Part 2

The Golf & Country Club Schloss Pichlarn is currently undergoing a comprehensive
with the aim of becoming one of the best golf clubs in Austria and paving the way for a leading course.

Toni Ortner from our partner
Olazabal Design
the internationally renowned golf architecture firm, told us in

Part 1 of this interview

in part 1 of this interview, Toni Ortner gave us interesting insights into the redesign of the Schloss Pichlarn Golf & Country Club and the architectural office of Olazabal Design. Find out more about his work at the IMLAUER Hotel Schloss Pichlarn golf resort and the new driving range.

Which projects have already been implemented by Olazabal Design in Austria in particular?

At the Eichenheim Golf Club in Kitzbühel, we have built two holes in recent years (holes 2 and 11) and two more (holes 1 and 10) were rebuilt. In addition, a new state-of-the-art driving range with Trackman® technology as well as a great short game area and a putting green have been built. We are now also doing this in Pichlarn; more on this in a moment.

In 2023, we developed the “Performance & Competence Center” (PCC) in Fontana, probably the most modern indoor practice facility in Europe, for the Austrian Golf Association and created a central hub for European golf, which was officially opened on March 5 this year. The “PCC” offers state-of-the-art, year-round training facilities as well as high-tech analysis tools and thus unprecedented opportunities for training management and player development. Facilities that will not only benefit players from all over Austria to develop the next stars of international golf, but also international golf federations in cooperation with national and international institutions.

At Tillysburg, we rebuilt the driving range and fairway 4 in 2021, solving existing problems and improving playability and strategy, and in 2023 we completely redesigned the mowing lines, patterns, cutting heights, etc. with the local greenkeeping teams and our agronomy partners. The latter will also take place in Mondsee in 2023. Just as in Pichlarn, we have drawn up concept master plans for both clubs in previous years with detailed and comprehensive improvement measures that will be implemented over the next few years.

In the past, we have also built modern short game areas at Golf Club Mieming (2013) and in winter 2020/2021 at Golf Club Schloss Schönborn, which are enjoying great popularity.

ÖGV Performance Center Fontana PCC

You don’t just design and build golf courses, you also advise the clubs holistically – what does that look like in detail?

That’s right, in addition to our core task of planning / design, we have been advising the GC Linz Tillysburg and the GC Am Mondsee on all aspects of agronomy / greenkeeping, irrigation systems, machinery and equipment in addition to Pichlarn since 2021 and 2022 respectively. This is done in close cooperation with our internationally renowned partner “TAS – Turf Agronomy & Services” (responsible for greenkeeping before, during and after the two Ryder Cups on the courses in Golf National – Paris and Marco Simone – Rome).

My idea behind this holistic consultancy was and is firstly to bring top-level international greenkeeping know-how to Austria and to harmonize our design part with the needs regarding greenkeeping / maintenance, building materials, irrigation, machinery, investment plan, so that one gear meshes with the other, and to be able to offer the best possible service of international class as well as a closely coordinated holistic overall product at all levels for golf clubs of the upper class in Austria.

All of this in consideration of the comparatively high personnel costs in Austria and in coordination with the resources and financial possibilities of our customers. And the results in Mondsee and Tillysburg prove the success! The same team is at work in Pichlarn with the same approach and the plan this year is to actively tackle the greenkeeping area intensively and lead it to success.

What is happening at the training facilities as part of the redesign?

At the driving range, the tees and tee huts will be redesigned with a performance center, including Trackman® range technology and the construction of a spacious multifunctional short game area / practice area. This gives you top practice facilities, both for the golfer playing and for the golf school.

The aim is to create a practice area on which you can train in a target-oriented way for any playing situation that you might encounter on the big course – lies, shots, bunkers, slopes, flat and sloping fairways and rough, uphill, downhill, short to long bunker shots, chip & run, lob shot. Within a distance of up to 80 meters, the game situations are imitated and replicated so that you can practice all strokes in a compact practice area. Finally, the multifunctional short game area can also be used as an entertaining par 3 compact course.

