How to renovate golf courses at a lower cost | Course

One of the biggest architectural stories of 2021 was the substantial renovation of three former US Open and PGA Championship venues: Baltusrol’s Lower Course, Congressional’s Blue Course and Oakland Hills’ South Course. For clubs with a vocation to host major championships, it’s something that happens every 10 or 15 years as they review what is needed to keep their courses relevant as tournament venues and attractive to the governing bodies which distribute the missions.

These days, the transformation courses must undergo for the USGA and PGA of America to deem them fit to host their events typically includes building new championship tees, moving and rebuilding bunkers, and installing lawns and innovative irrigation systems. Host organizations, working to coordinate immaculate but demanding setups and fearful of losing tournament days to weather events, might also insist that clubs invest in multimillion-dollar SubAir or PrecisionAire systems as a condition for see attribute an event. The total bill can be $10-15 million or more, often exceeding the price of building a course from scratch. It’s all part of the rising cost of major league business, and Merion, Winged Foot, Oak Hill, Inverness and Southern Hills have all undertaken similar programs.

As profound and necessary as some of these changes have been from a historical and architectural perspective, extreme transformations can nevertheless skew the level of what is needed for a successful renovation. It’s tempting for peer clubs and other economy-scale courses to watch these prestige renovations and be forced to keep pace and provide equally divine playing conditions. But in most places, dramatic course improvements can be made at a fraction of the cost, if undertaken wisely.

“A lot of clubs feel like everyone else is doing it, so might as well do it,” says Bruce Hepner, a 30-year veteran home improvement specialist who recently completed work at Woodway Country Club in Connecticut, the Country Pittsfield club. and The Club in New Seabury, Massachusetts and Broadmoor Country Club in Indiana. Most, however, would do better by not mimicking the upper echelon of tournament courts and instead focusing on smaller projects that offer more return on investment.

“My advice is generally, let’s fix the cheap stuff first,” he says. “Let’s fix the mowing lines and the trees. Because that’s where the golf is, that’s the hallway. It’s the playground.” By opening up the course and widening the fairways – easy solutions – clubs reclaim their most precious asset: space.

Kyle Franz, who last fall completed a comprehensive but cost-effective restoration of the Southern Pines public course in North Carolina near Pinehurst, an evocative follow-up to his 2020 renovation of the Raleigh Country Club, agrees. “One of the best ways to improve golf courses is simply to cut down trees. It’s a simple first step. A second step is to avoid unnecessary expense. A costly trend is the desire to add length, and new tees may require new cart paths and extended irrigation and drainage.Another is that clubs or superintendents want to jump straight into a major renovation of the greens.Unless the greens are absolutely failing , an often equally effective solution is to enlarge the perimeter to recover the surface area lost through maintenance. “You don’t have to tear every inch of a green out and turn it into a USGA green,” says Franz, referring to the construction of gravel sub-bases, drainage and mixing of the root zone: “If the situation is good, we are actually trying to dissuade clubs from following the way to the USGA to save them money.”

The Beverly Country Club in Chicago, for example, last year completed a restoration by Tyler Rae, who occasionally partners with Franz on projects. The job, which was mainly to push back the green edges, widen the fairways and rework the bunkers, yielded spectacular results and cost less than $2.5 million, a significant sum but still four or five times less than work done at the highest level of the sport. . Beverly finished seventh out of three dozen courses rated for the 2021 Golf Digest Best New Renovation award.

Golfers and members may feel pressured to add expensive features to their courses that are not needed or do not change the way the game is played, such as new USGA greens, expensive bunker liners and imported crushed quartz for sand. Paying too much attention to what neighbors are doing, Hepner says, is the biggest pitfall. Clubs almost always do better and spend less by sticking to one basic question: does a change make the game more enjoyable?

“At the end of the day, it’s about improving the game of golf on their courses,” he says. “The $15 million renovations improve the course of a US Open, but they don’t necessarily improve the course of their members. These smaller projects improve the game and at a reasonable price.

Michael C. Ford