Yule B. Sari asks, 'Is it better to do renovations slowly, over a period of years?'

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer

Your parents and grandparents probably warned you against "spending your money all at once." However, they also told you, "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right the first time!" and "Why do tomorrow what you can do today." In golf course renovation, this advice often collides, and each course is different.

Historically, long-term phased renovations were nearly universal. They keep courses open and avoid large expenses and debt. However, those things lead to other renovation problems, and as often as not, renovations in a single year make as much sense.

Architecturally, a single-year plan achieves consistency in:

Design. An architect's style changes - assuming the club utilizes the same architect over the long haul.
Construction. Different contractors have different shaping and construction techniques, allowing all holes to look and function the same.
Play. Older USGA greens play differently than newer ones. Suppliers go out of business, and construction materials vary, so you may not get the same material for greens mix or bunker sand.
Maintenance. All of the above contribute to annual cost savings by avoiding separate maintenance regimens for every hole.

Image-wise, short-term programs minimize problems of:

Resentment towards continuing course disruption.
Direction Changes (See Design Consistency)
Lost Momentum. Often politics, costs, and hassle stop a project, leaving the course with the same longstanding problems, and some new, out-of-place architectural features in place.

Financial advantages of renovating completely include:

Construction Value. One new USGA green complex costs $70,000, while several may cost $50,000 each. The contractor's mobilization and supervision expenses, etc., are about the same whether building one green or 18, so large projects get economy of scale.
Combine economies of scale with moderate interest rates, and the annual interest cost of a large project may be similar to the cash costs of individual projects, while avoiding miscellaneous costs of safety barriers and temporary greens.
Architectural Value. Architects can review many holes as easily as one during construction evaluation and usually have similar economies of scale. You are more likely to attract top architects with bigger projects, which should also get better results.
Less Lost Revenue. Clubs doing a few holes annually often find that auxiliary revenue declines significantly, while employee costs remain the same because golfers stop using the club - and sometimes give up their memberships. Clubs doing all renovations at once have been creative at arranging alternate-play venues and making the "lost year" of play a unique experience for members.

When counting lost revenues and expenses, the cost of closing completely often comes out nearly equal. You can see why many clubs "biggie size" their construction projects! They also strive to finish quickly to minimize total down time. If a total rebuild costs $3-4 million, and annual revenues are similar, then lost revenue costs can be 33-50% of total project costs. It pays to be a rabbit, limiting down time to six-nine months, rather than 12-18 months.

This is accomplished with extensive preplanning, with key elements often being:

Avoid environmental permitting restrictions by providing compensatory flood storage, avoiding wetlands, and minimizing tree clearing.
Use existing routing and features to minimize time/cost of construction.
Limit bidding to top flight contractors, experienced in fast track projects.
Place strict schedule requirements - and penalties - in the specs. Time work-to-finish in optimum grassing dates and/or pay for total sod.

The world has changed in many ways. I don't doubt that courses in the past made the best decisions possible under their circumstances. Today's lower interest rates, high-quality contractors, accelerated construction schedules, and the importance of course availability (Baby Boomers are so impatient!), often means the best thing for a course is to complete the renovation in one year.

Jeffrey D. Brauer and his firm, Golf Scapes, 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 U.S., 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.