By Adam Bagwell, CGCS and David Druzisky, ASGCA
Turf science and management and golf course architecture are intertwined, and cannot exist successfully as two separate entities. Architects chose grass types for contrasts, and build course features for aesthetics and playability, all features that greatly impact the way a superintendent maintains a course. The very size of course features, the maintained turf acres, impact the financial sustainability of a club at its core.
While Sustainability has become a catchy phrase and integral practice in the mainstream in recent years, sustainable design and practices have been at the center of golf since its beginnings, primarily because Mother Nature dictated it. One needs to keep in mind that the game originated in an environment particularly suited for it; one provided and blessed by Mother Nature. The course simply existed with little help from man. Only when the game was taken to other locations did professionals of the day realize the need to adapt their preconceived notions and be practical with what they created.
Sand bunkers, fine, thin and wispy grasses, hollows and mounds along with dry playable conditions were all products of the original linksland courses and forever more became important ingredients of the game. While these elements are natural to linksland they often don’t work well without a little help in other settings and locations. The amount of aid they require to thrive and be suited for golfing use is where the dynamic between Designer and Superintendent must be fully intertwined.
When designing or renovating a golf course the Golf Course Architect must take into consideration the configuration, size and number of all of these components. Firstly, unit prices can be applied to each to determine the cost of constructing the golf course. Secondly, each will need to be maintained with labor and resources available to the Golf Course Superintendent. Where options are available correct choice for a particular property must be made that will allow effective and efficient maintenance and to insure integrity in the long term
As a business manager the Golf Course Superintendent is responsible for managing available resources and maintaining assets. Similar to other business endeavors, costs for labor hours and materials are the primary multipliers used by the Superintendent. When correctly allocated these measures are applied to each used component of the golf course. Bunkers, tees, greens, fairways and roughs are components of the golf course that are used and maintained on a routine basis. Other obvious assets require infrequent yet scheduled maintenance including paths, water features, trees and other landscaping. In addition, underground infrastructure requires considerable attention to keep in proper working condition. Those include irrigation components, drainage lines and the various materials used to construct the greens, bunkers and tees. These are not readily apparent but are among the most expensive and important aspects of the course make-up.
For instance, if you look at the bunkers at Crane Creek prior to 2001, they were typical of post-war happenstance. With little labor in the 40’s, bunkers were eliminated, and rounded for ease of maintenance with mechanical rakes. Pre-war, most bunkers were similar to Pine Valley and Merion, rough edged, fescue covered and dotted with fescue in the sand. Part of the structure was due to the lack of earth moving equipment, and irrigation, so fescue was naturally selected. Modern day techniques and design seek to restore pre-war era bunkering in many cases. Irrigation systems have selected poa annua over fescues, so, new construction uses drip irrigation, or mini-sprays to limit irrigation in the areas, but also use newer varieties of fine fescue that handle a wider variety of climate and conditions. Certainly the dry, wispy, low-growing grass around bunkers is less labor intensive and more sustainable. Consultation with the superintendent is often ideally suited for successful grass selection, to get the look and playability that the architect desires.
Another example at Crane creek would be the Tees. The tee complex’s at hole 3 and 11 were re-deigned in the 2001 effort and represent an acceptable standard for tee construction and configuration. The re-design of those teeing areas not only addressed the configuration of the tees for a specific pre-determined distribution of yardage, it included a configuration and dimensions that would allow for effective and efficient maintenance. Numbers of rounds, turf type and type of hole were all weighed in the effort. Data on numbers of rounds was provided by the Golf Course Superintendent which allowed for the pre-determination of a goal for overall surface area for the course tees That goal was based on the desire to establish enough teeing area that would allow adequate distribution of play and its associated wear and tear. When properly constructed the golf course superintendent has 100% of the teeing areas available to him to manage the markers and to keep the surfaces in acceptable playing condition at all times. Other factors weighed included equipment type to be used (walk mowers or tri-plex mowers), turf type, annual rainfall and irrigation requirements or opportunities – each identified by the Golf Course Superintendent.
The design of greens weighs several factors as well. The size is dependent on number of rounds similar to tees. Consideration is given to type of mowers most likely to be used. Use of riding greens mowers usually demands larger less severely contoured greens, with gentler edges. The determination of climate, and rounds played, also can point an architect to choose one of several types of construction to create a new green or core and restore an existing surface—California, USGA, or push up. All different methods of green construction play differently, so if you had mostly push up greens(native soil), and there was a need to rebuild a few others, you may want the benefits of a USGA green, but push the specifications of the sand towards a native soil to match the playability.