Water always finds a place to go-but after a deluge, the trick is to channel it way from where it can harm your property, and get it to go places where it can actually do some good.
Stormwater runoff and impervious surfaces were of little concern to golf course builders and architects at the beginning of the 20th century. In the 21st century, however, things are decidedly different. Continued development around vintage properties have forced them to take measures to alleviate the problems of standing water that heavy rainstorms can leave on their golf courses. New courses, however, can take a proactive approach to ward off stormwater before it becomes an issue.
SUMMING IT UP
• New construction around established golf courses frequently causes stormwater runoff problems.
By the time Aurora (Ill.) Country Club started making preparations to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2014, stormwater management had become a growing concern for the property. Surface runoff from surrounding neighborhoods was draining onto the golf course; the effects of rain events were increasing steadily each year; and an aging infrastructure had limited capacity to handle water volume and flow. Impervious surfaces from increased construction around the golf course, along with reconstruction of nearby railroad tracks and the installation of an elevated bike path along the southern border of the course, contributed to the impeded water flow.
In addition, one spot in particular on the 18-hole private course seemed to be marked with a bull’s-eye when it came to stormwater runoff.
“Most of the property drained to one place on the course, which was the 15th hole,” says Certified Golf Course Superintendent John Gurke.
After minor storms, water was slow to drain from this low-lying area in the southeast corner of the property. On rare occasions, standing water and impassable conditions left the hole unplayable following major rain events.
Working with Architect Greg Martin, Aurora CC developed a master plan in 2001 to update design elements and the deteriorating infrastructure. The master plan, which was fully implemented in 2007, called for improvements including reconstructed tees and bunkers, re-contoured fairways, a new irrigation system, an integrated drainage system and stormwater management. More than $100,000 of the $1.2 million project was dedicated to drainage issues alone.
“The 15th hole was our number-one priority,” recalls Gurke. “We had to figure out how to keep it in play during wet times.” In addition, the superintendent says, “The water was not going where it should go.”
Stormwater accumulated in a large portion of the 15th fairway before ultimately draining into a soft, soggy, unsightly corner of the course, which is surrounded by housing on three sides, and continuing onto a low-lying neighboring property. As a result, the plan not only had to alleviate playability issues on the golf course; the new drainage system also had to improve the quality of the water that drained off-site.
The plan called for the construction, in the southeastern corner of the property, of a wetland (see photo, opposite, bottom) to collect and disperse stormwater after rain events. Upstream, catch basins (see photo, opposite, top) and an underground drainage system provided for systematic flow to the lowland. The soil that was excavated was used to build up the 15th fairway, and new elevations minimized water flow across the fairway to the watershed and primarily confined it to out-of-play areas during 100-year rain events.
“The drainage system is actually tied into the irrigation pond,” says Gurke. “A lot of our stormwater goes into our irrigation pond. When it reaches full level, it has an outlet that takes it to our wetland.”
No Longer Stuck in the Mud
Aurora’s golf course has reaped the benefits of the redesign, and two years later—after a record wet spring this year—the improvements are more evident than ever.
“The turf is better; the playability is better; and we’re channeling the stormwater into a functioning wetland planted with native wetland species,” says Gurke.
The property no longer has to rely on a 100-year-old drainage system of 10-inch clay field tiles to drain the course. Gurke also says that lost golf car revenue, which previously resulted when stormwater left the 15th hole impassable, no longer is an issue.
While the course has its own deep well to replenish the irrigation pond, he adds, the new drainage system has enabled the club to rely less on pumping up groundwater from the aquifer.
Jeff Gerdes, Golf Course Superintendent,
Bolingbrook Golf Club
Whether golf courses manage their stormwater runoff by infiltration, detention or retention, properties must work with a number of different agencies to implement their plans.“The partnership needs to be developed. You need a strong agreement,” advises Mike Drey, the Director of Public Works and Engineering for the Village of Bolingbrook.
This municipality was the lead agency in the development of Bolingbrook (Ill.) Golf Club, which was built in 2002 as a stormwater management system for the village as part of the regional stormwater management plan.
