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Christoph Städler newly-elected President of the European Institute of Golf Course Architects

5.05pm 10th May 2019 - Opinion

Christoph Städler became President of the European Institute of Golf Course Architects on 1st May 2019. This is his speech to members, partners, sponsors and guests at the EIGCA Presidents Dinner in Paris.

Bonsoir, mesdames et messieurs, chers amis, bienvenue a Paris! Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, welcome to Paris!

Christoph Städler

What a great time we had here! And what a fantastic location for this President’s Dinner! The fact that I am standing here today as president seems somehow unreal to me … kind of magical. So that you can understand this, I would like to begin my speech with a fairy tale:

Once upon a time – to be precise: in 1974 – once upon a time there was a young man who was lucky enough to be appointed by his country to play in the Eisenhower Trophy, the Amateur World Team Championship.

Lucky in so far as this tournament took place on the recently built, today notorious “Teeth-of-the-Dog” course in the Dominican Republic. Its architect was Pete Dye, who was flown in by helicopter together with the Dominican president for the opening ceremony. That was pretty cool!

What impressed our young man from the fairy tale – you would probably guess who it was: me – what impressed me even more was the design of the golf course: in its incredible creativity it differed from the simple, unimaginative courses that I had known so far from Europe as much as Versailles Castle from a townhouse.

Every single hole had numerous extraordinary features – for a passionate golfer it was a stunning revelation, a jaw-dropper, a real eye-opener! There were features like:

  • an imitated African wadi,
  • a 300-meter long bunker,
  • multiple tee-shots across ocean bays,
  • an island green completely surrounded by a giant bunker,
  • even a tee that was built 40m out into the Caribbean Sea (but which does not exist any more – literally swallowed by the ocean waves),
  • and the like infinitely more.

The experience of seeing and playing this golf course was the first crucial experience of my life and awakened in me the desire to one day design similarly creative golf courses.

But initially I obeyed to my parents who said: “Boy, you gotta learn something reasonable which is capable to earn your living!” So I studied economics and eventually started my career at Deutsche Bank. Yes, you’re right, dear friends: I don’t actually have any formal education as a landscape architect, instead I’m a banker by training.

I believe that this is the first time, dear colleagues, that you have elected a career changer and non-educated landscape architect as your president. It fills me with joy and pride that you entrust me nevertheless with this responsible position!

But back to our fairy tale:

My second crucial experience came along by Bernhard Langer’s Masters victory in 1985. I was convinced that this would trigger a golf boom in Germany, and the very minute Bernhard’s victory was concluded, I made up my mind to become a golf course architect.

After two years of intensive self-training – in 1987, I quit my job in the bank and founded my design firm. Due to my high profile in the German golf scene I was soon awarded with the first commissions, which yielded good references and in no time the volume of jobs developed so strongly that our firm consisted of four golf architects already in 1994 and was fully occupied – and that until today.

A fairy tale has come true. The young man, who dreamed of the profession of golf architect in 1974, was allowed to practise it for most of his professional life. And he never regretted it – is there a more attractive profession imaginable than ours? Not for me.

Back to Pete Dye, who initiated my new career with his super-creative course “Teeth of the Dog”. Both our lives have some surprising parallels:

  • we are both career changers to golf architecture,
  • we both worked in the financial sector before, me as a banker and Pete as an insurance broker,
  • and we were both good amateur golfers and both champions of our home countries, me of Germany and Pete was champion of Indiana.

These similarities all relate to the time before our careers as architects. These have developed in very different ways:

  • Pete had many spectacular sites at his disposal, I was mostly provided with uninspiring agricultural grounds,
  • Pete got a lot of publicity and attention – I got comparatively little,
  • and without knowing the details, the differences in fees will have been striking, I presume.

However, our design firm can keep up well with the number of completed projects:

53 new golf courses to date and well over 100 major renovations and improvements to existing courses are a portfolio that I will retrospect with pride at the end of my career.

All of these courses were extremely cost-effective – only two 18-hole courses cost over € 3 million, the majority even less than € 2 million, and the renovations have been comparable bargains.

As a result, the golf clubs and operating companies are financially viable. Not a single one was threatened by financial hardship up to now.

Such inexpensive golf courses – whether new or renovated – have always been my goal. It is definitely much more challenging to build good courses with a tight budget than with a big one. Admittedly, I am sometimes jealous of colleagues who are provided with high, sometimes even exorbitant budgets because they were enabled to create spectacular, photogenic courses that yielded them publicity and reputation.

On such occasions, the agonised lament of an investor comes to mind who remarked about his architect Pete Dye (again he!)  “I gave him an unlimited budget – and he exceeded it!”

In any case, it’s not these courses with multi-million budgets that are contributing to the spread of golf. Also not the long and difficult so-called ‘championship courses’, which cause frustration rather than joy for the majority of players and require too long playing times.

Christoph Städler with retiring EIGCA President Ross McMurray

It is rather the affordable, the no-name courses, which care for the growing of the game – the sector in which our firm and I are involved in planning. These courses are popular and well-frequented by their members and guests, and in this way ensure a ‘bottom-up’ development of golf. This is the only way it can work, especially in countries with no golf tradition!

Herewith, I have now moved to the goals I have in mind for my presidency:

These include, as I have just mentioned, affordable golf and the initiation of golf courses that are faster and more fun to play. And which are also attractive for the younger generation – including new types of practice facilities. It’s all under the working title “The Future of Golf”.

This is an enormously important issue in the difficult situation that the golf industry has been facing for several years, and we architects have also been massively affected by this. It would take several hours to explain the reasons for the emergence of this crisis and the possible solutions, and your patience, my friends, would be challenged far too much.

