Q. How Big Should Greens Be for Maintenance?

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer

While there are no firm rules on green size for playability, in the end there is a minimum size for good maintenance, which also has an effect on play variety.

The axiom of "form follows function" is far more important on the maintenance side of green size. And, as the old commercial says, "You can't fool Mother Nature," so I figure, "why even try?" Given that all golfers eventually end up at the hole (except those who pick up) these are the 18 most-trafficked area of the course. Only the practice tee sees more concentrated wear.

As a result, the cup areas inevitably have stress in a 3- to 5-foot radius around the hole by the end of a busy day. The typical recovery time varies from 14 to 21 days, and is influenced by:

Turf type (Bermuda recovering faster that bent)
Season (summer recovers faster than spring and fall)
Play levels (light play recovers faster than heavy play . . . and for that matter, maybe light players cause less damage than heavy ones!)
Maintenance practices (with aggressive cultural practices allowing faster recovery time than more passive ones).

The well-designed green has at least 14 and preferably at least 21 suitable 10-foot-diameter pin locations. Some busy public courses with lower maintenance budgets and less aggressive procedures would benefit from up to 30 pin locations. Low-play courses might figure the concentrated-damage area as small as 6 feet in diameter, and some superintendents use the 8-foot flagstick height to set "damage diameters," making the pin a handy unit of measure for minimum spacing from a previous hole location.

I am always amazed at the resourcefulness of superintendents who keep acceptable greens with far fewer pin placements. However, most architects design for the 14 to 30 pin spots required using the larger 10-foot damage-diameter area, because greens shrink over time, and this allows for that. Each green needs a 10-foot buffer around the cupping areas to account for the 10-foot minimum distance to set the cup from the edges, a collar (usually 2 to 5 feet wide), and another 2 to 5 feet for inevitable green shrinkage.

Simple math shows that for a six-pin rotation system, and trying to attain 18 cup setting areas, a 10-foot buffer (including 3 feet of collar) takes a rectangle of 50 x 90 feet, or about 4,500 square feet. Since greens tend to be more oval in shape, a bit more width and length is required, or about 56 x 100 feet. With subtractions for the oval, this equates to about 5,000 square feet.

So, how big should greens be for maintenance?

For private clubs with great maintenance, five pin areas and 15 cup settings may be sufficient, or greens totaling 50 x 80 ovals, or about 4,320 square feet.

For most courses, six pin areas and 18 cup settings may be sufficient, or a minimum green size of 55 x 100 ovals, or about 5,000 square feet. For the busiest public courses, greens should probably be even larger, probably no less than 6,000 square feet, to account for more pin rotation.

These are minimum sizes, presuming a basically flat green. Since most greens have some steeper slopes, dips and ridges that usually are not suitable for pin placements, nearly all greens should be 25 percent larger or more.

The general rule is the more contour a green has, the more size it needs. There are 8,000-square-foot greens with virtually no cup space at today's green speeds!

Jeffrey D. Brauer began his career as an apprentice in the Chicago area in 1977. His first project was Kemper Lakes, which shortly after hosted the 1989 PGA Championship. He formed GolfScapes in Arlington, Texas, in 1984. In the last 29 years he has designed and consulted on a wide spectrum of projects, ranging from partial renovations to international resorts. His recent work includes teaming with the design team of Pascuzzo and Pate on a remodel of the world-famous La Costa Resort & Spa in California, and renovations at Superior National Golf Course in Lutsen, Minn., and Mesquite Municipal Golf Course in Mesquite, Texas.

He has been a member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects since 1981, serving as President during its 50th Anniversary year in 1995-96. Jeff still studies the classic works - both old and new, and has played more than 75 of the best courses in the world.

Jeff gives many presentations and is a regular architecture columnist for many publications and websites, including Golf Course Industry and Cybergolf.com. He has also been a strong advocate for the "Tee it Forward" campaign and strives to make his courses fit the description of "fun to play every day."

Jeff's work has been spotlighted in most of the world's major golf magazines. Golf World ranked him as one of the top-20 golf course architects and Golf Inc. ranked him as the world's fourth-best value in golf architecture in 2010. Jeff's portfolio and reputation keep him at the forefront of desired designers for new courses, reconstruction and renovation projects.

For more about Jeff, visit http://www.jeffreydbrauer.com/sites/courses/layout.asp?id=859&page=48451.