Get A Grip On Golf-Course Design

The Slippery Slope

As the economy deteriorated, all the elements that went into creating a beautiful golf course soon became the landscape architect’s undoing. Since weeds were not tolerated on high-end courses, for example, fertilizers and pesticides were applied in abundance.

Golf course design is trending toward smaller courses, more natural design.

But as more and more chemicals were considered detrimental to the environment, they became outlawed for their long-term effects, and maintenance costs escalated, putting 18 holes of premium golf at $1.2 million or more a year to maintain.

Additionally, the much-sought-after views that developers demanded began to show design flaws. Many holes ran parallel to housing parcels and required ample fairway widths to protect homes from being bombarded by errant golf balls. Another critical issue that surfaced was the separation of golf course turf and residential turf.

As golfers became unwilling to pay $100-plus for a round of golf or upwards of $75,000 to join exclusive clubs, many golf courses were consuming in excess of 1 million gallons of fresh water daily during periods of severe drought.

Since developers could no longer justify the costs of maintaining the gargantuan clubhouses built in golf’s heyday or the two or three golf courses on their property, many were forced to allow the courses to deteriorate, thus lessening the original premium homeowners paid to dwell on the scenic perimeter.

In many instances, homeowners banded together and bought the courses from the original developers for a greatly reduced rate.

So now the question becomes: how do we maintain our house values and the excellence of golf courses without breaking the bank?

As “baby boomers” comprise the predominant group of golfers, what can be done to interest younger generations to play the game? Slow play that results in 4- to 5-hour rounds must be marshaled on the course, and the cost of new equipment must become more affordable.

I certainly don’t have all the answers, but as a proponent of the value of these large tracts of land and the amount of open space they contribute to the environment, some common-sense factors need to be figured into the equation.

Water Consumption

The use of “grey water,” which is cleaned effluent, is a readily available commodity instead of using up invaluable potable water.

Irrigation equipment also has become more efficient, and 90-gallon-per-minute heads can be replaced with heads utilizing half that amount. Since most of this water percolates through to underground aquifers, the dispersal rate is lowered and allows the soil to stay wet longer, reducing evaporation and making it more available for the sustenance of the turf and plants.

Another water-saving and maintenance-lessening technique is to reduce the large acreage of mowed turf. Properly located, “waste” areas comprised of crushed shells, mulch, or large beds of native ground covers can reduce the mowed acreage significantly.

Low-Impact Development

Low-Impact Development has recently come into vogue, and professes to utilize natural drainage systems instead of large quantities of drainage pipe that ultimately empty into man-made canals and are lost to the ocean.

Why not take advantage of the golf course’s ability to handle large volumes of water and purify it through natural-looking wetlands before being stored in the lakes? Native landscaping requires less maintenance and uses less water.

Repurpose For Multi-Purpose

Exorbitant clubhouses need to be redesigned to become more multi-purpose. Why spend additional money on building new facilities for other community activities when underutilized 30,000- to 40,000-square-foot clubhouses already exist?

If golf is truly being played less than in the past, why not convert two 18-hole courses into three 9-hole layouts that can be played in less time? These can be grouped in a number of different combinations to yield 45 to 50 acres for other recreational uses, such as natural playgrounds, which are a popular new commodity and don’t diminish the beauty of the natural environment.

Walking and biking are also popular activities, and the old cart paths can provide miles of available trails.

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