Course makeover can knock over players

When you visit the home in which you grew up, you probably find comfort in the fact that some things never change. Mom still makes the best mashed potatoes, the front porch still gets the sweetest evening breezes and the old sofa in the family room still calls to you on lazy afternoons for a quick nap.

But, as time passes, even the best of things may need revamping. After all, that old sofa may be as cushy as it ever was, but its threadbare appearance and worn pillows don't give the best impression of what's underneath.

Over time, golf courses experience the same thing. Like so many landscapes subject to heavy use and the elements of nature, golf courses require alterations and improvements to maintain integrity and maximize their potential. But like the addition of new upholstery on that old sofa, you can revitalize your course, improve its appearance and attract new players.

Making the move to remodel Many circumstances can influence a private or public golf facility to undertake a remodeling program. For example, most courses have seen an increase in and diversity of new players. Golf continues to rise in popularity, and owners realize that golf courses today can operate as stand-alone entities. As a result, an increasing number of golf courses have undertaken remodeling projects.

As with the development of a new facility, the complexities associated with successful planning, permitting and constructing of a remodeling project-regardless of the scope of work involved-require a comprehensive remodeling master plan. They also require the guidance of a qualified architect. The well- conceived master plan helps lower operating costs, increases revenues and profits and creates a sustaining interest in the facility for years to come.

Many circumstances influence a facility to remodel. While some of the following characteristics are unique to either a private or a public golf facility, most are relevant to both: * Constructing a course according to USGA guidelines that you can continue to manage under increasing rounds of golf * Increasing teeing surfaces for multiple placements and for serving a wider variety of player abilities * Improving poor turf quality, inadequate drainage, flood conditions or soil compaction * Adding or eliminating sand bunkers * Replacing, expanding or upgrading the irrigation system * Making the golf course more or less difficult, eliminating unfair or unsafe playing conditions or increasing the speed of play * Adding a continuous cart path to extend the season and allow play during wet conditions * Adapting to an ever-changing and more diverse golfing membership and public * Restoring the course's historical integrity and original design elements * Improving aesthetics and visual impacts * Upgrading to meet the challenges of new technology in playing equipment. * Improving value and staying competitive in the marketplace * Attracting local, regional or national tournaments.

Obviously, any course needs periodic modifications to maintain its quality. And most great, older courses have been remodeled to some extent. Managers at these facilities realize that to be a great course for their golfers' tomorrow, then changes may be necessary today.

Contrary to what many golfers believe, courses are not static. "Timeless" landscape features slowly change, and problems evolve. While all of the previous characteristics are important reasons for making changes, remember that safety should still be your ultimate concern. Dangerous areas exist on older golf courses that place the golfer at risk of being struck by an errant shot, and you must correct these situations. Today, then, golf-course architects place an increasing emphasis on safety and liability design issues. These criteria for safety are important to the owner, the golfer and the architect.

Attracting-and keeping-golfers Golf courses not only deteriorate physically, but they also deteriorate in the minds of the golfers. A newer, nearby golf facility can lure potential new members and your most loyal daily-fee player. Thus, updating your course can bring back excitement to tees and fairways that-over the years-may have become predictable. Several play-oriented reasons for renovations are: * Providing additional interest and challenge (you may need to improve situations that are unfair to golfers and to their ability to play that hole; for example, you should remove currently unavoidable hazards on holes' primary landing zones) * Modifying features to increase the pace of play * Adjusting the course due to encroaching land uses * Changing aspects to reduce maintenance costs and time (without adversely affecting character and play).

In many situations, determining the improvements to complete is academic. On others, you must make a subjective judgment of what to change and what to leave alone. Don't try to make the course different-instead, make it better. Regardless of a facility's history and function, you should continually strive to improve it. Use the landscape's existing features and build upon that framework for the remodeling's design. Imposing dramatic mounding or other modern features may be tempting, but these features generally will detract from the course's original design and identity. Instead, the best design features are subtle and often undetectable as renovations .

Differences between remodeling, renovating, restoring and expanding The design challenge in course renovation is to make the course better for all players-the high handicapper and the scratch golfer. It also means maintaining the beauty and character of the course and the individual holes. Projects typically fall within one of the following categories: remodeling, renovating, restoring or expanding.

Remodeling is a total revitalization of a course's design to greatly enhance the golf experience. Factors to consider for remodeling may be: * Hazards no longer in play * Better golf-equipment technology, which has produced better golfers * Unsafe playing conditions due to improper setbacks or outside development * Uninteresting and unchallenging design.

