Hedin D. Rooftops asks, ‘What is a safe golf course corridor width within housing?’

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer

Many older courses feature houses that seem comfortably removed from the golf course, even if they don’t meet current standards. Many courses’ holes have 275-foot corridors with little conflict with surrounding housing. A combination of mature trees, golf design, housing architecture and other factors allow an adequate degree of safety. This illustrates that there is no substitute for site-specific design.

Corridors that were 275 feet wide were common in the 1950s era. By the late 1960s, many proposed 300 feet as an adequate corridor for a single golf hole. By the late 1980s, generally accepted corridor width had increased to 325 or 350 feet. We have recently designed projects with corridors of 375 and 400 feet. This is now considered the ultimate for maximum housing safety, but most projects are still executed with 300- to 350-foot corridor width, and most are very safe, depending on the specifics of the site design.

The trend to wider golf corridors within housing developments is driven by several factors.

Trends to smaller lots (on account of land prices) lower home maintenance – especially in active adult communities – and more home amenities like pools and patios have led to more intensive backyard use. Formerly, larger backyards were considered part of the houses’ safety buffer. With smaller lots, creating a similar safety buffer means the golf course itself must be widened.

Developers no longer assume master plan land-use allocations will be in force throughout the build-out of the project, as housing markets change. What is anticipated to be a large single-family lot may, in fact, eventually become a multi-family or apartment parcel, with people then regularly closer to the fairway.

Lawsuits – as unpopular as they are – do serve to raise standards. The legal responsibility has always been to keep a “preponderance” of errant golf shots out of surrounding areas – which is a vague definition. However, individual court decisions have re-defined that threshold upwards, and developers have responded.

Publication of "standards" by various authors provides an “expert” legal opinion as to "substandard" golf courses, and provide the best argument for a developer selecting corridors that meet or exceed the generally agreed upon standards. If 350 feet is now the accepted standard corridor, slightly exceeding that standard – perhaps 360 or 375 feet – is defensible in court and provides protection against rising future standards.

Providing for safety through more generous golf course land allocation and buffers reduces developable land but may create better real-estate value. USA Today reported dissatisfaction in golf communities with obvious conflicts between golfers and surrounding residents. Homebuyers are now more likely to be able to judge potential conflict areas before buying. Of course, it is possible to place housing so far from golf that the desired view creation is nullified and this must be considered, too.

Little scientific study has been done for corridor width requirements in housing situations. However, the United States Golf Association did study ball dispersion on a public course, and many golf course architects have conducted informal studies. Most determine that the preponderance of golf shots land within 150 feet of either side of the fairway centerline under normal conditions. These suggest that the 1970s-era standard of 300 feet is adequate. In fact, many developers still adopt 300- to 325-foot corridor width – with 150 feet from centerline to property line on the hook side, and 175-foot distance to the slice side, allowing greater margin of error for the majority of golfers who slice.

Of course, the design is best if site specific to provide a safe and valuable community. Modifying factors which may affect the design for a new golf course include wind conditions, topographical differentials, and tree cover, to name a few.

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.