The Stippelberg Golf Club
The Stippelberg Golf Club, Netherlands

As you might know, Leadingcourses.com is all about golf courses. And who knows a course better than a golf course architect? In this blogpost we give several renowned architects the chance to tell you a bit more about themselves, their work, where they get their inspiration and so on. In this episode we talk to Dutch golf course architect : Michiel Van der Vaart.

Michiel Van der Vaart - Golf course architect

Personal

Name: Michiel Van der Vaart
Date of Birth: 10th June 1971
WebsiteSpogárd & VanderVaart
Nationality: Dutch
Years in the business: 18 (since 2002)
Number of courses designed: 11 full length golf courses that were built, but countless others designed.
Best known for: The Stippelberg Golf Club, Netherlands
Favorite golf course to playNorth Berwick
Hidden Gem: Åland Golf Club, Finland

Introduction

Born in the Netherlands, Michiel Van der Vaart has played golf since he was a young child. He has always held a natural love for the game and somehow knew that it would eventually take him somewhere. Michiel had long dreamed of becoming a golf course architect and in 2002, this aspiration became a reality. Having already worked as a landscape architect in ‘s-Hertogenbosch for four years, the opportunity presented itself in the form of Gerard Jol. Jol was an influential Dutch golf architect in the 1990’s with many projects to his name. When he sought the assistance of Michiel in 2002, it became the beginning of a strong relationship. From that day onwards, things changed rapidly for Michiel. He joined Jol’s golf design company that year, has since completed the EIGCA’s Diploma programme and has been involved in the design and renovation of numerous golf courses around Europe.

In 2008, Michiel and Philip Spogárd, whom he met at an EIGCA Conference a few years previous, founded Spogárd&VanderVaart Golf Course Architects. This is a unique, international practice, which creates exciting, visually stunning and highly individual golf courses. In 2011, Michiel was awarded the ‘Development of the Year Award’ for the design of Stippelberg, a golf course located in Gemert-Bakel in The Netherlands. Other nominees included Gary Player, Ben Crenshaw and Nick Faldo.

Michiel is a passionate golf course designer with a love for nature, ecology and a broad knowledge of plants. His naturalistic approach and design style has helped him to create courses that are successfully integrated into their surrounding cultural, historical and natural environments. He still enjoys a round of golf and currently plays off a handicap of 6.5.      

Golf Course Architect: Michiel Van der Vaart

The natural surroundings at Stippelberg Golf Club - Michiel Van Der Vaart
The natural surroundings at Stippelberg

Which of your course designs are you most proud of?

Until now I have to say The Stippelberg Golf Club in The Netherlands. This is because not only is it on a location where the conditions were perfect: sandy soil, heather, huge lakes, natural environment. But it was also the project where we as a team won our first international award; Golf Development of the year 2011 – Golf Inc. Magazine.

And which hole?

This is a difficult one! I will say the short par 3, 9th at ‘De Kroonprins Vianen’. It’s a 105m hole with a 60m wide green complex. On the right side there’s a plateau guarded by two bunkers in the front. The left side has 3 bunkers on the back to collect the low running shots. But if you leave it too short, a large mound, partly within the green complex, makes an up-and-down pretty tough.

The tricky 9th at De Kroonprins Vianen - Michiel Van Der Vaart
The 9th at De Kroonprins Vianen

Is there a certain characteristic which you can recognise your designs by?

I’ll try to include the surrounding landscape in the entire golf experience. As long as it enhances the project of course. I will aim to fit the golf course into its surrounding landscape, rather than to impose it autonomously. I am also not afraid to use more dramatic contours within the putting green surfaces.

Where do you get your inspiration?

Besides taking long walks through dunes and heathlands, I like playing golf on as many golf courses as possible. Especially in the UK and Ireland.

Which type of designs do you like best? Links/woodland/water/etc.

I have to say that the heathland style is the one that I like the most. The landscape, nature, heather, pine trees and the sandy dunes create the optimal ingredients for a world class golf experience.

Himmerland Golf & Spa Resort in Denmark - Michiel Van Der Vaart
Himmerland Golf & Spa Resort – a Spogárd & VanderVaart project

Which course would you liked to have designed? Is there a design you’re jealous of?

Perhaps Kingsbarns. This is a project that I would’ve liked to been involved in. This, I think is a masterpiece within our profession. What you see and play out there, is almost entirely created by the architect and his influence.

Is there a course you have designed that you would like to do over?

The Old Course….. Just kidding!

What is the most difficult/challenging thing about designing a golf course?

Getting permits! When this is solved however, creating a piece of art with 18 visually different holes that still belong together. That is certainly a challenge.

How do you make a good golf course with a small budget?

I’ve never had the experience of having an unlimited budget. As long as you put a lot of effort and care into the detail, this will show eventually. The efficiency and ‘in-one-go’ helps to save money. A solid master plan and detailed drawings using GPS and other modern techniques can be beneficial. But you should never lose the craftsmanship and the ‘eye’ for detail in the field.

Michiel on the job
On the job

Do you think a golf course should always start with an easy hole and end with a difficult one?

No that is completely up to the architect. On a more commercial golf course for example, I would use an easy hole to finish so the people enter the clubhouse with a smile on their face.

What makes a golf course good? Is there a favourite golf course you have played?

A good golf course has to be beautiful, challenging, rewarding, fun and safe. And yes, North Berwick! This course is so much fun to play! This gave me as a designer a lot of inspiration to create ‘fun-to-play’ putting greens myself.

Is there another golf course architect you admire/look up to/respect most?

Without hesitation, Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore!

Do you know any hidden gems we should know of?

Beautiful picture of Alands Golfklubb in Finland - golf course architects
Ålands Golfklubb

Ålands Golfklubb! It’s a fabulous location on a headland between two inlets by Kastelholm Castle in Sund, Finland. It was founded in 1983 and has two 18-hole courses. A bit of a hassle to get there but well worth it!

Is there a certain place or country where you would still like to design a course? Do you have a dream project?

I have the ambition to work in Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic or Romania. My dream project would be to create a course on ‘new-land’, raised out of the sea with 360-degree ocean views.

What will your next project be (or what is your current project)?

Currently we are renovating an 18 hole golf course on Åland, an Island in between Sweden and Finland. We are working on The Dalmatian Golf Club too. A 36-hole resort project in Croatia. 

The Dalmatian Golf Club
The Dalmatian Golf Club in Croatia

Which architect would you like us to interview next?

Martin Ebert

Special thanks to Michiel for taking time out of his busy schedule to speak with us. We hope this blog series continues to give valuable insights into the work that goes into creating a golf course that people love to play. We wish Michiel continued success for the future!

For more interesting interviews with other golf course architects, surf to our special Architects Vision section on our blog.

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