Faye Slift asks, ‘When should our club remodel?’

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer

Generally, it’s easier to start in daylight, so the construction workers can see what they are doing!

Also, it’s generally easier to start before an unpredictable disaster – like floods or freeze – damages the course, or when a predictable decline in course condition or popularity takes place. The best facilities have a long-term commitment to maintaining their courses in “top shape.” This often starts with a Master Plan, anticipating the need to stay current in the marketplace. Your competition will build a “better mousetrap.” You may need a Master Plan if:

* Your tee sheets/membership lists aren’t full.

* You can’t raise dues/fees and attract new members/players.

* Your superintendent spends more time fixing your course than maintaining it.

* Guests comment, “This course was great in its heyday.”

* Your fairways are indistinguishable from your swimming pool for lack of drainage.

* Your sprinklers are mistaken for water fountains.

* Your cart paths are mistaken for a Civil War road.

You get the idea, but many courses don’t recognize their own decline early enough, and need to play catch-up. Unlike buildings, where shifting foundations or leaky roofs are painfully obvious, golf courses’ problems are often ignored. Many think golf courses are “natural,” and take care of themselves. In many cases, the superintendent masks problems too well by keeping the course in great shape.

I recently contracted to remodel a course that had no substantial work since it was built in 1917. I would say it was overdue for both a facelift and infrastructure improvements.

Clubs that have invested substantially in the past may mistakenly believe that they are “set for life.” But, your club should plan for recurring infrastructure costs. That’s right, recurring costs. The “life expectancy” of golf course components and elements is well short of forever, as summarized by the ASGCA, with a few additional personal observations:

• USGA greens – 15-30 years.
• Other sand-based greens – 15 years.
• Bunker sand – 5-7 years.
• Irrigation system (good quality) 20-25 years.
• Irrigation system (lower quality) 15-20 years.
• PVC irrigation pipe under pressure – 15-30 years.
• Cart paths (asphalt) 5-10 years.
• Cart paths (concrete) 15-30 years (or longer).
• Practice range tees – 5-10 years.
• Tees – 15-20 years.
• Major drain pipes (PVC) – 15 years.
• Major drain pipes (corrugated metal) — 15 years.
• Bunker drain pipes - 5-10 years.
• Mulch – 1-3 years.

I hate to say it, but I have been around long enough to see a few “completed life cycles.” Things wear out (like me) and need to be replaced (like an ex-spouse)!

Rising maintenance standards, whether self-imposed or brought on by competition, often require upgrading infrastructure in place of repair. The old adage that “if it is worth doing, it’s worth doing right the first time” may not have been coined for golf course construction, but it certainly applies. Spending a bit more actually saves funds in the long run. Some prime examples are:

• Cart paths
o Use concrete, not asphalt.
o Build 5-inch-thick, not 4-inch-thick.
o Use reinforcement and stable base.
• Irrigation — Use bigger pipe to:
o Lower velocities (doubling its service life).
o Allow for expansion.
• Drainage
o Properly install plastic drain pipes on gravel beds to avoid crushing.
o Use large pipes.
o Place pipes deep for future lateral expansion.
• Use USGA (or similar) greens construction.
• Turf — Replace contaminated turf with new varieties.

When should you remodel? As real-estate agents say, “There’s never a better time than now.”

Jeffrey D. Brauer and his firm, GolfScapes, have designed 40 golf courses and remodeled 80. Canterberry Golf Course in Parker, Colo., and Giants Ridge are rated among the best affordable public courses in the United States, while his Avocet Course at Wild Wing Plantation in Myrtle Beach, S.C., was a Golf Digest best new course winner, Champions Country Club is rated 5th in Nebraska and TangleRidge Golf Club is 12th in Texas. President of the American Society of Golf Course Architects during its 50th anniversary year in 1995-96, Brauer also designed Colbert Hills Golf Club at Kansas State, which opened in June 2000 as the cornerstone golf course for The First Tee program as well as the first collaboration between the PGA of America and Golf Course Superintendents Association of America. To contact Jeff, call him at 817-640-7275 or send him an email at jeff@jeffreydbrauer.com.