So for today, just this conclusion: we have to make intensive efforts to find creative solutions!

We have to and we can! After all, we are the experts in designing tailor-made, sustainable golf courses in line with the market demands! We have a responsibility to our clients to provide them with the adequate advice!

Apart from well-founded exceptions, it is important to avoid ego trips just to demonstrate to the golf world what a thrill we can achieve. Instead, we should design cost-effective, economically sustainable golf courses of all kinds that are attractive for passionate golfers and at the same time suitable for attracting new golfers!

A further focus in the coming years, alongside the wide-ranging topic “The Future of Golf”, will be “Golf & Health”. The health benefits that golf offers are generally still far too little known. If it is possible to make them better known to a wider public, golf will undoubtedly attract a large number of new players who might not otherwise have joined. In my opinion, this is a great opportunity, not only for us architects. It would be a win-win situation for the entire golf industry and we should therefore all pull together.

Individuals, not even individual organisations, will have little or no impact. It is only possible in the form of concerted actions by all global players in golf. Some of them have obviously already recognised this. Just two weeks ago the R&A organised a Golf & Health Week as part of the “Growing the Game” campaign.

Dear colleagues and valued partners, let’s all try to find mutual ways and actions to make the message about the health benefits of golf accessible to a wider public! The better this will succeed, the more we will all benefit!

Business is not easy for golf architects at the moment, especially when it comes to new projects. And the Brexit will probably have further negative consequences, even if nobody can judge these more closely today. In any case, it will be a loose-loose situation for everyone, whether they are UK or EU residents.

I’m convinced that we’ll somehow be able to cope with the consequences of Brexit, whatever they may be eventually. We can’t change the wind but we can set the sails suitably!

And I’m also convinced that there will be plenty of opportunities for us to work on golf projects in the future. However, we must take the initiative and make our bids to golf clubs and operators that appear suitable – proactively!

Even without new builds and ordinary renovations, there are plenty of special opportunities to improve existing golf courses:

  • starting with master plans for long-term course improvements,
  • measures to improve sustainability
  • bunker redesign and refurbishment, including lining with the help of one of our specialised partner companies,
  • water supply provisions and irrigation systems
  • security issues
  • tree development plans, biotope management plans
  • female related course redesign, especially tee positions
  • short courses
  • state-of-the-art practice facilities

Friends, there’s plenty to do out there, you just have to check the existing courses for deficits. And, of course, have the courage to proactively approach the owners and course managers with your suggestions for improvement! I would like to encourage you to do so, dear friends! Our firm has done that for many years with remarkable success!

Today we are no longer in the land of milk and honey, where you just have to wait and see that the roasted pigeons fly into your mouth, or in other words, where the planning assignments are offered in abundance and you can select the most lucrative ones. Today, the motto is to be creative and proactive and to procure the necessary commissions yourself – by specialising in particular golf related planning fields if necessary and thereby make a brand name for yourself!

Dear friends, I have been straining your patience for quite a long time now, but to give such an inaugural speech without a few words of thanks to those who deserve them most because they have rendered outstanding services to our Institute – that simply wouldn’t work!

First of all, my thanks, and certainly those of all present, go to Ross. My dear friend, you have been a fantastic, a truly great president who need not fear any comparison with any of your predecessors, quite the contrary! You have preserved the achievements of your predecessors and set your own accents.

You initiated the necessary reorganisation of EIGCA office in terms of personnel and structure. You have improved the content of our CPD – Continuing Professional Development -, strongly supported by Caspar, who deserves a special applause at this point. The improved CPD had made us much more attractive to our industry partners, which makes us all mutually happy.

Ross, you have made a tremendous contribution to our Institute – and I would like to thank you in advance for your offer to always be at my side with words and deeds, which makes me very relieved and which I accept with heartfelt thanks.

A few words about the new Council. It will be the youngest we have had in terms of average age – even though I am the oldest president to date. But everyone else is at least 20-30 years younger than me, fresh blood in the true sense of the word. They form the promising future of our Institute, I trust them wholeheartedly and I look forward excitedly to working with them in the years to come!

I would like to take this opportunity to introduce my Vice-President: Tim Lobb! Still in his forties, but one of the most prolific contemporary golf course architects. We will complement each other perfectly, I’m sure. As Liaison Officer, he will continue to be the first point of contact for you, our valued industry partners. And after the end of my term, I know that our Institute is in the best of hands under his leadership. Here’s to good cooperation, Tim!

My special, very personal thanks go to the person who is the heart and soul of our Institute – you all know who I mean: our dear Julia. She has served the EIGCA from the very beginning and has an intimate knowledge of it like no other.

In spite of your illness, which hopefully has healed completely by now, you have not let yourself down, Julia. You have continued to do your work faithfully and reliably. You have even postponed your well-deserved retirement to help me find my way in my role. Julia, I can’t thank you enough for that personally, but I think that’s also true on behalf of everyone else here!

Wendy has been working at Julia’s side for over a year now. With charm, diligence and empathy she has worked her way into the extensive matter to the satisfaction of all of us, so that she can take over the position of Julia in the foreseeable future. Wendy, we thank you for your performance so far and are happy to have won you over for our Institute!

So, now I have kept you away from dessert long enough! I would like to close with the confession that I will do my best to represent your interests well,

  • that of our Institute,
  • that of each and every one of you, dear friends and colleagues.
  • and the interests of you, esteemed industry partners.

May God give me the mental strength to accept the things that I can’t change, to change those things that I can change, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other!

Thank you very much for your patience and attention!

EIGCA https://www.eigca.org/

       

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