Golf Turns Back the Clock With Resort Courses Tailored to Fit the Landscape

Laguna Lang Co Vietnam (Image: Laguna Lang Co)

The new Nick Faldo-designed Laguna Lang Co course in Vietnam includes seven acres of pre-existing rice paddies. (Image: Laguna Lang Co)

How resort courses in Vietnam, Arizona and Scotland are returning to more natural and traditional designs by incorporating rice paddies, reclaiming the desert, and herding Hebridean sheep.


Golf didn’t begin as a game where thousands of tons of earth were moved in the shaping of courses; nor were ponds, waterfalls and island greens force-fed into the designs. During the early days at Scotland’s St. Andrews, Prestwick and Carnoustie, untended fairways threaded naturally through the dunes, and the first bunkers were sandy depressions enlarged by sheep sheltering from the wind.

That’s why it’s heartening to see so many courses, both old and new, returning to more traditional and natural designs. Among the architects leading the charge is Sir Nick Faldo, who routed more than seven acres of existing rice paddies into Vietnam’s new Laguna Lang Co course. As reported in Golf Course Architecture magazine, the paddies can produce up to 30 tons of rice from two harvests each year. Most of the rice will be used by the kitchens at the property’s on-site hotels, Angsana Lang Co and Banyan Tree Lang Co, with the remainder donated to local orphanages. Not only is it a practical way of helping the community, Faldo and his team were reportedly eager to retain the rice paddies as part of their design aesthetic.

Hebridean Sheep

Hebridean sheep keep the fairways trim during the winter at Machrihanish Dunes.

In Scottsdale, Arizona, where water supplies are at a premium, the former Indian Bend course at the popular JW Marriott Camelback Inn Resort and Spa has been completely rebuilt by architect Jason Straka to include 100 acres of new native desert and grass areas. Renamed Ambiente (Spanish for ‘environment’), the course now requires less than a third of the water previously consumed. It’s also anticipated that the local bird and mammal populations will increase significantly in the more natural landscape of acacias, jojobas and sagebrush. (For more about desert golf in Scottsdale-Phoenix, see our feature story Tee Off Amid the Tumbleweeds in Scottsdale.)

And in golf’s Scottish homeland, Machrihanish Dunes, a high-profile David McLay Kidd design that’s the centrepiece of a resort development in the remote southwest corner of the Mull of Kintyre, has brought in a herd of 40 black Hebridean sheep to keep the fairways in top shape during the winter months. Among other benefits, the restorative powers of the herd’s dung is expected to help several rare and protected species of orchids flourish at the four-year-old true links — just the way Mother Nature intended.