MJ Abbott

04 August 2023

La Grande Mare: Unearthing a Guernsey gem

This article was written by:

Richard Humphries

Richard Humphries,
News Editor, Golf Course Architecture

Located on Guernsey in the UK’s Channel Islands, La Grande Mare is owned by Stephen Lansdown, founder of the Hargreaves Lansdown investment company and owner of several Bristol-based sports teams.

He bought the golf course and hotel in 2019 with the aim of creating a premium development and holiday destination. European Golf Design (EGD) was hired to renovate and reroute the golf course and KKA Architects to create a new country club and lodges.

“Location-wise it is second to none, with the sea in front and beautiful countryside behind,” says Lansdown. “I saw the chance to create something very special for Guernsey.”

The golf course was a 4,761-yard par 64, but with the purchase of additional land, EGD is extending it to a par 69 of 5,400 yards, while also adding a new driving range, golf academy, short-game area and putting green.

MJ Abbott is under way with construction, with the driving range and 11 holes, including two on new land, the focus of the first phase. Work in 2024 will then shift to the remaining seven holes.

“The new land has provided brand new third and fourth holes and a much-lengthened par-five seventeenth,” says Robin Hiseman, who is leading the project for EGD. “The prime site characteristic is the widespread use of water hazards, which offset the short length with some thrilling shots.

“La Grande Mare translates as ‘the big pond’ and the site straddles a delta on the western coast of the island, where numerous watercourses converge before entering Vazon Bay. The original designer dug out several ponds in addition to the many ditches, or ‘douits’, as they are called in Guernsey. These douits crossed many fairways at right angles, which served to frustrate and penalise golfers, who couldn’t hit full tee shots.”

Hiseman’s redesign will reduce the number of times players encounter the douits. The new ponds will provide strategic challenge, as well as water storage, flood alleviation and a source of fill.

Much of the existing layout has been retained, but every hole will be redesigned from tee to green. “We’ve reconfigured the course to fit the two loops of nine holes better with the new clubhouse,” explains Hiseman. “It’s a short, technical layout, with a lot of strategic twists and surprises. We have numerous ‘half-par’ holes, which entice you with realistic birdie opportunities, but with jeopardy to be tackled in the process. It will definitely be a course with lots of birdies and eagles, but also plenty of doubles and triples.”

Water is the primary defence, with only four holes without water hazards. The landscape reminded Hiseman of Florida and of one course in particular, the Donald Ross-designed Seminole. “I explained that we could do something similar here, albeit on a reduced scale,” he says. “The new water features are diagonally orientated, with the geometric formality found at Seminole. We think the new seventh will be a favourite of many. It is a shorter version of the tenth at The Belfry, but we think ours is better!

“My favourite part of the layout is the 200-yard-wide triple fairway at holes one, nine and eighteen. We’re digging out a couple of new lakes and using the spoil to build a 250-yard long, fairway-cut ridge that separates the playing areas. Functionally, the ridge is providing elevation and slope to help us drain flat land, but it also gives us the opportunity to be artistic with the landform and shape bunkers, ridges, spurs, and swales along its length. I can’t wait to see it built and catching the low sun angles.”

Several hundred non-native Tamarisk bushes, previously planted to define fairways, have been removed to create a wide, links-like canvas upon which seven holes coming from the clubhouse will be shaped. “The newly expansive landscape is in parts wide open to the sea breezes, whilst other parts of the course pass through woodland and around protected wetlands, complete with colourful groves of wild orchids,” says Hiseman.

“The low-lying course encounters seasonal flooding problems, complicated by the sole outfall being dictated by the tide. During spring tides, the course will flood as the outfall valve is closed by the high sea level. The existing course has a negligible amount of drainage, which causes the course to remain closed for long periods after a flood. The new design introduces nearly 30 kilometres of new drainage and several automated pump chambers to remove surface water after significant rainfall.”

A new Toro irrigation system, designed by Irritech, will be installed. The club has also engaged agronomy consultants Turfgrass, led on this project by John Clarkin and Jonathan Pendry, to complement EGD’s redesign with a tour-standard grass, especially around the greens where sandcapping is taking place.

“When it all comes together, La Grande Mare will offer something special; a short, intricate course built to the highest of design and construction standards,” says Hiseman. “Guernsey and Channel Islands golf is sure to receive a significant boost with the interest it will generate.”

A soft opening is scheduled for summer 2025, by which time the new country club and clubhouse should also be completed.

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