Renovating involves making technical improvements and updating certain components of the golf course. New advances in construction technology make it advantageous to address: * Subgrade or drainage problems * Poorly constructed greens causing drainage problems, compaction, wear and disease * Worn tees, bunkers, greens or fairways that diminish the course's overall attractiveness and playability.

Restoring involves taking a classic design and restoring it to its original state. Bunkers, tees and greens change over years of maintenance. Thus, you occasionally must restore them to their original concepts.

Expanding a course typically addresses crowded playing conditions, safety concerns, creating more real-estate frontages or expanding the membership base.

A generation ago the buzz words for the design industry were renovation and modernization. Today, the trend is to classical restoration. This movement aims to preserve the architectural heritage of golf courses across America. Working in this cause is a handful of younger architects whose primary concern is less to impose their signatures on a course than to bring out its native subtlety and charm. The true allure of the classical courses, which currently make up the inventory of many of the nation's finest private clubs, is that their creators knew how to use land well. Design consisted of how to integrate the golf hole into the beauty of the land's natural topography. They designed the greens, tees and bunkers to fit into what Mother Nature offered-rather than forcing these features to meet the architect's personal design characteristics.

Tiny steps ensure huge improvements Before even considering specific changes to your course, carefully analyze your existing course, as well as study what to improve and why. This process can be difficult, because the problems and the solutions may seem unclear. However, an experienced golf-course architect can listen to your concerns, identify the required areas of improvement and offer solutions. For example, he or she can answer how to begin the process by preparing a master plan. The master plan then will put everything into perspective.

Once you commit to the project, your next step is to assemble the planning team. Key members of this team should include you, the superintendent, as well as the architect, individuals from the Greens Committee, the golf professional and the operations manager. It is important that you assemble this team and maintain it throughout the remodeling process. Because the architect will become the key figure in working with the remodeling committee to define and achieve its goals, it is critical that the committee's and architect's philosophies are compatible to ensure the project's long-term success.

The remodeling master plan is the tool that ensures you remodel the course in the best manner, thereby reducing subsequent and costly additional work or rework. The master plan's ultimate purpose is to make full use of all available land and features in a logical and coordinated manner. The plan provides for a totally integrated facility where playing areas and amenities do not compete for space. Finally, the master plan enables the planning team to prepare for future expansion.

As you prepare the master plan, you must decide about construction phasing. In many situations, a facility is either unable or unwilling to completely close the entire golf-course facility during construction and grow in. Therefore, you must initiate careful planning and analysis to determine a logical and cost-effective sequencing of all the proposed work. It is at this time that the architect can provide innumerable and valuable insight, helping you to avoid costly mistakes and short-term repairs.

Simple renovations can transform golf holes with minimal interest into golf holes of challenge and intrigue. For example, you can renovate that straight par-4-which offers little or no thought from tee to green-into one with directional features and strategically placed hazards that require an accurate tee shot. This tee shot may not necessarily be one of power, but instead it insists on finesse and accuracy. Or you can create multiple-tee construction to add variety and playability to your course for all levels of golfing ability. You can make greens larger and more accepting to the approach shot, but you still can offer golfers a challenge by surrounding the green with appropriately placed hazards that define and highlight the green complex. These challenges offer golfers the additional gamble of making sure they are accurate in choosing the proper club, placing the shot and creating an overall strategy. Suddenly, with these types of changes, the non-descript par-4 hole that a golfer routinely played with no recollection now becomes one of his or her favorite golf holes at the course.

Donald L. Childs is a golf-course architect who has been in professional practice since 1970. He is responsible for many new and renovated golf-course-design projects over his 28-year career. Mark M. Fruehan is an 18-year veteran of private-club management and provides financial and management consulting services to new and existing golf-course operations. Both authors work at Don Childs Associates (Sylvan Lake, Mich.).

Answering yes to one or more of the questions below indicates potential problems with course design or engineering. Developing a master plan that defines the renovation objectives is critical. Expect that it will undergo many revisions before being completed. The ultimate gauge of success is when golfers of all abilities crowd the course again.

1. Improvements in golf equipment over the last 25 years have created better golfers. Are many of your course hazards no longer in play? 2. Are playing conditions unsafe due to improper setbacks between features on the course or outside development? 3. Is your course uninteresting because the original design lacked variety in length, par, shot values and strategy? Is it simply unchallenging? 4. Do you have drainage problems that often cause the course to close or contribute to poor turf growth and other problems? 5. Are your greens poorly designed and constructed causing poor drainage, compaction, worn turf and other problems? 6. Do you have problems growing healthy grass because of an inferior irrigation system? 7. Are your tees, bunkers, greens or fairways looking worn, detracting from the aesthetics of the course? 8. Does your course need practice facilities such as a driving range, practice green and bunker, or instruction areas?

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