Get A Grip On Golf-Course Design

A superior golf course begins with an attractive piece of land and a professional golf course architect who can transform almost any type of property into a piece of art and a challenging golfing experience.

The heyday of golf course development may be over, but new challenges allow for strides in landscape design.

Completed properly, routing a golf course is a coordinated effort among a golf course architect, a site planner, and a civil engineer. And, finally, there is the landscape architect–the one who makes all of the elements come together in the composition.

Beginner golf-course design classes teach the basics, such as not starting the course in an easterly direction or finishing in a westward direction so players do not have to contend with direct sunlight. Then the actual routing must be considered to ensure a diversity of lengths, orientation, and changes in character.

Those fortunate enough to work on a site partially vegetated with natural fauna only need to follow suit with “Mother Nature,” and build on what has already been provided. This task is even more enjoyable if the course architect has enough confidence to allow the landscape architect to blend his or her talents so the landscaping becomes part of the course’s strategy, rather than merely being decoration at the course’s edges.

One of the crucial elements the landscape architect must understand is the amount of space it takes to play the game properly, and to keep shrub beds in certain areas out of play.

While the placement of specimen trees that indicate proper playing direction or targets are critical and fall within the auspices of the golf-course architect, the separation of adjacent holes is really under the jurisdiction of the landscape architect. Beautifying tee boxes and providing suitable “green” backdrops also fall within his or her purview.

A landscape architect can establish the tone of a golf course project with the entry signage and character of the entry drive. Before starting on any design, it is important to distinguish the difference between “parkland”-type courses and the Scottish “links” style, which employs a less landscaped, more open course susceptible to the forces of nature, and dominated by native grasses and low plantings.

While the “parkland” courses obviously give landscape architects the most latitude, an effective designer uses what is provided. In the event no natural vegetation exists, the choice becomes even more of a coin toss, with all types of solutions available.

For example, south Florida is not blessed with huge topographical changes in elevation, but those fortunate enough to work on a seaside site should help augment attractive views and utilize seaside vegetation.

Peer Into The Past

While the basic steps for a successful golf course design have remained constant, certain trends have developed that caused a shift in the industry.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, golf courses were often the central attraction within residential developments. Courses with a site plan that included views over lakes, and attractive tee areas and greens could charge additional premiums for these vistas.

In those “heydays,” the budget to build a course was between $7.5 million and $10 million, with the ability to move ample amounts of fill to create a varied terrain and build more lakes. A similar landscape budget was between $800,000 and $1.25 million, depending on how many acres the course consumed and how much natural vegetation existed.

Understanding what the golf course superintendent was facing was critical. Since the chief responsibility was caring for the 70 to 90 acres of golf course turf and the irrigation system to sustain them, a landscape architect was expected to avoid providing maintenance-intensive landscaping, or creating dead-air situations around tees and greens.

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