Styles Vintage & Modern Harmonize at Hanse-designed Ballyshear Links 

BANGKOK, Thailand — Ballyshear Links, the Lido-inspired, Gil Hanse-designed centerpiece of the new Ban Rakat Club, has formally commemorated its low-slung modernist clubhouse, completing Phase I development activities here at the most architecturally ambitious club in world golf.

The 18-hole Ballyshear Links, the first Asian project ever undertaken by Hanse Golf Design, was conceived as an homage to The Lido Golf Club, an almost mythic layout from early American course architecture pioneers Charles Blair Macdonald and Seth Raynor. The original Lido did exist. It opened in 1917, on featureless seaside property outside New York City; it closed quietly and without ceremony during World War II.

In between, however, The Lido GC was considered the equal of any golf course on Earth. What’s more, and more curiously, its Golden Age reputation has only grown in the 80 years it’s been gone.

“It is the holy grail for the ‘created’ golf course, the ultimate manifestation of what can be done with enough creativity, money, and sand,” Hanse attests. “The fact that it no longer exists makes it more romantic in nature and inspires all of us to elevate it in the pantheon of golf course architecture.”

Macdonald and Raynor operated in a unique and specific way: They typically based individual hole designs on established “template” holes — the famous Alps hole at Prestwick, for example; the Redan across Scotland at North Berwick. The original Lido layout featured 18 such template holes.

Above: The par-3 3rd hole (Eden) and the par-4 15th (Strategy) at Ballyshear Links

The Ballyshear Links routing features the identical 18 templates — each reinterpreted by Hanse and partner Jim Wagner, then adapted to the Thai landscape. But for the swapping of holes 2 and 6, Hanse and Wagner reproduced The Lido in order. Highlights include:

• The dramatic elevations and contours at BRC’s AlpsKnoll and Redan templates (holes 10, 13 and 16, respectively), which prove all the more stunning for their canny presentation on such flat property.

• The Eden 3rd at Ballyshear, a gorgeous and completely original sand-and-scrub take on the famous 11th at the Old Course. Golfers at BRC walk right off that famous green and onto the oft-celebrated-but-rarely-attempted Channel hole, with its peninsular/split fairway.

• The Short hole at 14, where, on the putting surface, Hanse and Wagner beautifully rendered one of the most dramatic-yet-functional “thumbprints” anywhere.

• The utterly epic finish where, as at the original Lido, the Redan 16th is followed by a bunker-strewn, 600-yard par-5 (Long) and a closing par-4 first dreamed up by Dr. Alister MacKenzie, whose design for the original Lido 18th won a design contest conducted by the English magazine, Country Life.

“I remember reading about the Lido competition that MacKenzie won,” Hanse says. “I was doing some research at Cornell [University] and they had a great collection of original editions of this magazine. After seeing the competition, I did more research on the Lido… We also had the great fortune to work with Macdonald and Raynor biographer George Bahto on several projects. He was always going on about the Lido. After his passing, George’s family allowed us to use his Lido file to help us in our design for Ballyshear. It proved invaluable!”

The founders of Ban Rakat Club were all members at Kiarti Thanee Country Club, a successful private club with an ordinary, dead-flat, 25-year-old golf course whose chief attribute was location — just 35 minutes from centre city and 20 from Suvarnhabumi International Airport. In 2017, these members approached the club development/management experts at Yokohama International, Ltd. Together with Hanse, they resolved to radically transform their property.

One result was the extraordinary new clubhouse, another audacious architectural departure. Kengo Kuma & Associates may be the most high-profile design firm ever to undertake a clubhouse design. Its reputation and signature projects are normally expansive and high profile: the new National Stadium in Tokyo, the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy Group’s Japanese headquarters. By contrast, Kuma’s clubhouse at Ban Rakat Club is splendidly warm and intimate.

The Ballyshear Links itself, named for C.B. Macdonald’s ancestral estate on Long Island, is the other result of this redevelopment project. The new course and clubhouse were both fully completed earlier in 2022, following an unusually painstaking construction process.

“It’s incredible to think back — through two and a half years of Covid — to when this project began,” Wagner says. “Just reflecting on what this property was when we showed up: a dilapidated, perfectly flat golf course. What has it become today? A total and truly remarkable transformation from a golf course, landscape, earthwork and vegetation standpoint.”

Because of Covid restrictions, neither Hanse nor Wagner has set foot in Thailand since late 2019. Rather than suspend development operations, their trusted in-house shaping unit, Caveman Construction, remained on site at Ballyshear to complete the project. 

“That is completely against the philosophy that we have adopted for all of our courses,” Wagner explains. “However, we were living in strange times. Hats off to Bret Brennan, Josh McFadden, Trevor Dormer and Tanner Guyer for working tirelessly on this project, and to Shaymus Maley, Jaeger Kovich, and Robert Nelson for jumping in as well. We trusted their abilities. 

“From the images, it looks like our trust has been rewarded by their great work. We are hopeful to get back over there to play some golf at the start of 2023.”

More than a century after its christening, and 80 years after its demise, the original Lido GC is the subject of two homage developments today. At the Sand Valley Resort in Nekoosa, Wisconsin, USA, architect Tom Doak is working from another sort of template from Peter Flory, a financial consultant and part-time golf historian, who has reconstructed a virtual version of The Lido using a 3-D computer gaming format.

Hanse and Wagner had already broken ground when the Sand Valley project was first announced. So they arrived at the idea first, and they took a completely different approach.

“We use the words ‘homage’ and ‘tribute’ because they best describe what we did,” Hanse explains. “Our site was very fixed in terms of the boundaries we could work with, and very fixed in the fact that we did not have stable soils under the site that would have allowed us to shape the site in a manner that might be more faithful to the original. 

“As a result, we used the Lido as a concept for what to do with a site that was honestly very limited in its potential. We were so happy the owner was supportive of this vision, and that we were able to get the sequence of holes very close to what they were in the original, with two exceptions. All in all we are very proud of what we accomplished — but to compare the two projects is really not looking at apples to apples.

“From our perspective this was not a competitive project with the Sand Valley project. Rather it was a chance to do something cool on perhaps the worst site we have ever worked on. In that respect, we think that the outcome is a fitting tribute to the original Lido.”

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