In a slight departure from the “Talking GolfGetaways” podcast’s regular format, co-host Darin Bunch dives into the world of private golf with architect David McLay Kidd and senior design associate Nick Schaan to discuss the challenges — and impressive results — of redesigning Rolling Hills Country Club.
In their efforts to bring links-style golf to this Southern California club, the DMK Design team had to contend dirt-moving and grading logistics, major power line and both existing and new homesites.
“Nick is a bit of a genius with these very tough, technical projects,” Kidd says. “Nick did Huntsman Springs a decade ago, which was an amazing project that moved a lot of material and created 50-plus acres of wetlands. With Rolling Hills, it was equally as challenging. I can dream up cool golf holes, but how to even get to the point where you can start to dream them up required some massive engineering.
“Having built the Bandon Dunes, the Gamble Sands, the Mammoth Dunes on perfect terrain, where you’re starting with a site that is already a 9 out of 10, if we just do our job well, it’s almost inevitable that you should be able to a 9 out of 10 golf course out of them,” Kidd continues. “And many of the people we consider peers would shy away from a project like Rolling Hills because you’re not starting with a site that you can even put a number on because there’s nothing there … and so our imagination has to go into a much higher gear in order to create the site on which to then design the golf course on top.
“It’s much harder work. It takes a lot more effort. But it can be even more rewarding if the result comes out right.”
And come out right it did. The playable yet challenging (and quite walkable) layout has not only pleased the membership and serves as the foundation of Rolling Hills Country Club’s new master plan, but it also highlights Kidd’s signature “fun philosophy” on all 18 holes with expansive green surrounds, creative mounding and sloping greens that entice players to choose from a variety of shots on each hole — sometimes attacking through the air, other times employing the ground game reminiscent of links courses in Kidd’s homeland of Scotland as well as his own modern links designs here in America.
As Kidd has done as Oregon’s Bandon Dunes, Washington’s Gamble Sands and Wisconsin’s Mammoth Dunes, creating width in the fairways is key to his dual strategy of providing shotmaking options while preventing unnecessary ball-searching — and with limited acreage available at Rolling Hills, the team used shared fairways to achieve better playability.
“We are doing all we can to keep golfers playing the same ball,” Kidd says. “They might not be scoring, but they’re playing. And that width can be created in different ways. Joining fairways is one of the ways to do it. Grassing slopes is another way to do it, where you create some artificial width. And it’s pretty simple: If you want playability, you have to give them width and you have to make sure the ball is findable in the rough.”