GEO: What was your role in the creation of West Cliffs Golf Links and how did you get involved with the project?
Cynthia: We were originally contracted by a developer to design a new 18-hole golf course down the coast from their existing golf course PDR in 2003. During the 11 years that it took to get permits, as the project’s architect I worked closely with a team of land planners, biologist, agronomist, irrigation consultants, and so on. My layout evolved over the years to reflect changes in government / environmental regulations and updated surveys. I visited the project every summer to walk the site and understand how the site had changed while we awaited the okay to break ground. We even continued to make adjustments to the golf holes throughout construction so they better fit into the surrounding topography and avoided sensitive vegetation. Almost 14 years from my first site visit, West Cliffs opened for play.
GEO: When people come to West Cliffs Golf Links, what can they expect?
Cynthia: Playing golf at West Cliffs is a unique experience. You really can’t get enough of it. The location on the rugged sandstone cliffs above the Atlantic Ocean affords views of the ocean from every golf hole. The surrounding jewel toned vegetation constantly changes with the seasons. Since the water is limited and the native vegetation is protected, it won’t play like a well-manicured parkland golf course. Players will be in awe of the expanses and naturalness on the project. There is a sense of serenity one gets being there. Even if they aren’t playing golf, visitors should take a stroll around the property to experience this breath-taking stretch of land.
GEO: What are the main points that you see were unique about the way in which West Cliffs Golf Links was designed, constructed?
Cynthia: The property was covered with 10+ meter tall Pine trees that were planted over 30 years ago for pulp. Even with all the surveys, it was impossible to accurately delineate all the special features on the property until those pines were harvested. Most of the small details incorporated in the golf holes were discovered after removal of the trees. The golf corridors were staked and then revised before construction began. This project was created in a very hands-on way, by walking the site every day and seeing what was in front of us.
The site is made of sand, which made it difficult for machinery to get around. In the beginning, in order to facilitate construction and protect the surrounding native vegetation, we had to construct natural pathway using on-site materials. Unlike most other projects, on this one we had a very limited area for vehicles to work. We laid the course into the natural landscape, leaving so much of what was already there untouched.
GEO: What was the main focus behind your vision for West Cliffs Golf Links and what kind of consideration did you give to sustainability related issues in the design of the course?
Cynthia: Protecting the sensitive vegetation on this site and preserving the natural topography were my main considerations in the design of each golf hole. Water is restricted on this site, which meant that maintained turf is limited to only areas that get the most play. There are several streams that run seasonally through the property where a series of interconnected lakes capture the water that is used to irrigate the turf. The irrigation design employs the most modern conservative technology for water usage. Our team’s intention to create a sustainable project that incorporates as much of the natural surroundings as possible has resulted in a beautiful golf course.
GEO: Were there any lessons you feel you learned for future projects during the design and construction of West Cliffs Golf Links?
Cynthia: This project was a lesson in understanding that sand can be very difficult to work in. Large equipment doesn’t belong on a sandy site. Due to the limited equipment that was available to the contractors – everything we had was large and bulky – it was challenging to preserve some of the small details I wanted. In the future I would insist on more appropriate equipment so we can move more agilely around the site with less disturbance. Since the site was covered with Pine trees, the sand was hydrophobic making it very difficult to grow grass. When the trees were harvested, noxious species of vegetation tried to take over the natives. These invasive species constantly try to dominate sensitive coastal vegetation and have to be constantly removed. People assume it is easier to build a golf course in sand – trust me, it is not.