M. Portant asks, ‘What is the most critical part of a golf course to remodel?’

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer

That depends on the immediate needs of a course. As we have discussed, if you are losing members, there may be a temptation to invest on the surface items – new greens, tees, or bunkers – for a better look. Shiny new courses have proven to increase play, dues, fees, etc. Sometimes, not upgrading is paramount to continuing the death spiral.

However, it’s just as important to invest in the invisible parts of your golf course, to make the visible elements look good. Sure, we all like the “shiny new model,” and aesthetic improvements can reverse stagnant play for a while. But without the proper infrastructure, it will be just as – wait, make that more — difficult to maintain the course than in the past. It’s like expecting new dining room wallpaper, rather than kitchen investment, to help the chef cook better meals. While it’s a “harder sell” for many courses, aesthetics should be addressed only after you have built or rebuilt a golf course with “good bones.”

It might help to cast it as “intelligent investing” which should yield a good return. I often use the old sales ploy of “just pennies a day” to justify certain costs. I would feel bad, if it weren’t so true.

For example, in proposing cart-path curbing at a facility, I estimated the cost at $25,000 and $2,000 annually in debt. I asked the superintendent how much he would spend annually roping and re-sodding near tees and greens. Not surprisingly, the figure was quite a bit higher, so the cost of curbs was easily justified. Typically, a dollar spent on cart paths, drainage and irrigation is almost always a dollar saved down the line. And, in many cases, every year further down the line.

It’s hard to recommend specific changes to every course because each is different. But it’s easy to say that your Master Plan for improvements is not as the pretty picture on the clubhouse wall – it’s really the collaborative process that develops that picture. While there is no single “right” way to approach renovation, in terms of style, there is a “right” way to complete the Master Plan process. Each club must achieve a consensus, and club leadership must unite behind that consensus and Master Plan to be successful. Obviously, that can be difficult in the best of circumstances.

Some clubs would do best to remodel their decision-making structure. Some clubs have had more ambushes at voting meetings than Bonnie and Clyde! Often, I would rather answer questions from “60 Minutes,” or the IRS than face ornery members. Too often, some seem more intent on disrupting the program than doing good. Whether members have clashing personalities, or are seeking payback for old disputes, or are just drunk at the meetings, it’s called “club politics.”

The good news is, most of these situations arise because members truly love their course and agree it would be terrible to make a major renovation mistake. Some greens committees legitimately “learn as they go.” They come out of their first Master Plan united only in the opinion that they “need a mulligan” by virtue of knowledge gained in the process. The bad news is that, like Democrats and Republicans on the national political scene, that’s about all they agree on!

In these cost-conscious days, “intelligent investment” and “structured process” should be the mantras for golf courses new and old. Design styles come and go, but good infrastructure and decision-making will never go out of style. Let’s drink to that, but stay sober at committee meetings!

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.