The Construction of the Second Golf Course at Giants Ridge - Part 4

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer

Planning a golf course is always fun, but getting started in construction is the ultimate "high." It's great seeing your ideas spring from paper (or from the computer screen) into three dimensions.

Construction follows a predictable sequence, with certain operations necessarily completed before the next begins. After moving in, the first order of business is to mark out all environmentally sensitive areas that must be avoided totally - often putting up steel cable to keep bulldozers and trucks out. Then, all tree-clearing lines are flagged with brightly colored tape - head high so that machinery operators can easily see them.

Use of several colors is necessary, especially when there are parallel holes. I once came back after lunch to find that the dozers had cleared the buffer areas BETWEEN parallel fairways while leaving the fairways wooded, all because they didn't understand the markings. It's difficult to stand those trees back up!

Our plans provide detailed clearing instructions, but clearing is best determined in the field by examining every individual tree anywhere near proposed fairways. We spend a lot of energy getting clearing lines just right, but I didn't realize how much until doing a course for a "veteran" project manager. He commented that his last architect simply wanted 200-foot clearing, and flagged 100 feet either side of the staked centerline. The whole process on that job may have taken a few days, whereas he noted we were getting only a few holes marked each week.

My assistant and I carefully delineated gently curvilinear clearing lines, working in tandem. If we found a particularly fine tree, which we did often on that wooded site, we would rework the entire line. The same was true if we found one that might influence the play of the hole. Given their importance, I always determine final clearing lines. When trees are cleared in naturalistic lines that harmonize with the topography, they can really add 'character' to the backdrop of a hole that a golfer notices, even if he can't identify exactly why it makes an impression on him. And I can say with confidence that I carefully considered the quality and location of every tree on every course I've ever designed before deciding its fate.

Early Scottish courses were built on treeless land. Transplanted Scots were not used to trees on golf courses, and when designing early courses in America usually cleared them so wide that the trees became merely backdrops. Gradually, course architects adapted to the American landscape. The use of trees for strategy is largely an American invention. Trees do have one major strategic function that no other hazard can supply. Ground hazards - such as sand bunkers, grass bunkers, mounds and creeks - can suggest a shot pattern. Only trees, with a vertical dimension, can force a shot pattern.

When we desire a certain shot pattern, we locate trees about 200 yards from the championship tee, gently encroaching into the outer third (right side to encourage fade, left to encourage hooks) of the fairway. Physics dictates that the maximum curve of the golf ball comes 60-70 percent through its flight, so this gives the golfer the best chance to negotiate the hazard. Where possible, it's best if the encroaching tree is on the 'downwind' side of the fairway, so the golfer can use the wind to help his ball around the tree.

Trees can be similarly placed 70 percent of the distance from the landing area to the green to affect the approach. Trees can also encroach about 320 to 350 yards off the tee, where they may affect the approach after a careless tee shot to the wrong side of the fairway. And, since they aren't in play, the hazard they present is not always obvious to the golfer - at least without experience or careful thought.

Other important considerations for tree clearing, seldom concerning golfers, are the need to maintain sunlight and breeze circulation for optimum turf growth. There is a saying among golf superintendents: You can grow grass or trees, but never both! It's best to save trees on the north and west sides of the fairways because it is most important to get the eastern to southern morning sun to the fairway for turf growth.

Once, when interviewing for a renovation project, I was asked if I could save a large, messy cottonwood tree on the southeast side of the 4th green. Its roots competed for moisture, and its heavy leaves blocked most of the sunlight - a sure combination for a struggling green, which now needed rebuilding. My answer? "Sure, just tell me where to stack the logs!" For some reason, I was not engaged for that particular project, a victim of honesty. But I'm sure the club eventually took down the offending tree, even if they found an architect to tell them what they wanted to hear.

The clever architect blends artistry, strategy and sound turf management, accounting for all when developing the clearing plan. Generally:

North/south holes must be cleared wider than east/west holes because sun can hit them relatively fewer hours per day.
Clearing for wind circulation is just as important. We often cut 'chutes' through the trees to allow in prevailing breezes, combining them with cart-path clearing to disguise them, where possible.
Brushing also helps air movement. You know how you feel in a low area without a breeze - well, the grass feels the same way!
Bunkers, fairway mounds and even cart paths are often located on the east side of the fairway to 'take up the space' created by clearing on the east side.

Clearing width should match irrigation spacing - generally in 70-foot rows. A double-row system waters approximately 150 feet effectively (which is narrow). A triple-row waters 225 feet (which is medium width), and a quadruple-row system waters 280 feet. A golf hole can effectively combine double, triple and quadruple systems, to provide desired curvilinear, artistic tree lines. Wide clearing provides play options for the accomplished player, and breathing room for the erratic one. Wide clearing at tees allows golfers to start either a hook or fade, allows sunlight into the turf, and presents a good view down the hole. A narrow chute of trees is seldom as attractive as a wider one that provides a clear view.

The actual clearing needed varies considerably throughout the United States. At Giants Ridge, this is an especially critical issue as the sun angles are considerably lower in the north. The fact that most trees are pines, which don't drop leaves, also makes clearing essential. This really limits morning sun, and in early spring can lead to frost-induced delays in play.

To minimize frost delays, the early greens (1-3 and 10-12) will have especially wide clearing so the early-morning spring sun melts away frost and dew. Greens that play later in the day have more time to warm up.

I hope we don't have the same problem clearing we had on the first course at Giant's Ridge, where a 'squatter' with a hunting cabin in the woods chained himself to a tree, delaying clearing for several hours! Until next time . . .