The practice range will be built on the site of the existing driving range with new tee huts and a performance studio. The alignment is turned a good 30° to the left in the direction of play, and where there used to be a spruce forest in the mire on the left, the outfield is redesigned with target greens. The detailed work concerning the outfield of the range is currently still being coordinated. In terms of location, the range and the short game area in front of it are located in the entrance area to the hotel resort, where we can also set a great visual accent. All in all, one of the lighthouse projects of the redesign at GCC Schloss Pichlarn.

Renovation work on the driving range

What is the gaming experience like in a short game area?

Golfers can practise the various stroke situations from A to B. However, it is also possible to be creative, with or without the guidance of a pro, and look for the shots and directions or targets / flags yourself, in consultation with other players on site.

The short game area, covering a total area of 7,800 m², is divided into an existing practice green with 1,600 m² (of which approx. 300 m² is green plus surroundings) and a newly created short game area with approx. 6,200 m². A 700 m² practice green for all approach shots is being created here, complete with 3 bunkers (155 m² in total), garnished with all terrain variations and cutting heights around the practice green, which is relatively long and equipped with many pin positions. We are also creating a dedicated putting green with 335 m2 towards the range. Sufficient space is provided for both individual training and group lessons.

We will also create an opportunity to play this short game area as a par 3 course. This means that you can play a 6-hole or 9-hole par-3 course on this site, with different flag positions and tee positions (ribbon tees on the fairway). In consultation with the customer, we therefore specify a routing for how this compact course could be played. For example, gambling for a beer at the end of a training day.

Basically, the short game area after the range is also the first opportunity for beginners to “play” real golf without having to go to the big course. For children or people taking up golf, it is often a giant leap from the range to the 18-hole golf course. And this is where the new Short Game Area helps to bridge the gap.

What does this new practice area mean for the Golf & Country Club Schloss Pichlarn?

A quantum leap! Pichlarn will have state-of-the-art training facilities. You have the driving range with Trackman® technology and a performance center, the putting green, the chipping green, the multifunctional short game area with integrated short course, and can thus replicate and practice all the situations you find on the course in an entertaining way under the motto “every shot imaginable”.

The purpose of this investment in the future is to create a practice area and at the same time a short course format that is second to none, where advanced and professional golfers can improve in a targeted manner, beginners and children can be relieved of the inhibition threshold to the large course, and club pros and external pros with groups are offered perfect practice opportunities. And not to forget: a “golf playground” that is fun and brings new people, including hotel guests, to golf!

What details do you generally have to pay attention to when redesigning a fairway?

All of them! The field of golf course design is a niche of landscape architecture that requires a myriad of technical solutions, starting with creativity, an understanding of the game of golf and architecture itself, good knowledge of master and spatial planning, soil science, surveying, agronomy, botany, hydrology, hydraulics and electronics in irrigation and drainage, civil engineering for roads, paths and bridges, … not to mention overall greenkeeping and maintenance and communication skills.

Safety is always a very important point. Internal and external security. The inner one concerns the golf course itself and the players among themselves as well as the course workers. That players can warn other players in danger if they make a mistake. And that’s where good visibility helps. Or that you plant a protective tree or a hedge so that you don’t hit there or guide a player so that he plays in one direction rather than the other. Incidentally, you should always play away from dangerous areas such as houses or roads.

Then it’s also about what climatic conditions, prevailing winds and soil conditions I have, how and where do I get my water supply, how do I ensure good drainage and solid agronomic growing conditions for the lawn. I need a minimum gradient of 2.5 to 3 % to be able to drain the water on the surface of fairways. Standing water, permanent shade and poor air circulation are fatal, not only for playing but also for the turf itself.

Also that the course is strategic, fair, but still playable – for all levels and ages, from pros to advanced amateurs to older people and children; in other words, also for players with a short hitting distance or low swing speed, and is nevertheless exciting. Just as it should be interesting and challenging for the best players. Of course, there are some glaring contradictions in all of this. To be honest, 100% never works here, but the aim is to get as close as possible to the ideal.

How much time do you allow for a golf course project?

