Lower Cost Golf Course Design: Part 1 Irrigated Turf Area

In my previous post, I spoke about golf course cost savings coming potentially from limiting irrigated and maintained space on a course. While these two go hand in hand, I will first look at limiting the irrigated space. While it would seem this is more of a maintenance item, given that an irrigation system costs between $650,000 and $1,500,000 it becomes much more of an initial design feature. (1)

In a study titled Golf Course Water Use and Regulation in California, the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America gives a breakdown of average acreage of tees, greens, fairways and roughs on a 110 acre golf course/irrigated space. The study lists the averages to be: Greens- 3.1 acres; Tees- 3.7 acres; Fairways- 43.7 acres; Roughs- 59.5 (2)  For simplicity of calculation, I used 42 acres of fairway to be the baseline, increasing the size of irrigated rough spaces. There are two figures of note here, one which I will address here and one I will address later. First, the size of irrigated rough is greater than the size of irrigated fairway. Second, the tees occupy a larger area than do the greens. I will address the proportion of rough area to fairway area at this time.

Assuming uniformity in the fairways, and each green being the same size (this of course wouldn't be the case in practice, but given this is wholly hypothetical, nothing is lost or gained by making this assumption) one comes to an average hole length of 372 yards; 256 yards of fairway at 44 yards width (this works out to 2 1/3 acre of fairway on each hole as one acre is 22 yards x 220 yards) 100 yards of irrigated rough between the back tee and the start of the fairway and 16 yards from the end of the fairway short of the green to the center of the green. This average of 372 yards yields a golf course of 6,696 yards.

What would be the resultant change in total yardage if the irrigate rough space was reduced to 19.2 acres and the fairway space increase to 84 total acres? If the fairway width were to remain the same and the length doubled, the average hole length would increase to a mind-boggling 628 yards for a total length of 11,304 yards. If you were to increase the fairway width to 66 yards, the average hole length would be reduced to a still-long 457 yards and a total length of 8,226 yards. In each of these cases, the total irrigated space has not increased, only the irrigated rough space decreased.

According to Jeffery D. Brauer, renowned golf architect, an 'average' golf course in Des Moines, IA would use between 30 and 35 million gallons of water per year. (3) This is over 130 acres. 110 acres is 84.6% of that figure. If, in the original set-up, the rough space were to be reduced 20 acres, the total irrigated space would be 70.5 acres, 54.2% of 130 acres. Understanding that all golf courses use different amounts of water to irrigate due to a number of factors, the numbers are still quite striking. If the top end number of 35 million gallons is used, the 110 acre course would use 29.61 million gallons. The 70.5 acre would would 18.97 million gallons. Given an average cost of $360 per acre foot of water (325,851 Gallons) that decrease in usage would equate to a savings of $11,755 per year just in water usage, changing only irrigated rough space. (4)

While that savings may not seem like much, it certainly translates to money that could be spent elsewhere, and, when coupled with lower labor costs to maintain the rough spaces, less electricity used by less heads, controllers and pumps, and other factors, can certainly add up to a significant amount over the course of a year.



Affordable, new golf courses

How much is the average, public course golfer willing, or able to pay to play a round of golf? That is the key question that course owners and managers are asking themselves during these trying times for the golf industry. Potential new course developers are asking this question as well. Very few new courses are being built at the present. In the Tidewater region of Virginia the last new course opening was Lambert's Point, a 9 hole course built by the City of Norfolk. In Raleigh, NC there have been four new course openings in the past 3 years, two private courses, one upscale public, and one affordable public. There have also been two affordable public courses close since 2003.

Among courses built around the country in the past ten years, it would seem that very few were built to be marketed as affordable, public options. This is a problem for the golf industry. In these times when all families have less disposable income, golf will likely be the expenditure cut out if necessary. It would seem that in most regions there is a real lack of golf courses that are both affordable to play and interesting to play. While an affordable price will get golfers to come to a course once, there must be interest in the design in order to get them to return.

What can be done to make new golf courses more affordable? First, developers and potential owners can seek out those designers who work to build golf courses with minimal amounts of earth moving. Second, in conjunction with limited earth moving, they can work to limit the amount of irrigated and maintained turf on the course. This second option, of course, requires a change in perception among the golfing public about what makes a course "good" but with sound design and an affordable price, most golfers are willing to be "educated," so to speak. And third, course designers and developers must research different types of turf to find out which type will allow the best conditions for the area, but also be tolerant to either less water than other types or tolerant to the use of effluent or gray water.

If designers and developers can follow these three steps, well designed, interesting and affordable new golf courses are possible. Its just a question of whether or not either of these groups are willing to do that.