Drey says municipal officials worked closely with golf course designers and architects Arthur Hills and Steve Forrest and the Bolingbrook staff in the city-funded development. In addition, he notes, “The Army Corps of Engineers mandated that [the golf course and its seven lakes] have perpetual open-space land status.”
Bolingbrook’s Golf Course Superintendent, Jeff Gerdes, also believes the close working relationship between all of the entities involved has contributed to the maintenance and environmental benefits of the property.
“It was all designed and thought out pretty well,” he says.
The development of a master plan at Aurora (Ill.) Country Club, which included a new drainage system and stormwater management provisions, required cooperation between property personnel and officials at city and state agencies as well. Certified Golf Course Superintendent John Gurke says the process went smoothly because issues were resolved before the first shovel hit the ground. He also says everyone involved learned from each other.
“We took our plans to the city engineers for approval,” he reports. “They had never dealt with a golf course situation. They usually asked people how much asphalt they would install. Sand bunkers and tees were out of their realm.”
However, Gurke also says the club’s management learned a little bit about its own property when the facility sought a permit to build a wetland.
“[City officials] asked, ‘Is it already a wetland?’ And we had a wetland, unbeknownst to us,” he reveals.
Buffer zones have helped to keep any contamination from fungicides and pesticides from filtering into the water. The watershed also has become a habitat for coyotes, a family of foxes, ducks, herons, and other water and wading birds.
“It’s an attractive, functional wetland, and it’s turned into a nice feature,” Gurke reports. “It’s been a lot of fun to see what we’ve attracted here. It’s an oasis for the animal kingdom of Aurora.”
A Visionary Approach
Even though neighborhoods have been built up around Bolingbrook (Ill.) Golf Club, managed by KemperSports for the Village of Bolingbrook, stormwater has not been a problem at this Chicago-area course (“What Makes Bolingbrook GC the Talk of the Town,” C&RB, October 2007).
“The golf course was started initially as a stormwater management system for the west side of the Village of Bolingbrook,” says Golf Course Superintendent Jeff Gerdes. “The system was put in place so each individual subdivision wasn’t required to have retention ponds.”
The project was the vision of the Village’s Mayor, Roger Claar. The golf course was built in 2002 around seven large lakes that branch off of Lily Cache Creek, and residential development has taken place during the last six years. Subdivisions border the east and west sides of the property, while more housing is planned on the north end.
“Instead of having about 15 small ponds for each subdivision, the village has seven large lakes for 80 acres of water storage,” reveals Gerdes.
All of the stormwater filters into the large lakes, he adds, and the water follows its natural flow from the north end of the course to the south end. The water flows over rocks and riprap, and the water levels drop three different times to create waterfall effects on the course. In addition, 13 of the holes on the 18-hole course are adjacent to the lakes.
Mike Drey, Director of Public Works and Engineering for the Village of Bolingbrook, says the golf course was an offshoot of the regional stormwater management plan. The 160-acre course and seven lakes of more than 200 acres manage stormwater for about 3,000 acres, he adds.
“We had to build five acres of wetlands,” Drey reveals. “The golf course actually complemented the stormwater plan as a very good land use.”
A number of agencies were involved in the planning and implementation of the project.
“The architects did most of the work with the Army Corps of Engineers,” Gerdes says. “They took into consideration 100-year flood levels and created elevations on the course that would allow the ponds to handle significant rain events.”
The Village of Bolingbrook benefits from the plan, since the subdivisions do not need unsightly detention ponds that attract mosquitoes and create liabilities for children. However, adds Gerdes, the golf course maintenance staff has benefited as well.
“With seven large ponds, the course drains very well,” he explains. “We can use the course after a four-inch rain, and we can use golf carts after it rains.”
The grounds crew leaves the pond banks in their natural vegetative state to create wildlife habitats.
“For the past four years, we’ve had wild swans. They’ve had baby signets every year,” says Gerdes. “A lot of different animals call Bolingbrook home.”
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