From the handshake or the start of planning to the opening, we normally reckon with between 3 – 6 years for the construction of a new plant internationally, if it is not a site in Europe with an EIA procedure. However, one of our projects in France for Catherine Lacoste (daughter of the great Henri Lacoste and herself US Women’s Open Champion 1968 as the only amateur in history to date) is still awaiting the start of construction after 15 years.

With an existing golf course, it always depends on the scope of the work. You can think of the redesign or renovation as building a house. It is much easier to build a new house than to convert an existing one. In most cases, the golf course is like building a house in that there is a lack of basic data, e.g. what pipes do we actually have and where do they run underground? And then finally to piece together the entire infrastructure in order to generate a uniform, functioning system again. This is not always easy.

However, the biggest constraint on an existing golf course, apart from budget and land use or property limits, is usually the ongoing operation of the course, which at best should be maintained during the season. But the conversion should of course be done out of season, in late fall or winter; it’s just a pity that our turf types need soil temperatures of at least 15° C for growth and a green needs about 3 months to be playable at these temperatures after seeding. Obviously, this will inevitably lead to restrictions in match operations. The trick is to proceed skillfully within the framework of construction scheduling and construction logistics.

It is also very important for us to make it clear that in golf course construction you always have to plan and organize from the end (start of play / opening) back to the beginning (start of construction work or planning). When it rains a lot and is damp, there is usually extensive erosion that has to be laboriously repaired. If the weather conditions are bad, it is not possible to move the soil or prepare the planting bed for sowing. I also believe that, in addition to professional partners and construction companies, communication and transparency with the customer, the contractors and all other important stakeholders (including club members) are essential for success.

What is the trend in the (re)design of golf courses?

Globally, with the exception of the Arabian Gulf and Asia, the last decade has seen a return to minimalist design and naturalness. A global trend is sustainability, which is often reduced to the environment in the mass media, but which correctly consists of 4 pillars: the ecological, which is almost exclusively talked about, the human, the social and the financial. For us at Olazabal Design, holistic sustainability is not a trend, but has been a necessity and a company philosophy since the very beginning. In terms of ecological sustainability, this primarily concerns the reduction of intensively maintained lawn areas, autochthonous plants in landscaping, nutrient-poor meadows and alternating wet biotopes instead of fat meadows and monocultures, the use of local materials and resource management in every respect from planning to construction and, of course, in maintenance. One trend, for example, is electrically powered grooming machines.

By far the biggest issue at international level, however, is the availability and careful use of water! This basically means reducing watered lawn areas to the necessary minimum. While drinking water or groundwater is used for irrigation in Germany, it has been a must in Spain for years to use water from sewage treatment plants. While farmers in Italy are still fighting tooth and nail against it, in France it was even forbidden to use recycled sewage water in agriculture and on golf courses until recently. But things are changing here. And in Qatar on our course – Education City Golf Club – we already used sewage water years ago that was previously sent unused into the sea.

In addition, there is a major global trend towards top practice facilities and short game formats, i.e. entertaining compact golf courses, par 3 courses, putting courses and Himalayan greens. Not only, but also due to the many leisure activities of people today and the associated lack of time.

Lighting is another trend to make playing at night possible. Artificial turf is also on the rise, even if, unfortunately, many golfers are not yet ready for it.

And finally, in addition to entertainment (such as TopGolf Ranges), there is a huge trend towards indoor golf, performance centers, simulation and virtual golf, technical tools and gadgets: from Trackman to Foresight, TruGolf, Zen Green Stage, PuttView, Gears, Sam PuttLab, etc. Indoor golf, simulation and golf in smaller spaces are becoming increasingly popular. The facilities we create, including training analysis equipment and simulators, are suitable for both the top golf pro and the average player among us. Of course, they need a bit of guidance on how to interpret and use the data well, but every golfer can then use the data provided by such a simulation (angle of impact, shot distance, ball flight) to do a lot to improve themselves. This is interesting for everyone and good simulation golf is fun, fast and comes very close to playing golf in real life. Incidentally, a golf simulator can also be combined with other sports games such as soccer, baseball, bowling, ice hockey, soccer and disc golf as well as with Wild West shooting etc. in a multifunctional and very fun way.