Balance in Golf Design: Part I

The common denominator in successful projects?

The focus of this two part series is to address the concept of balance in golf course design.  Not the balance that should be an intricate part of routing, strategy or hazard location, but the balance necessary within a design team.  As a former superintendent and now designer, I have worn multiple design team hats and have seen my share of balanced and unbalanced projects.  For the superintendent who will ultimately be responsible for maintaining the golf course, this issue is incredibly important.  Maybe even the difference between success and failure.  There has been a great deal of attention directed as to the influence that golf design has on the ability of superintendents to successfully maintain their golf courses.  Entire books could be written on the design and maintenance of each single component of a golf course, but let's consider the general issue of the balance required between golf design and golf maintenance.  

Not to disparage the magic that can happen in the field, but the most important phase of the design process for renovation/restoration or new course design is the planning phase.  This phase involves the development of the Master Plan or the Design Development Plan and includes most of the decisions that establish the “road map” for successfully meeting the goals and objectives of the project.  I learned early on in my Golden Bear years that it is important during this phase that a balanced team is put in place to make these decisions.  We have all been a part of or have knowledge of projects where the superintendent, engineer, irrigation designer or golf architect is left out of the early planning and the project becomes slanted or unbalanced as a result.  

Midland Bunkering Crew

The focus of the planning phase is to clarify and then satisfy the objectives that the golf developer, the club or the municipality have for their golf course.  The focus is not what decisions can the team make to satisfy the architects’ ego or what needs to happen to make the superintendent’s job as easy as possible.  If the developer has a goal to build a golf course that will be distinctive and unique, then certain maintenance concessions and/or commitments may be required to accomplish this.  If a municipality has a goal to upgrade their golf course in comparison to the competition, the historical mentality of their approach to golf course maintenance may have to be adjusted.  The point is, that the role of the individual superintendent and the superintendent industry should be to provide information and comment but not to dictate all the parameters that could handcuff the creativity of the design team.  Limiting the design creativity for maintenance simplicity, can result in golf courses that are uninspiring to look at and boring to play resulting in a lack of repeat business.  Conversely, a golf course that is too expensive to maintain versus revenue is also a loser. Anyone who plays the game has a love/hate relationship with bunkers.  Golf course superintendents probably fall on hate end of the ledger.  In Part II we will discuss how superintendents can be a part of the bunker design process.

Golf Insights are written by Steve Wolfard. Steve is the chief principal designer and partner at Wolfard Golf Design. He focuses on architecture, routing, construction, agronomics and how these elements impact both the playability of the game he has loved his entire life and the business of the golf courses he has worked or collaborated on. Wolfard brings a personal and balanced approach to his clients that is built on trust as their project partner.    To learn how Steve can help your next project contact him directly at: