Raymond Hearn Published Article


Money, Time, and Emotional Travail Are All At Stake

If you think good design is expensive, the old axiom has it, you have probably never suffered from bad design. It’s true. Just as you would not set out on a cross-country trip without a map, devising a long-term approach to making your golf course the best it can be – in contrast to a series of ad hoc decisions to address problems as they arise, in piecemeal fashion – is invaluable. The long-range master plan is especially appropriate to golf course management because, like any dynamic entity, the golf course evolves over time. A well-conceived master plan is an excellent investment paying dividends in time, money, and headaches avoided.

This is true regardless of a golf course’s overriding objectives, whether to attract outside play or simply to keep members happy; in other words, whether the course is private, resort, or public. Chances for the year-in and year-out success of the operation are immeasurably enhanced by a comprehensive long-range master plan. In this context, the fee for such a plan, prepared by a professional golf course architect and generally costing $15,000 to $35,000, is negligible. The benefits of a thoughtful and properly executed master plan are as follows:

a. Provides a systematic procedure, a “road-map”, for Club/Owner(s) to bring about change.
b. Protects a course’s original design integrity – particularly important on classical designs.
c. Promotes good shot values on each hole and good variety on the course as whole.
d. Identifies problems and proposes solutions to aspects of a course needing revision.
e. Saves Clubs/Owner(s) thousands, tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of dollars in construction and maintenance costs.
f. Makes the most of a course’s esthetic appeal.
g. Increases a course’s playability for golfers at all ability levels.
h. Boosts rounds played and revenue on public venues, membership and morale in private clubs.
i. Curtails unilateral or “unauthorized” design decisions by board members, greens committee members, stockholders, and others.
j. Reduces tensions among Club personnel that are often the product of such design decisions.
k. Minimizes disruption of play by establishing efficient staging models for construction projects.
l. Allows for ongoing adjustments to accommodate longer ball flights resulting from technological improvements in golf balls and clubs.

In my 20-year career as a golf course architect, I have seen nearly as many different problems arise from the lack of a long-range master plan as I have had clients without one. A common pattern, however, has been to designate the golf course superintendent the “fall guy” for failures of ill-considered course “improvements” instigated by board and committee members and/or owners who proceed without a professionally prepared master plan. Below are three cases describing travesties experienced by Clubs due to the absence of a comprehensive master plan to guide them.

CASE STUDY #1: “If at first you don’t succeed, try the same approach all over again.”

A well-known private Club in upstate New York (the name of which will remain confidential) called me in to create a long-range master plan only after a recurring incident had understandably become the source of irritation for the Club’s president. Specifically, having deemed that the tee complex on a par 3 hole was too small and consequently suffered unacceptable turf deterioration, the Club had three times undertaken to rebuild it in a four-year period, to no avail, at a total cost of about $75,000. Typically, the superintendent shouldered the blame, even though he had acted on instructions from a board member. (As Robert Trent Jones Jr. once famously pointed out: “There are as many course architects as there are golfers. Everyone is an architect in his Walter Mitty dreams.”)

In the first attempt to correct the problem, the new tees, although larger, were terribly misaligned and had an uneven surface that retained excess water. Attempt number two corrected the alignment difficulties but in the process significantly reduced the surface area, thus compromising the original goal of the undertaking.

Two years later, the third attempt to fix these same tees proved worse than the first two: The tee mix became contaminated with this remodeling attempt and the result was a soggy teeing surface that never dried out to the desired consistency.

This teeing complex was just one of the difficulties – and impending difficulties - I addressed in my long-range master plan. As frequently happens, the immediate problem – in this case, just a teeing area that is not big enough – was tied to several other traffic and drainage issues that needed to be resolved simultaneously. The condition of the tee box was only symptomatic of the difficulties at work.

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