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The Benefits of Masterplanning for Golf Course Improvements

This article courtesy of the Golf Architecture Magazine

Anything great produced by man usually begins with a strong and definite vision. Whether it be a personal achievement, a business deal or a golf course upgrading program, ultimate success is usually directly related to the level of definition of that vision.

The Masterplanning process, as implemented in golf course upgrading can be seen as a pivotal element in the creation and representation of a clear vision. It is the most effective way of satisfying the needs and ideals of both the club member and the golf course architect, acting as a catalyst or a common bridge that will combine all the good ideas of people such as the superintendent, committee members and the architect. The Masterplan ensures that everyone associated has a road map of where they can expect their club to be heading in the future.

What is a Masterplan?

From the architect’s point of view, the Masterplanning process is a balancing act where the challenge is to gain the maximum value from the site attributes, both natural and man made. For example, the natural feel of a site and the current character of the course may influence the selection of the design style to be incorporated. Compilation of a detailed Masterplan to an accurate scale will ensure that these design elements can in fact be well positioned without contradicting the appropriate style.

The Masterplan will be a scale representation of all agreed components of each hole included on one plan, thereby ensuring the desired hole lengths, space allocations and overall strategic balance of the golf course can be achieved. The final result will appear as an aerial snapshot illustrating the proposed layout, showing any physical alterations with notes as to the rationale behind these changes.

If a well compiled document such as this can be produced and endorsed by the committee and members of the club, evidence of the benefits will quickly become apparent. There are, however, several processes which typically must be addressed before widespread support for an architect and his Masterplan can be extended.

Preparing and Adopting the Masterplan

After it has been decided that an upgrading program will be undertaken, most clubs appoint a course planning sub-committee to help select and liaise with the golf course architect. These committee members, along with the superintendent, must be well equipped to convey all the problems of the existing course, both technological and strategic, to the architect, as well as to assist and advise on the ideals and perceptions of the membership. The architect is well advised to consider all these ideas whilst compiling the Masterplan and associate documents, even though he may not be able to include all of them in the plan.

Addressing these issues and presenting a professionally prepared plan with a comprehensive explanatory report, will go a long way to allay any misgivings that members may have regarding the proposed course upgrading works. There will, however never be a complete trust of the designs specified in the Masterplan by all members until an actual product has been constructed for all to experience. It is an undisputed fact that regardless of all plans and design reports that can be produced, a large percentage of golfers are not able to comprehend a design until it is at least partially implemented.

One way to put the "doubters" to rest is to have the architect work initially on a solution to the most problematic golf hole on the course, and actually go ahead and construct it. When an equitable solution is presented and deemed to be positive by the golfers who play on it, significant impetus is given to the whole Masterplanning process, with increased respect for the contributors and a willingness to embrace the new designs eventuating. The rate of turnaround of these "doubters" can be truly astounding and when the majority of members and staff are in support of the basic ideals represented, the foundations have then been laid to enable the smooth implementation of the whole scheme.

Implementation of the Masterplan

The most important key to the implementation phase(s) of the upgrading program must be the consolidation of a tightly knit construction team who can communicate well, enabling good coordination and a systematic, efficient construction sequence. There are a multitude of ways that this may achieved, from a fully in-house effort, to a situation where various aspects of construction are contracted out. Whatever the case, one person, possibly the superintendent, must coordinate all activities and the machine operators (known as shapers) must have an intimate understanding of the architects design ideals and style of work. It is usually most equitable and efficient for all involved if the architect plays a key role in the sourcing and selection of the shapers.

With the formation of the construction team and the initial one hole "trial" exercise in the past, everyone involved will then be fully aware of what is needed to move through and systematically carry out all aspects of the Masterplan. The process invariably accelerates as further practical and organisational benefits of the Masterplan can be taken advantage of.

Practical Benefits

With the extent of proposed works now well defined, the Masterplan can be used as the basis of scheduling of all works. This includes systematic timing of all course disturbances, budgeting thereof, positioning of stock pile sites, haul routes and other obtrusive construction items. The Masterplan can be used to position temporary greens and tees with planning for many other construction items such as landscape, irrigation, drainage etc., to enable their implementation in the most efficient and unobtrusive manner. The Masterplan is the one tool which will ensure that every dollar spent on maintenance and upgrading is utilised to its maximum potential.

It is a scenario seen all too often that clubs choose not to invest in a Masterplan, in an attempt to save money. This often results in the exact opposite occurring, where money is spent on work which has to be either re-done or is destroyed by the progression of further work. It is therefore the clubs with the least amount of disposable income that stand to benefit most by having a good Masterplan in place.

Either way, a Masterplan is in effect an insurance policy. Even if the work takes years to complete, section by section, it is the best way to monitor and plan such proposed course alterations in the most effective manner.

Save for those timeless gems, almost all golf courses can be improved. Therefore some type of Masterplan is always an asset. This may take the form of a purely historical record to be referred to periodically for those great courses, or may entail a full redesign to be undertaken over a long period. Whatever the case, every golf course and their guardians need direction in which to work and grow.

A golf course is not a static entity. One of the true marvels of our game is that its arena is ever changing. A Masterplan is the best way to ensure that all the human help assisting these changes is directed and focused for the greater good, in conjunction with nature and in the best spirit of the game.

by Ross Watson and Nigel Douglas
courtesy of the Golf Architecture Magazine - click for more