The Guiding Design Objects at the Quarry - Part 12

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer

Editor's Note: This is the 12th installment of golf course architect Jeffrey D. Brauer's ongoing journal about construction of the second course at Giants Ridge in Biwabik, Minn., called The Quarry at Giants Ridge. Here, he discusses the principles, philosophies, and ideas that rule his designs.

It's a Sod, Sod Story: A Supreme Insurance Policy

I just scheduled my next trip to the Northlands of Minnesota for next week. I look forward to a bit warmer trip than last time, when I bought long underwear to wear under my long underwear! The late-spring cold snap actually helped earthmoving at our Fortune Bay project, but at the Quarry we are awaiting the drier, warmer weather required for finishing operations.

Just because there is no construction work, it doesn't mean the architect has nothing to do. We are still emailing, phoning, and meeting in preparation for the resumption of work. Specifically, we are in budget meetings. We feel comfortable in spending most of the contingency budget, as we are past most of the possible budget surprises likely on a golf course, and still have yet to dip into our reserve fund. In this case, I recommended, and the owner's representative agreed, to spend most of it on sod, sod, and more sod!

Had I used my "insider information" as a golf course architect, I would have invested in some sod farms in the last decade. When I entered the golf design business (I think Fred Flintstone was still alive) we hardly sodded anything. Over the years, sod use has gradually increased, and it's not uncommon to sod entire courses now. We started sodding bunker and green banks, then tee banks, etc. The first course at Giants Ridge was the first where we sodded the entire roughs. The bentgrass fairways germinate fast enough, and bentgrass sod is expensive enough to make impractical, and Colbert Hills at Kansas State University was the first where we sodded the entire course, including the zoysiagrass fairways.

Sod is a great insurance policy against unforeseen grow-in difficulties and a way for the course to open earlier, while making a better first impression when it does. I am still convinced that the reputation of the first course at Giants Ridge derives from the opening-day quality of the turf. Hence, my recommendation for the same program for this course. Naturally, there are some items competing for that budget - like the clubhouse (the pro wants a clubhouse, especially for the winter months. (Geez, those guys are so soft and spoiled!) But I think we will still get nearly fully sodded roughs, as before. Our next meeting will decide that.

I'll fill you in on that next month. There won't be lots to write about concerning construction - unless you would like a more detailed description of sod laying (green-side up, always) than I think. Therefore, I will take the next couple of months to describe the philosophies that went into the design of the Quarry Course, how it is similar to, and why it differs from other courses we have done. Several proven elements show up in one form or another, and there are usually some new design elements, too, especially on a course like the Quarry, which is so different from any site I have worked on.

You don't design 40 golf courses without developing some strong principles, philosophies, and ideas about how to go about that. The proven design features result from experience and the long-term evolution of my personal design philosophy.

One advantage in having strong design principles is that it reduces the number of possible design solutions from an infinite number to less than a few dozen for our consideration. On the other hand, being stuck in your ways is a great way to make mistakes, so we approach every design questioning what we know, prepared to re-engineer the whole process.

"If you do not know where you are going, any road will do."

"Form follows function."

One of the inherent attractions of golf is that playing fields aren't standardized. We want every design to be unique in our portfolio; unique in the owner's - and their customers - marketplace, needs and preferences; and unique in its "sense of place" by reflecting its site.

Resort courses should also generally follow the advice of the country song, "Let's Give 'em Something To Talk About," since they need a way to attract golfers from long distances. No problem at the Quarry, where the jagged scars of the old mine create a unique look for the Iron Range and reflect its industrial heritage by leaving its mining scars both on the perimeter and within the lines of play. This will result in a few bunkers of 20-foot and even 30-foot depth! We even encourage them to bring in some rusted old mining or railroad equipment to enhance the atmosphere.

However, the difficulty presented by the dramatic site was the major design quandary at the Quarry. I believe that difficulty should usually be proportionate to the role of the course. The most difficult course in the world already exists, so we don't need to design something to compete for the crown! (This is something I point out to nearly every young design associate, who invariably wants to design a tough, tough course.) This is especially true on public and resort courses. There is no evidence that the larger pocketbooks necessary to join a private club equate to smaller handicaps, or vice versa. In fact, the vast majority of golfers - the ones who "pay the freight" - are 20-handicap and above.

Reflecting the Quarry's site to create "sense of place" meant keeping some deep and difficult bunkers. Reflecting the need of a resort course meant keeping the course relatively playable - even with instructions from the owner to make it slightly more difficult than the first course. Our response was tweaking other design features, like fairway width and green contour, to keep the test somewhere in the realm of the "do-able" for the average golfer.

My design also reflects the likelihood of repeat play. Upscale public courses - the so-called "country clubs for a day" - and destination resorts are courses where most golfers will play sporadically, and not notice subtle design features. I made the Giants Ridge course features clearly visible, and strategies more obvious at first glance.

(Of course, cynics say that strategy on an upscale public course is to hit your tee shot to the cart path side - to be closer to both your cart and the beverage cart girl for a better look!) Conversely, I lump private clubs and daily-fee courses together concerning many design features. They usually see substantial repeat play, so I include features that reveal their mysteries slowly over time.

Public courses (which comprise the vast majority of courses built today, and the vast majority of my portfolio as well) that are by definition available to anyone who can pay the green fee, should consider the whole gamut of players in design. My designs usually target the relatively skilled, "friendly competition" amateur, unless the course has a reasonable expectation of hosting a national competitive event. Such was the case when I designed Colbert Hills specifically to host major collegiate events. The 7,600-yard course there is playable for all golfers, but a bit difficult, even when playing the forward tees that reduce length over 1,000 yards. They also provide the flexibility to accommodate lesser skilled golfers - if they play the right tees and make smart choices - and result in a fun round.

Guiding design objectives at the Quarry - and for that matter, most modern courses - are (if you will excuse the shameless alliteration) fun, fairness, flexibility, fast, fantastic visually, and fastidious in maintenance.

How do we do that? Well, if I told you that architectural secret, I'd have to kill you, but I can give you a brief outline in the upcoming installments.

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.