Pebble's Mirror Image in South Korea?


The comparisons aren't accidental. The names make this fairly clear, and those fortunate enough to have visited Golfplan's new seaside tour de force believe that Pine Beach Golf Links in Haenam, South Korea, more than measures up to its inspiration and mirror image - Pebble Beach Golf Links on the other side of the Pacific.

Pine Beach Golf Links quietly opened for play in February, but this resort track - one of a half-dozen Golfplan designs that have opened in South Korea since 2005 - is already the talk of this golf-obsessed nation.

"It's sort of blasphemous and borderline naïve for an architect to discuss any project in the same breath as Pebble Beach, but the comparisons were obvious and apt before we built any golf holes at Pine Beach," said Golfplan partner David Dale, who directed the project. "The rocky cliffs, the beaches below, the towering headlands with the natural green sites already in place. Just look at the pictures. They speak volumes but, honestly, they don't do justice to the setting or the course."

Of all the Golfplan projects on the Korean Peninsula, the firm's latest creation takes best advantage of that peninsula. Located on the west coast, in Haenam near Gwangju, Pine Beach boasts what Dale calls one of the finest natural golfing sites to come along in the last 50 years. With its 10 holes perched directly on the rocky cliff tops (Pebble Beach boasts nine) and smaller peninsulas extending 200 meters into the sea (perfect for dramatic par-3s, a la Cypress Point), the par-72, 7,290-yard Pine Beach is poised to take the world golf scene by storm.

"To be honest, the inland terrain at Pine Beach is better than Pebble's," Dale said. "It's just more dramatic physically, more akin to what you'd find at Spyglass. Just call the whole place Monterey East."

Dale routed the 18 holes at Pine Beach to take maximum advantage of the site's extraordinary physical characteristics. Of course, no opportunity for exposure to the coastline was wasted. At 16 - a 430-yard par-4 with the Yellow Sea forming a briny hazard all along the right side - Dale built a retaining wall to allow tee-placement directly at cliff's edge. The result is one of the most formidable forced sea-carries in golf.

The 15th is another par-3 that plays across open water, this time to a peninsular green setting that quickly summons thoughts of Cypress Point. The front side has its own collection of seaside holes - the 370-yard, par-4 ninth sweeps along the sea before doglegging uphill to the Gene Park-designed clubhouse; the 190-yard, par-3 eighth plays downhill to green where the backdrop is pure blue sea and the penalty for going long is a steep plunge into oblivion.

However, early in the round, the mere glimpses of these coastal holes prove nearly as intriguing as the holes themselves. "This is part of what I mean about the inland property being so special," Dale continued. "It's wonderful, wildly undulating golfing terrain. When you get a peak at the sea from the elevated tee box at No. 3, for example, it's thrilling. From the fifth green you get the first full panorama of the ocean holes you're about to play: The seventh, eighth and ninth, plus the 17th and 18th beyond. You just don't get that sort of anticipatory moment at Pebble, or any course without serious elevation changes inland."

While much of the golfing world lays mired in an economic slump, Korea is building golf courses hand over fist - and Golfplan is designing the some of the best of them. The Club at Nine Bridges, on the island of Jeju, has established itself as Asia's top-ranked golf course. Five-time host to the World Club Championship, 10-year-old Nine Bridges has quickly earned a spot on Golf Digest's list of Top 100 courses outside the United States (No. 45) and Golf Magazine's World Top 100 (No. 60), a list that considers every course on Earth.

That project naturally led to a host of other opportunities for Golfplan, in Korea and across Asia. Last year the firm, led by partners Dale and Kevin Ramsey, unveiled the second 18 at Bear River, new home to the Korean PGA. In September, it will christen Haesley Nine Bridges, a follow-up project for the developers of Nine Bridges.

Golfplan's reputation extends beyond Korea, and it's manifest in the sort of properties the firm works upon these days. Pine Beach is one of four seaside courses that Santa Rosa, Calif.-based Golfplan will have completed in the last 15 months:

• In April 2008, the firm christened New Kuta GC on cliffs above Djimbaran Bay, in Bali, Indonesia. It played host to the Indonesian Open 10 months later and was named Best New International Course by Links Magazine for 2008.

• Sea Links, set among the towering dunes along Vietnam's Binh Thuan coast, opened for play in December 2008.

• In September 2008, Weihai Point Golf & Resort opened in Shandong Province, PRC, on a remarkable multi-pronged spit of land that juts out into the Yellow Sea.

"I do think that landing projects on such extraordinary properties is an indication that Golfplan is growing in stature; the competition for these jobs was fierce and we beat out all the big names," Dale said. "We're just as proud of the finished products, but a lot of these projects are second and third courses for the same developer. I think we've gathered six such projects in the last two years."

Part of the story behind Pine Beach is indeed the loyalty Golfplan appears to engender in its clientele. Pine Beach was developed by Seoul-based Hanyang Corporation, the same client that retained Dale and Golfplan to design the 27-hole Pine Hills CC near Suncheon, in 2002. The developers of Weihai Point are the same men who retained Golfplan to design Asiana and Chinju country clubs.

"There's nothing that speaks more eloquently to the quality of our work than a repeat customer . . . except maybe six repeat customers," said Dale, who recalls the first time he visited the Pine Beach site. "We were about halfway through with Pine Hills and I guess the client liked the way things were going because they said, 'You know, we have another site…'

"So, they took us out there on a blistering winter day, record snowfall, and there were so many enormous pines, it was quite difficult to get a feel for the property's relation to the sea. Then we come around a corner and there it is: this incredible ocean view, the plateaus at cliff edge, the islands in the distance, these pine-covered ridgelines that carry from way inland all the way to the bay. Meantime, it's snowing horizontal and pelting us in the face, but we were all grinning like fools, because we could see what was there."

For more information on this and other projects from Golfplan call 207/526-7190, or visit www.golfplan.com.  


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