Howie Dozit asks, ‘As a golf course owner, what should I expect from a long-term master plan?’

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer

When you start a master plan, your golf course architect will probably work off a short letter agreement detailing their services and your responsibilities as owner. You’ll obtain design information, including aerial photo/topographical maps showing property lines, existing buildings, utilities, trees, etc., and environmental information like wetlands, floodplains and soils.

The architect will guide a sequential process, with input and approvals by the club or course, starting an evaluation of your site, goals, schedule, construction options and budget. Knowing finances up front avoids wasting everyone’s time making design proposals beyond your ability to pay.

Then, he prepares schematic rerouting studies (if your course needs any rerouting) to maximize its potential. Upon approval, he’ll propose feature designs for tees, greens, fairways, lakes, hazards, drainage, cart paths, grassing and landscaping, etc., as needed. While the architect may have ideas for the clubhouse, maintenance and parking and entry areas, he is usually not responsible for their final design. You’ll likely go through several plan revisions before the greens committee approves it. Some greens committees have trouble reaching consensus, and it costs money to redraw plans, so most architects limit how many studies they’ll do before charging you for “supplemental services.”

When all is agreed to, you’ll get an illustrative plan. This is the beautiful, colored plan that you often see in clubhouses. While someone is guaranteed to say, “They hung the master plan, because they couldn’t find the architect,” by this time, the plan should incorporate the features your club desired most.

Some clubs stop at the “pretty picture,” but a full master plan goes further, either plunging into a complete renovation, or setting the stage for long-term improvements, with written descriptions of, with the reasoning and benefits behind the proposed changes to help avoid “whimsical changes” made by later greens committees, which was the original idea of having a golf course architect involved in the first place!

If the renovation program will take several years, a phasing plan should detail which improvements should be undertaken each year. This is usually driven by most pressing need, but can be dictated by construction efficiency. For example, if the master plan calls for new irrigation lakes, it makes sense to use fill from digging the lake to construct other nearby features, rather than to haul good dirt off and then pay a premium to haul more in later. Phasing plans can identify small projects the superintendent can do while waiting for “big projects” to be funded, like plant turf nurseries, landscape areas, or even provide for “permanent” temporary greens when other greens are out of play, knowing they will fit the final course configuration.

Most architects are adept at estimating construction cost, using similar projects, your scope of work, amount of in-house work vs. contracted work, and your phasing program to determine total costs. You’ll find that smaller projects cost more “per unit” than large ones, and that you will want to over-commit your crew, but they’ll still have a golf course to maintain, so don’t. (If you know how to be in two places at once, please e-mail me.)

The last phase is the presentation, as active “selling” is critical to a successful vote by the membership. This requires effort from key club members. The wildest rumors don’t start in Roswell, N.M., but in grill rooms! Most architects are accomplished at explaining their proposals, often using Power Point and 3-D graphic presentations to convey the “new look.” Combine this with active “marketing” by the greens committee and board, and the membership should allow the presentation to pass.

Of course, then the real fun or re-construction begins!

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