Big and bold – good words to live by. Interesting, different, unlikely. All attributes ascribed to artists, authors, chefs, actors … really anyone who can grab attention and hold it.
Even golf course architects.
Rob Collins initially grabbed attention for his big and bold design at Sweetens Cove Golf Club which opened in 2015 in remote Tennessee. A nine-holer built on a flat floodplain amidst the Appalachian Mountains, Sweetens Cove had to grab attention and hold it – a run-of-the-mill design atop the previous course named Sequatchie Valley on the same damp site might have drawn flies, but not many golfers.
Instead, Collins and his design partner, Tad King, moved some 300,000 cubic yards of dirt to erect what has become Tennessee’s No. 1-ranked public-access course in Golfweek’s Best ratings. Big greens, bold slopes – there are those words again, and at Sweetens Cove, those concepts have drawn a loyal following of golfers who will drive to the middle of nowhere to experience something different and entirely interesting.
“I always did believe there was some form of greatness to be achieved out there, and that it could be very popular,” Collins said of Sweetens Cove, the first course built by his and King’s then-new golf architecture firm, King-Collins. “It was so different and so unique and so much fun, the early adopters of the place gave us so much enthusiasm and belief in what we had done. It was like a religious experience for a lot of people.”
Now comes the next step in big and bold for King-Collins, on a completely different landscape and scale – and after waiting longer than either could have imagined after Sweetens Cove’s ascent into the top 100 modern golf courses in the U.S.
The public-access Landmand Golf Club in eastern Nebraska, King-Collins’ first original 18-hole layout, opens for regular play September 3 on what Collins describes as simply crazy terrain for golf. Built atop and around bluffs and dunes near the village of Homer in the Loess Hills – geologic terrain left in the wake of retreating glaciers during the last Ice Age – Landmand presented unique challenges and opportunities in a wide-open and extreme landscape with views for miles. Collins said he and King went all-out in trying to take advantage of everything the site, including its 150 feet of elevation changes, offered.
An all-timer today ?@LandmandG? – it’s impossible to express the amount of gratitude that Tad & I feel toward ?@wanders1140? & his great family for giving us this opportunity. It was a thrill from start to finish playing shots into features that so many labored over. pic.twitter.com/cujUBk2pQk
— King-Collins Golf (@KingCollinsGolf) August 31, 2022
“You had to just put the pedal down and go for it,” Collins said of his approach to Landmand. “The first time you see it, the scale is just going to blow your mind. Every time I go out there, I laugh about it. Things that are gigantic in reality just shrink in this landscape.”
On such a vast playing field – and because of the region’s frequent gusty winds – Collins said his team was inspired to install massive fairways, sometimes with one fairway corridor serving two holes. None of the fairways are less than 80 yards wide, several single fairways top out at more than 100 yards wide and the connecting fairways are stretched beyond 150 yards.
“A 60- or 70-yard-wide fairway just doesn’t cut it out there because it shrinks visually in the scale of that landscape,” Collins said. “And so, a 60-yard fairway would look 30 yards wide. You hit a ball out there and walk down into the fairway, you’re like, ‘My God, it’s gigantic, there’s no way I could have missed this fairway.’ You need features that are just that big out there.”
The greens at Landmand are similarly huge. Average greens at most U.S. courses are between 5,000 and 7,000 square feet – purely for example, Augusta National Golf Club’s greens average just over 6,400 square feet, while those at Pebble Beach Golf Links are tiny at about 3,500 square feet. At Landmand, King-Collins constructed putting surfaces that frequently blow past 20,000 square feet.
As a comparison for King-Collins fans, Collins said he receives frequent comments on the size of the fourth green at Sweetens Cove, an Alps-inspired putting surface stretching some 80 yards front to back. At Landmand, the fourth green from Sweetens would be only the fifth-largest putting surface.
Collins cites the par-3 fifth at Landmand as a great example of a large green fitting a big landscape. The approach from the back tee is some 240 yards across a chasm to a putting surface of more than 25,000 square feet.
“You look at it, and yeah it seems big, but then you get on it and realize it’s huge,” Collins said. “It has to be to fit. Standing on the tee, even a 12,000-square-foot green on top of that ridge would look stupid. It would look like a pimple on the ass of an elephant. It would look like we shied away from the landscape. We had to build features that embraced that boldness.”
It’s all part of the width and size serving strategy. Players shouldn’t just whack away and expect an easy next shot from a wide, forgiving fairway, especially if the wind blows. There’s skill to discerning the best route to any hole, Collins said, and golfers better think before they swing.
“Every shot on every golf course we ever do, we want to have a meaning behind it,” he said. “We don’t want any hole to take a shot off. We always want the golfer engaged. That may mean hazard placement, or in a lot of cases at a place like Landmand, it’s a big contour. … Each hole at Landmand was built to ask varying versions of some type of questions, and a lot of that is through contour.”