Jaqueline Hyde asks, ‘Do you generally re-route a course when you remodel it?’

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer

The first thing a renovating club must decide is whether substantial re-routing of the golf course is feasible, necessary and/or practical. Not long ago, I interviewed at an old club who insisted they wanted to reroute for length. The winning architect went against the grain – arguing that big changes would destroy character much more than additional length could add. Normally, I have a predisposition against major re-routing of the golf course, and wished I had stuck to that theory in the interview!

Based on my experience and case-by-case cost/benefit analysis, I would say the answer is usually “No.” Unless you have dozens of current members clamoring for it, dozens of negative survey cards from prospective members, or several magazine reviews saying, “It would be a Top 10 course in the state, if only it were longer,” then I would seriously question whether major changes are in order. Sometimes, the need to attract “young blood” is paramount, and distance is an issue. Even then, sane people could question whether to spend a bazillion dollars to improve the course for a half dozen low handicappers?

Most club members love their course, often ranking it unrealistically high in quality, because they have many good memories there. While these memories usually stem in equal parts from friendships, great shots, or competitions won or lost, they get assigned in the folder “design quality.” Throw in the typical comfortableness with the status quo, the fact that major re-routings cost more money than in-place renovations, and save more trees that everyone likes to hug, and re-routings are rare, but not nonexistent.

In many cases, re-routing is absolutely necessary because of land loss (or gain) due to highway expansion, ability to sell land for housing, etc. (Sadly, in 2006 I have been commissioned to do some “de-routings,” i.e., find ways to put houses over soon-to-be-defunct golf courses. I hate it, but it’s a growth area of the business.) In other cases, clubs want to add length, improve safety (usually after a threatened lawsuit), or just blow up some unpopular holes. (Those are holes that are tough to play either by a majority of the members or by the current greens chairman.) Hey, most golfers are frustrated golf course architects!

The general rule of thumb is that it is much less expensive to rebuild the course in place than it is to re-route it. It’s easy to pick on the perceived problems of a course, but it’s also wise to remember that it must have some good qualities if it has lasted long enough to require some renovations. If a course just needs some “tweaks,” it’s hard to justify rebuilding the irrigation or removing mature trees to pick up a few hundred yards of length.

The reason is that your course has a lot of infrastructure that is very expensive to replace. This includes truly irreplaceable mature trees (plus the cost of clearing new hole corridors at more than $20,000 per hole), irrigation systems ($90,000 per hole) drainage (about $20,000 per hole), cart paths (about $30,000 per hole), and turf (about $50,000 per hole, if sodded), etc.

So, the cost of re-routing a golf course goes up faster than dry prairie grass with a match when you re-route, and may exceed the cost of a new course.

Rebuilding tees and greens within the same fairway corridors effectively solves many problems and it’s usually possible to add some length and improve holes with some slight “re-positioning” of a few greens and tees. Of course, there are always exceptions, but in the club-renovation arena, you are not allowed to make that mistake once . . . so tread carefully before blowing up a perfectly good golf course.

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.