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Sanford Golf Design Reclaims Landfill at Granite Links Golf Club in Massachusetts


To some it might have seemed like an impossible task, an assignment to transform two large, old municipal landfills near downtown Boston into an award-winning golf course. But for architect John Sanford, whose Sanford Golf Design firm in Jupiter, Fla., has taken on disparate challenges such as recasting ancient deserts of Egypt into modern golf courses, the opportunity was one he couldn't pass up.

Sanford's talents produced Granite Links Golf Club, opened in 2006 and located seven miles from downtown Boston, on a site locals remember as the Quincy and Milton granite quarries-turned landfills.

The effort by Sanford and Granite Links Golf Club officials was singled out recently by the American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA) for a prestigious award in its inaugural Design Excellence Recognition Program. The award salutes outstanding effort that "shines a light on the innovation and problem-solving skills required of today's golf course designs."

"Their visionary project led to a spectacular golf facility, saved taxpayers money, and continues to benefit the environment," said then ASGCA President Bob Cupp.

Using the 27-hole golf course to cap the site saved Massachusetts taxpayers between $8 and $12 million in estimated costs for closing each landfill. The project also spared taxpayers another $100 million in disposal fees as the landfill site became the depository for the massive amounts of fill excavated from tunnels in Boston's "Big Dig," the state's 15-year, $24-billion road infrastructure makeover of the city's main thoroughfares.

"In this profession it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Sanford said. "The stars had to align, and the timing had to be perfect. The project was immensely expensive, so if the dirt had not been available, the project would never have happened."

The state's initial plan was to dispose of the material dug out of the tunnels at sites much further away than Granite Links and at great expense. "Our client recognized the dirt coming out of the downtown tunnels was only seven miles away from our site, and presented a unique way to save the taxpayers money," Sanford said. "The project also required 74 permits from local, state, and federal agencies. It was just an incredible opportunity."

Granite Links required additional engineering that golf course architects don't usually get involved with in designing courses, he said. "It started from the macro approach, with steep landfill domes," he said. "We had to create a golf course on these steep slopes."

Sanford applied the wedding cake theory, where the massive material from the Big Dig was used to terrace off the side slopes of the landfill domes. "When you get into closing landfills and transforming them into a golf course you must deal with the engineering minutiae of settling issues, layering issues, and venting of the methane gases," he said "I happen to enjoy that level of detail so we dove right in."

Sanford said while he was delighted in receiving the award he was not as surprised as he might have been because of the merits of the landfill project. "To be recognized by my peers and the American Society of Golf Course Architects is an incredible honor," he noted. "For the judges to pick our project as one of the top ones for the year makes it even better."

The golf course, with commanding views of the Boston skyline and harbor, was selected by Golf Digest as one its "Top Ten Best New Upscale Golf Course" list when it opened in 2006. It was also on the magazine's Top 100 courses for public play.

Sanford Golf Design has designed or renovated more than 60 courses across North America and Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, Japan and Viet Nam. For more information about the firm, visit http://sanfordgolfdesign.com.