Paul Thomas Interview

A whole new ball game

Designing a new golf course is like putting together a massive jigsaw puzzle. Marta Patiño picks up the pieces with Paul Thomas, the man behind Tenerife’s Abama Golf

“It’s essentially a large slope on the great hill called Tenerife”, laughs Paul Thomas. The English designer and former professional golfer is describing the Abama Golf course currently being built in Playa San Juan and is the first to admit that the natural topography posed a bit of a challenge to say the least.

“You can’t fight it”, he says, sinking back in his chair, “But people don’t want to play uphill.”

I imagine that transforming a huge slope with a 250-metre difference between its low and high points can’t be very easy. Evidently, Paul is the type to take things in his stride and since he seems so upbeat I assume that he found a solution.

He leans forward conspiratorially. “Well, what we did was to try and get each hole to play more level and then travel up from green to green. So, you play it flat and drive to the next bit, then play flat and go to the next bit, flat, next bit, and so on. Playing downhill is okay though. People don’t mind the idea of playing golf in Teneife downhill so we leave it so you can do that.”

A man with a plan

Paul describes designing a course as much like putting together a massive jigsaw puzzle. It’s all about finding solutions to a mountain of challenges. Water, for instance. “Without it nothing grows, so we have to work out how we’re going to pump it around.”

Apparently, much of the design work is done during the construction process because no matter how much planning you do, problems continually crop up. Having said that, there are certain things that have to be established at the onset, such as deciding on a par. So how do you decide on a par, I ask?

“We try and achieve a par 72 because it’s become such a standard in Tenerife golf courses, the same as everywhere. People think you’ve failed if you do a 71 par course, even though it really makes no difference.”

My concept of pars may be as bad as my understanding of the offside rule but I know I’ll have to dig a little deeper than ‘72’. Paul senses my confusion and slips into teacher mode. “Four par-threes are the accepted standard. Par-threes are particularly important, especially in a resort because they provide great photo opportunities. We try to make them more exiting by adding a lake or a particular feature, like tree planting, to make it a more memorable hole. Then there are four par-fives. The remainder are par-fours. That’s the accepted balance.”
A to plotting where they go, Paul explains, “You have to try and get the balance between two nine-hole loops and the balance in overall length so that you have two equal lines. How to create that is down to us,” adding with a resigned roll of the eyes, “we also have to work with the topography.”

Like father like son

Paul Thomas enjoyed a brief stint as a professional golfer in the 1980’s but is quick not to have his praises sung. He comes across as a very straightforward man with little time for self-congratulation but his modesty may also stem from the fact that his father was once one of Europe’s leading golfers.

Dave Thomas, who founded the company in 1958, won several Opens and played in a number of Ryder Cups. But far from having a chip on his shoulder, Paul sees the funny side; “My father won tournaments all over the world. I just played all over the world. I had some ability (he played on the European tour for four years) but all the factors never chinked in and eventually Dad sat me down and said, ‘you’ve spent this and you’ve made that.’” He emits a throaty laugh. “I jumped before I was pushed,” he continues. “I looked at the two figures and had to say he was right.”
So, at 28 years of age, he hung up his golf bag and was parachuted into his father’s company, which he now owns.

Dave Thomas Ltd

Dave Thomas Ltd has designed over a hundred courses in over twenty countries, including the Brabazon Course at The De Vere Belfry. The Abama Golf course, is just one of a long list of designs the company currently has at various stages of development.

As part of an ambitious project planned for Playa San Juan, the Abama resort will also include a 5-star hotel, private villas, guest bungalows, a spa, golf academy and yachting marina. The golf course will open this year, while the grand opening will take place in 2017.