Raymond Hearn Published Article


Page Two

CASE STUDY #2: “Why didn’t we think of this before we started construction?”

The facts of this case study can be heartbreaking, but the sequence of events is by no means unprecedented. Again, as with the above example, this could have been prevented with a long-range master plan.

Here, a highly reputed public facility in the Midwest found it was losing rounds each year. Feedback from customers indicated that the course was perceived as a bit shopworn, particularly in relation to newer courses in the area that were eroding its market share. Management responded with a major initiative that included rebuilt tee boxes and a new irrigation system. Unfortunately, without oversight by a design professional and a master plan, these costly revisions were not money well spent. For one thing, the new tee boxes were both misaligned and petrified as a result of improper construction; what’s more, their placement failed to capitalize on the chance to appeal to players of varying skill levels – a point they recognized when I later reviewed the revisions and recommended that the tees be redone.

More dire was the inadequacy of the new irrigation system, built at a cost of some $750,000, much of which had to be dug up and reinstalled for reasons that would have been evident in light of a master plan. Specifically, these included the relocation or reconfiguration of green complexes, bunkers, and fairways, both to improve the course’s strategic quality and to promote healthy turfgrass. In turn, my master plan included a tree plan that not only facilitated routine maintenance but improved the golf experience by eliminating excessively tight playing corridors and obstructed views of such course features as landing areas, bunkers, and even greens.

Their comment was, “Wow, we should have hired you in the first place so that improvements could have been better planned.” All told, poorly planned and/or constructed alterations to the course cost roughly $225,000 to redo correctly – an emphatic argument for a professionally prepared long-range master plan.

CASE STUDY #3—“Our bunkers simply don’t work.”

Focusing on a popular resort on the East Coast for which I am currently preparing a long-range master plan, this is an object lesson in such a plan’s usefulness to order priorities for course improvements. It began with a board member’s dissatisfaction with the condition of the sand in the course’s bunkers.

He therefore instructed the superintendent to remove all the existing sand and replace it with an expensive variety that had to be trucked to the site. Once again, this was done despite the expressed misgivings of the superintendent, who judged the deficiency was a consequence of the bunkers’ subsurface drainage system rather than the sand itself.

One year later, I was commissioned to improve shot values and strategic intrigue on a hole-by-hole basis. With these goals in mind, the Club agreed to a comprehensive master plan for the entire golf course. And one of my first and most important findings was that the positioning of bunkers was, almost without exception, obsolete – not really surprising, since the original design dated to1960, before the advent of longer balls and clubs. Thus, the bunker placements had become largely decorative and no longer strategic. The board member who had authorized the superfluous replacement of the sand is no longer at the resort; regrettably, neither is the $215,000 required to complete the job.

Bunkers and tee boxes have now been arranged so that the course is as enjoyable a golfing challenge in 2006 as when it opened in 1960. Still, a little consideration of the facility’s long-term objectives – surely improved golf club and ball technology already existed two years prior, when the sand was replaced – would have gone a long way.

Superintendents often ask me if their course needs a master plan. My answer is simply, if you plan on making any changes or improvements to the golf course – or you even think this is a possibility, and it virtually always is – then you need a master plan. To reiterate, good design is comparatively inexpensive. Construction – especially redundant construction – is expensive work. But the benefits of a long-range master plan are many and money is only part of the equation. A master-plan document is a significant tool for the golf course superintendent in making sure that everyone at the club is “on the same page” in terms of future improvements to the golf course. It’s money in the bank from both a fiscal and a diplomatic point of view.

In order to ensure the master plan is the best that it can be, contact a practicing golf course architect and secure a price to complete such a study. You and your Club will be glad you did. True, the future is ultimately unpredictable, but there is much to be said for thinking past the present, not to mention doing it right the first time. The condition of the tee box was only symptomatic of the difficulties at work.

The author, Raymond Hearn, is a member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects and also heads the firm of Raymond Hearn Golf Course Designs (www.rhgd.com) located in Holland, Michigan.

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