The Black Knight gives his thoughts on the recent renovation of Cougar Point at Kiawah Island.
What was your guiding principal when first designing Cougar Point?
Kiawah Island itself is a paradise, especially for golfers. Creating the original Cougar Point design, many years ago, was a special opportunity for the Player Design team to showcase our environmentally sensitive approach considering the marshland, oaks and natural habitats of wildlife. Being a resort course, we also made sure the course was playable for all members and guests, but also challenging for the most skilled golfers.
The course, as it was first built, diverted from your original plans in some significant ways, but a later renovation (not this most current one) rendered it closer to your original design. How in your estimation did the course benefit from that redesign?
That’s just the life of a golf course and part of the overall design process. There are many dynamics that go into achieving your goals and in some circumstance you have to pivot to satisfy a variety of factors, from the owners expectations to the environment.
We made it a point of emphasis to keep in touch with Kiawah Island since our original design, and work together to determine what aspects of the course need improvement and when, throughout its lifecycle.
This latest (2017) renovation, while largely aimed towards remedial work (resizing greens, reshaping/rebuilding bunkers, rebuilding bulkheads, regressing, laser leveling tees) saw a few notable design changes, particularly with bunkers. How has that work improved the course to make it more favorable to the average player, and how does it reflect more current trends in golf course design?
Our latest renovation work was centered around trying to make the golf course more user friendly for the membership and resort guests, but also to be more cognizant of maintenance requirements. Hence a reduction and variation in downsizing the total amount of bunkers. It also was important to limit the bunker’s complexity of shapes to make them more sustainable over time.
Every part of a golf course has life cycles. Cougar Point’s bunkers were 20+ years old so this was a prime opportunity to improve the strategy, reduce maintenance requirements, and increase the aesthetic value.
Cougar Point enjoys tremendous landscape diversity, from 4, 5 and 6 with sweeping views of the Kiawah River and tidal marsh, to the mature stands of live oaks on certain holes, to dense maritime forest on the interior, yet the course doesn’t feel disjointed and flows naturally. How did you achieve that, and how did that drastic evolution in landscape dictate your design considerations?
It was exciting because the land allowed for so much potential and diversity. You can look one way down a fairway with the marshland, and the next shot could be next to dense trees. It was important to utilize what mother nature provided with marshland, maritime and oaks, which we integrated into the design philosophy and strategic elements of certain golf holes. It’s not often in golf course design where the land supplies so much natural contrast and diversity of these elements.
Cougar Point is different than the other four courses at the resort (Ocean, Osprey, Turtle and Oak) in that it is a continuous course (i.e., number 10 doesn’t loop back to the clubhouse). Was that dictated by the land you had to work with, and at what point did it occur to you that this would be the ideal layout for the course?
From the start, there were limitations and restriction due to housing developments, potential commercial development, and sensitive coastal areas. But this did not deter us from maximizing the natural use of the land, which dictated the non-returning layout of the design.
Some of the best course in the world like St. Andrews in Scotland are non-returning, and the Cougar Point golf experience certainly is not jeopardized by the routing. Our focus was to locate where the best 18 golf holes made the most sense, which we feel was accomplished within the overall vision of the development.
The old clubhouse – the original one on the island and now long-gone – was built in 1976, but is now replaced by a new clubhouse designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects. What are your thoughts on how this new facility will enhance the overall Cougar Point experience?
Anytime you can enhance a project with new amenities, like a clubhouse, it only boosts the overall experience. With all Kiawah Island has to offer, it’s absolutely fantastic that their leadership is emphasizing Cougar Point. No doubt, with the design improvements and new facilities, it’s a premier golf destination that I have always enjoyed visiting.