhaps was the big thrust until comparatively recently we are noting in China for example that developers are less willing to pay out enormous design fees to great players for the questionable value of selling the real estate the lots and villas will sell very well in this amazing market anyway.But there are exceptions. Nick Faldo is one. He has of course a marvellous analytic mind about golf strategy, and especially how greens can be fashioned and defended in the mostsubtle ways. And he possesses simply the greatest eye for distances imaginable can fathom the distance to a site peg out some 230 meters to the exact meter! he is inspiring to work with, and I hope now that he is working with his own specialist designers his recent and ongoing work will be highly regarded. He really does get involved with the design process. There are a few who do, but not many have the imagination to carry through a complex design venture. DO – In a nutshell, how do you describe the standard of golf design in Asia and how difficult is it to convince clients to build the sort of golf courses you want to build? TC – Bear in mind that most golf courses in Asia are developed to increase the value of real estate. Often the planners have decided where the villas and units and hotels will best go first, the situation has been approved by the developer and by Government authorities, and often the worst, the residual land in the site is left to the golf course architect. Happens a lot here. So the quality of courses in Asia is often intrinsically conditioned by the site restrictions and difficulties laid upon the poor designer.But perhaps more than that, the Chinese and most other Asian golfers have a very different attitude to golf, a different regard for the golf course, and the courses generally therefore need to be somewhat tailored to what the developer wants for his wealthy businessmen members. Gambling on the course is endemic, handicaps are notional, often negotiated on the day, and the players rely on their caddies for doing everything we normally attend to ourselves raking bunkers, replacing divots, fixing plug marks, marking and aiming the ball for each putt! Designing for such golf attitudes means making the tees as large as possible (many players will take 4-5 divots in the tee before actually committing to the drive), and bunkers are normally urged to be showy and shallow, the greens huge and not too undulating, the rough easy to conquer. Its strongly about gambling possibilities, hole after hole. Water bodies are absolutely required, as much as possible, and nearly all developers will insist on an island green somewhere.So there tends to be a certain sameness about the golf courses here, with some notable exceptions, sure. It is rare for a client to go against the trends, and I guess we have been fortunate in convincing some great clients to embark on courses which are far more international in their design. Hopefully the future will see much more of this.DO – Are there any present-day course designers that you admire?TC – I admire many, because I know from long experience how difficult it is to design courses when your design instincts are correct and flowing but restrictions of whatever nature preclude doing all the best things the project should achieve. Its a tough life. Im reluctant to mention names, but the designers of some of the lovely new courses in Australia, America, Britain, and yes, here in Asia deserve all our admiration. They know who they are, and knowledgeable golfers world-wide know them too.DO – Is there a modern Aussie course that you wish youd designed?TC – I guess you mean a course I havent designed!? No I love and admire several, but havent any wish to have designed them regret and wishful thinking are not useful. Better to concentrate on doing the next course as well as possible. DO – And finally, what are your views on the current health of the Australian golf industry?TC – Im too far away for too long from the Australian golf situation to make meaningful judgments. Discussions Ive had with my Australian peers and comrades suggest that there are problems the economy, and time pressures are forcing many golfers to play less, and that has an adverse effect on clubs and community golf venues. But that perhaps is a world-wide thing, not just Australia. A great new Australian player, a Greg Norman or Peter Thomson coming along would quickly have a profound positive effect on how golf is perceived and enjoyed in my country.