As someone who has been watching and participating in course renovations for three decades now, I’ve seen lots of successful ones, a few that fell short and a couple that failed. These projects have run the gamut – from a club that spent 16 years implementing a $10,000 master plan to courses that have shut down for a year and spent upward of $15 million on a complete restoration. Some entail tweaks in place; others have seen half the course entirely rerouted.
Whatever the project scope, once you open the lid on a course renovation you find there are keys to getting it right and pitfalls to avoid. Unfortunately, most courses and decision-makers only get to learn these lessons in hindsight and they may never get a chance to put what they learned to good use. This article provides insight into 15 key steps of a course renovation that can help your facility avoid the mistakes others have made and deliver the most successful renovation project possible. The projects that inspired and informed the following text include a wide range of facilities, from low-budget municipal courses to elite private clubs that host U.S. Opens.
This article cannot delve into every aspect of these 15 steps – each could be covered in an article of its own. The main takeaway from this text is to understand the basic steps to follow and a few relatively universal tips for success. Once you have that information you can begin thinking about how these steps and insights apply to the unique elements of your course and how to get the best results. Every renovation is different, but if you can learn what works for most – and what doesn’t – that can get your project on the right path.
1. Short List
So, the green committee chairman has just read the latest web post on hot architects, or a board member knows a guy who’s a great player and is thinking about getting into design. Sorry, but there is a better way. Develop a list of potential architects who would be right for your course. Cast the net wide, get some background information on them and the kind of projects they have done, and talk to industry insiders who know these folks and their work. For those contemplating a restoration, there’s no such thing as a “Ross expert” or “the Raynor guy” – that’s cheap marketing. Classic architects did different things at different courses, so it’s important that the architect you choose is focused on the history of your facility. It’s also important to note that restoration is not always the best solution for a golf course. Sometimes what was done in the past isn’t the best use of your property, so it’s worth hearing some different perspectives on how to approach your project.
Actually, it’s a Request for Information or Request for Qualifications so you don’t need to get too detailed. All you are doing is conveying a basic sense of your facility, some of the issues you hope to address, and asking who out there is keen on taking a look. Forget about fees at this point. Talk about long-term goals and ask them how they work – e.g., learn how long their master plan process takes and how they go about it. Invite them for a look. Make lots of information available – including maps, aerials, USGA Green Section consulting reports and operating budgets. Keep the phone lines open for ongoing engagement so you can assess whether they are serious candidates.
Hiring an architect entails buying into a long-term relationship. Don’t get dazzled by fancy graphics or a thick book of plans. Anyone can do that from the comfort of their office. Judge character, commitment, and whether they help you learn things about the golf course that you didn’t appreciate before. Their fees are the least of it – that should be negotiated later, and it’s important to understand that architect fees are a relatively small percentage of a course renovation budget. Choosing the right architect will help you avoid wasting money on the bigger-ticket items. Also, ask them about the project where they made the most mistakes and what they learned. If they cannot answer they are not being honest. Also, do your due diligence with their former projects and find out from the general managers and superintendents how things really went with budgets, accuracy of plans and extent of follow-up.