Adapted from a 2010 article written for Golf Inc. Magazine by Forrest Richardson
Golf courses, when you think about it, are a lot like people. Extremely big people tend to need more food, they wear larger clothes, and they drive bigger cars. Big things cost more. Maintaining big things almost always costs more.
We can learn from some simple thoughts about "bigness." In golf, bigger is not always better. In fact, bigger usually costs more and it usually does nothing for making the game more interesting or fun.
Water, labor costs (including availability), fuel and maintenance budgets are each at a premium today. Yet golf is slow to respond. Part of this has to do with the hurdles associated with changing our golf courses. Owners usually do not wake up one day and decide to make major changes to a golf course. But, that should not preclude planning or action. You need to begin somewhere.
My proposal to golf course owners, developers, managers and superintendents is think seriously about losing weight. In the list below, I have outlined some simple questions that might help you begin to take action. As a golf course architect I can disclose that many adjustments to golf courses can be realized very easily. Some with little or no investment. The trick is to make the commitment to reduce weight (costs!) and go about it to ensure your asset is preserved and the course comes out looking, playing and feeling better. Translated, this means planning.
1. Are you a turf hog? Most golf courses can "lose weight" in terms of managed turf. Areas behind and to the sides of tees are prime examples where turf can often be transformed to unmanaged or rarely managed turf. Some areas, when properly planned, may even be removed from turf and irrigation altogether. The look of a course can improve with varying texture and better interest.
2. Does your course drink too much? Nearly all golf courses use more water than necessary. Today, golf course architects and irrigation designers can perform miracles, even with existing systems. The advent of decoder systems, for example, is greatly improving the ability of superintendents to pinpoint irrigation and reduce water use. (Remember: Water cost is not your only concern, we need to realize the cost of pumping water, repairing reservoirs and the capital expenditure for replacing the thousands of components in your system.)
3. Have your hazards become soft? Perhaps your labor force can be redirected. Is your course guilty of doing things a certain way just because it has always been done that way? Why do we edge bunkers, use tractor rakes or insist on crispness? Some of the best "looks" in golf are achieved by not allowing hazards to receive all that care and attention. Again, it takes planning.
4. Are you over-edged? Every edge at a golf course caused your maintenance staff to slow down and spend time. Time is money. Common edges include ponds, bunkers, paths, trees, fairway edges, and planters. Reduce edges, or weigh the effect of allowing them to be less crisp, and you can reduce maintenance time.
5. Do you look at trees as assets? If so, you will appreciate that trees are only assets when they add to strategy, add to the aesthetic or add to the environment. When a tree becomes an obstacle to turf quality, a threat to irrigation lines or a maintenance liability, it is time to bid it farewell. (I once suggested removal of nearly 400 palm trees during a renovation because they had become unnecessary amongst other trees that had matured and taken over the landscape. My client is still thanking me. At $150 per year to trim each one, plus the problems of maneuvering around the trees, we have saved a lot. We also sold many of the trees, so it was a win-win-win situation.)
6. How fast are you? Pace-of-play is a misunderstood quality. Pace is not just about speed, but a consistent experience. Very often the process of reducing turf, changing the look of bunkers and improving your tree assets can make a golf course play better in terms of pace. However, this is not accomplished by guesswork. It takes the science of golf architecture mixed with an understanding of pace logistics. Seeking professional advice from the outside is usually the only route to bona fide change.