The Fifth Question Comes from Ms. Elle Vate, Who Lives in Denver:

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer

“My club's greens are much higher than the fairways. When I miss, my shots roll down a slope, recovery is difficult, and my score – and blood pressure – rise! Can we lower the greens?”


If your club's name contains the words creek, valley or river, if you see a creek or river on the property, or your clubhouse has a picture of the "great flood of 19XX," your course lies partly in a floodplain, where laws limit structures to minimize economic loss. Golf greens have value, so your architect probably raised them to reduce damage by floods and silt deposits.

Engineers (the calculator kind, not train runners) determine flood levels, using computer programs that I don't understand. When engineers aren't available, I estimate flood levels, using less accurate methods I do understand, such as looking at flood insurance maps, at the land (where broad, flat areas border streams, ending at a steeper bank, which is the approximate flood limit) or railroad and highway bridges, which are usually above flood levels.

Engineers describe flood levels in terms of 10-, 25-, 50- and 100-year storms. In any year, floodwaters have a 10%, 4%, 2% and 1% chance, respectively, of reaching those particular levels.

Golf course architects usually raise greens to 50 or 100-year flood protection, tees to 25- or 10-year levels, and fairways to 2- to 10-year levels, if we have enough fill material. Some tees and fairways have no defense against floods.

Compensatory storage regulations prevent increasing drainage downstream from its natural condition, further limiting how much we can fill. We must provide as much flood storage capacity by cutting as much earth (usually to build lakes) in floodplains as add while building mounds, bunkers, tees and greens.

Attaining exact flood protection is not critical, as flooding every 49 years isn't much different from every 50. We also balance the problems of everyday difficulty – which you encountered – versus the periodic rebuilding, knowing that clubs typically rebuild greens on a 12- to 15-year schedule. Raising greens for maximum flood protection probably delays, but not avoids rebuilding your greens.

Even on upland portions of your golf course, the elevation of the greens probably has more to do with construction expediency than design philosophy.

In gently rolling topography, greens fit most naturally, cost least to construct, and disrupt fewer trees, if built near the vertical middle of gentle slopes. This is the 12th at The Legend Course at Giants Ridge, in Biwabik, Minn.

Greens built midway up (say 5 of the 10 feet) gentle up-slopes, allow construction with bulldozers, balancing earth cuts and fills right on site, rather than hauling additional fill from elsewhere, as is the case in the floodplain greens. From a playability standpoint, only one side or the other will be substantially lower than the green elevation, which you can figure in your shot strategy.

The 3rd green at Springhouse Golf Club at Opryland, in Nashville, Tenn., sits in the floodplain astride the Cumberland River. We elevated this short par-3 green above 100-year flood levels, using fill from the wetland created just in front of the green, which also provides compensatory flood storage.