Master planning for golf course renovations

Considering a golf course renovation? Master planning marries the wants and needs of the facility with the architect’s ability to deliver on those expectations.


Golf course renovation master planning
It should come as no surprise to anyone in the golf course industry that the past several years have been a trying time for golf course architects. In my career, I don’t remember a more pressure-packed time, but I also don’t recall a more exciting period for architects who embrace innovation and change.

Among those changes has been an increased emphasis on remodeling or renovation projects on golf courses. That process has definitely advanced to a higher level in terms of the financial results demanded by facilities in today’s market. A lot is at stake, and the pressure to produce is greater than ever when preparing a master plan for that work, which I believe to be a crucial step for any golf facility.

I’m often asked whether a golf course master plan is a really necessary for facilities considering such projects. My answer is simple: If you plan on making any changes or improvements to the golf course, or if you think this could be a possibility down the road (and it virtually always is), then you need a master plan.

A master plan document is a significant tool for anyone within the hierarchy of a golf course — the facility’s owner, president, green committee chairman, general manager, superintendent or golf professional. The plan ensures that everyone at the club is on the same page in terms of future improvements to the golf course. It’s money in the bank from both a fiscal and a diplomatic point of view.

Each master plan will be called upon to solve unique problems in unique demographic markets. But a common theme that will repeat itself is the need for today’s master plans to address these commonly sought goals and objectives from projects our clients are discussing with us:

  • Improve strategy and shot value on each hole.
  • Decrease high-maintenance areas where possible throughout the course.
  • Increase each hole’s aesthetic appeal for existing and new members at private clubs.
  • Increase each hole’s aesthetic appeal for existing and new patrons at public and resort courses.

Put simply, clubs want to touch, feel and smell the fruits of the master planning so as to increase annual revenue while lowering annual maintenance costs. I don’t think any golf course architect will tell you that these are easy goals to achieve. But by no means are these demands deal-breakers, and architects who excel in meeting them will continue to remain busy through both good and bad times in the golf industry.

To help illustrate my point, I’ve put together a few examples from recent master planning contracts my company has managed wherein goals were mandated by the client. The priorities on each project were identical to the bulleted items cited above.

Lincolnshire Fields Country Club

Lincolnshire Fields CC

Lincolnshire Fields Country Club
The master plan (top) and before-and-after views (bottom) for hole No. 11 at Lincolnshire Fields Country Club in Champaign, Ill. New bunker locations and more low-maintenance fescue created a more strategic golf hole and reduced costs. Images courtesy of Raymond Hearn

The first example comes from work we did with Lincolnshire Fields Country Club in Champaign, Ill., where J. Scott Werner, CGCS, a 28-year member of GCSAA, oversees maintenance. As a part of this project, the three greenside bunkers on the 11th hole were reduced in size by 50 percent, but the hole’s strategy and shot value actually increased significantly because of the bunkers’ new locations.

A substantial area of low-maintenance fescue was planned for the front right of the tees, replacing the higher-maintenance Kentucky bluegrass rough. The amount of bentgrass approach was also reduced by 50 percent. The result was a more strategic golf hole that the members will enjoy, with a reduction in the costs to maintain this hole — an added benefit for Werner and his team.

Island Hills Golf Club

Island Hills GC

Island Hills Golf Club
The master plan and before-and-after views for hole No. 6 at Island Hills Golf Club in Centreville, Mich. Note the new low-maintenance secondary rough on the left side of the hole.

We also recently completed work on the Championship Course at Island Hills Golf Club in Centreville, Mich., located in the center of the state, just south of Kalamazoo. This is a unique facility that features no less than six different golfing options for its patrons, from the traditional Championship and Mini courses to two different seven-hole loops.

At Island Hills, where Joe Jehnsen, CGCS, a 19-year GCSAA member, is the director of grounds, our work focused on playability and maintenance improvements. On the sixth hole, the strategy and shot value have increased while the surface areas of the bentgrass fairways and sand bunkers have decreased significantly. Golfers have complimented the remodeled hole, while the owner and Jehnsen appreciate the reduced cost to maintain the hole — a win-win-win for all three interested parties.

Flossmoor Country Club

Flossmoor CC

Flossmoor Country Club
The master plan and before-and-after views for hole No. 3 at Flossmoor (Ill.) Country Club, founded in 1899. A “wispy” low-rate seed mix was used for fescue and little bluestem in the secondary rough area so golfers can easily find errant shots.

The final example comes from Flossmoor (Ill.) Country Club, where our focus centered on the course’s rough. We were charged to increase the amount of low-maintenance secondary rough (fescue and little bluestem) to help decrease the area of the higher-maintenance primary rough (Kentucky bluegrass).

The vivid impact of the work performed can be seen at a glance. The members enjoy the dramatic new look of the hole, while GCSAA Class A superintendent Bob Lively, a 24-year member of the association, appreciates the lower maintenance the secondary rough areas afford.

In today’s environment, master planning for golf course projects is no longer a luxury. Facilities want the process of master planning to increase annual revenue while at the same time lowering their annual maintenance costs. Today’s innovative golf course architects need to accept and embrace these demands as challenging yet exciting goals that, when executed properly, satisfy the club’s goals and objectives. The result will be more financially sustainable golf facilities with happy golfers, happy owners and, ultimately, happy superintendents.

Raymond Hearn is a practicing golf course architect and the president and founder of Raymond Hearn Golf Course Designs Inc., based in Holland, Mich.