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Renovate entire golf holes, not just features

Recently a new golf club owner approached our firm about overseeing a renovation project at his golf course. The owner desired to renovate all 65 bunkers on his 25-year-old 18-hole golf course with new drainage, sod, and sand. We decided to take a trip out to the course for a visit and walk through the golf course.

During our visit, I realized that a majority of the bunkers were in wrong locations, very pedestrian, un-artistic, and did not offer any strategic value to the entire golf hole strategy. The owner had stated that he didn’t want to redesign any bunkers, he just wanted to “redo” the bunkers “as is” with all new materials, as he thought he should renovate the bunkers since he just bought the property at a bargain and felt obligated to enhance the course to attract more play. I immediately thought to myself that this man was going to waste his money if he went in his direction since the bunker scheme was poorly done by the original golf course architect.

This is not first time I have come across his scenario. Some golf courses will pursue a “band-aid” renovation mentality by spending money rebuilding tees one year, and renovating bunkers the following year without completing an entire golf hole renovation.

At this point, as a golf course architect, I highly recommended to him to pursue the option of a master plan, what I call plan “A,” for the entire golf course. As with every master plan, this option would steer the golf course in the proper direction for future phased-in construction of renovated items. I highly stressed that analyzing the big picture items like the routing of the golf course and entire golf holes were the initial steps to ultimately producing a high-caliber golf course. He rebuffed the idea of a master plan as he didn’t want to spend the money on just a plan and rather use the money on actual construction activity and materials.

So then I went to what I call plan “B” with this owner. I took him to a par 4 on his golf course and walked him from tee to green and pointed out discrepancies in the design of the golf hole. From the undersized and misaligned tee boxes, to the cookie-cutter-type bunkering that were randomly placed along the perimeter of the fairway, to the artificial mounding turning the dogleg, bad drainage areas, and to the flat unimaginative green. I showed him these were all design flaws in this particular golf hole. I then immediately got back to the bunker details and mentioned that these existing bunkers were not worthy of renovating since they were in wrong locations and doing so would be an entire waste of thousands of his dollars. He seemed disgusted that we were wasting his time. But I come from the school of thought that good golf course architects tell clients what they should do, not what clients want to hear. We left his course thinking that the man was never going to call us back for work. But lo and behold, he called me a week later and said to me, “You are so correct and you are hired to help my golf course.” Recently we started work for this owner on what we refer with him to in the office as “Individual Golf Hole Renovation Plans” rather than a master plan. But in reality, we have a conscious master plan in effect to professionally look at the golf course with a comprehensive frame of mind.

My main conclusion to this owner and to other golf course owners out there is to spend construction dollars on one golf hole at a time before moving on to the next hole even if there is a master plan completed. Rather than performing “band-aid” renovations spotted around the golf course, analyze the design of the golf hole thoroughly and complete a full renovation of each golf hole before moving on to the next one. Golfers will be blown away by a completely new golf hole with real strategic and artistic bunkering, thoughtful greens contouring, and beautiful box tees rather than just seeing new tee boxes on all eighteen holes. In this process, time needs to be taken to view the three dimensions of the greens complex design, the bunker placement and strategy, position of the tee boxes, the fairway line locations, vegetation position, surface drainage, and cart path locations. All of these areas may need to be rebuilt to create a quality golf hole. This philosophy works because after everyone sees a top flight completed golf hole when compared to the other weaker holes, everyone will realize the upgrade in quality and be eager to play that one golf hole and renovate the rest of the course. This approach works well for the golf course superintendent too as he or she will not be bombarded with construction activity and equipment at random places around the golf course. Instead the construction activity is focused and only impacts the golf course in a concentrated area at one time.

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