Architect's Perspective

architect article cover

Gary Johnston

European Golf Design
Project Architect - Irie Fields


What was your role in this project and how did you become involved?

European Golf Design were appointed as architects to design the course in association with Ian Woosnam. We were introduced to the project when it was still in its infancy, back in 2003, by the founder Val Kempadoo who has been the main driving force behind the project.

What can people expect when playing Irie Fields Golf Course? 

As with the rest of the Kittitian Hill development golfers should be prepared for something a little different. The golf course itself has a deliberately natural look and feel that fits into the rolling landscape and works with natural features, particularly the numerous ghauts (pronounced “guts” which is a local term for the gulleys and ravines cut by water running off the mountain) to create an exciting and challenging course - especially when the trade winds are blowing!

What do you feel are the aspects which distinguish Irie Fields GC, its design and build, from the other golf courses?

While the main reason to visit Irie Fields is to play golf what will really make the course so different is the other experiences that you will have whilst there. You can’t help but take in the panoramic views across the Caribbean Sea to the neighbouring Islands of St Barths, St Maarten and St Eustatius that continue throughout your round. Then there is the lush tropical vegetation, which is so prominent on the Mt Liamuiga, and offers golfers the chance for a bit of cool quiet shade as they pass through the densely vegetated ghauts, and, if you are lucky your caddy will help you pick some of the readily available juicy fruit that is being farmed as part of the golf course’s edible landscape for a small mid-round treat.

Hopefully though, one of the biggest differences won’t even be that noticeable to golfers. Following on from the sustainable practices that were implemented during construction is the desire for the course to be maintained organically, which we believe, will be the first warm season golf course to do so. This posed a number of challenges for the team during the grow-in, having to hand pull weeds for instance, but I’m sure the long term benefits will be worth all their extra hard work.

What drove the sustainability vision of the project? Did you see sustainability as a priority in the design of the golf course and if so which particularly areas of the design did you think were of the highest priority?

The vision for the project was largely formed and guided by Val who saw the opportunity to develop a resort that, unlike so many developments in the Caribbean, blended the local community and its unique culture with a sustainable ethos to create something that was truly Kittitian. We were very mindful of this from day 1 and sustainability was integral in everything we did from moment we picked up our pencils through to seeding the last hole. This meant challenging the way we did everything and asking if there was a better way, leading to a number of site specific initiatives which improved the overall sustainability of the development. The result was that we were able to significantly reduce the amount of earthworks required and resources that needed to be imported onto the island.

What led you to use the GEO Developments programme and what were benefits did you find in going through the programme? 

We were already aware of the GEO Developments programme and it was obvious very early on that the plans Val and the team in St Kitts had would be a natural fit with the GEO ethos. GEO were involved throughout the design and construction process and worked well with the whole team. They often helped to formalise and document the sustainable initiatives being discussed which, in turn, helped us to deliver them on site.

What do you feel were your main lessons learned for the future sustainable golf course developments during the design and construction of Irie Fields GC?

We have long believed that each development and site should be treated on its own merits but working on a project like Irie Fields takes that to extremes. The number one thing we would say you need to do is to question everything and usually the solutions that you find will lead to a better result in terms of the final product and can often times also reduce costs.

Following your experience at Irie Fields GC do you plan to towards the GEO Certified mark on future developments and would you recommend this approach to other developers and designers?

We have already recommended the GEO programme to other developers so hopefully this is just the first of many golf courses that we are involved with that will complete the GEO programme.


European Golf Design is the joint venture design company of the European Tour and IMG. Formed in 1992 European Golf Design have designed over fifty courses throughout Europe, The Middle East and South Africa with another thirty currently in the design or construction phase. Previous projects include The Twenty Ten Ryder Cup Course at Celtic Manor, host to the 2010 Ryder Cup Matches and the Stadium Course at PGA Catalunya which is consistently ranked in the top ten courses in Continental Europe. Current projects under design and construction include developments in the UK, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Estonia and Turkey.

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