Reshaping the Golf Course

Reshaping the Golf Course

‘Golf Potential Now’ Conference, Café Royal, London, May 25 2001

A strong criticism of many new golf courses hinges around the volume of earth that is moved. Is it really warranted? What are the benefits of moving earth or even importing fill material from other sites?

There is no doubt that on flatter uninteresting ground judicious and artistic reshaping of the landform creates a more attractive atmosphere for the game of golf- but even where the natural topography creates interest there may still be reasons for additional reshaping.

The following are key factors in the shaping of the course:

1. Drainage

The most important factor in the design, construction and establishment of golf courses is drainage – and it applies probably more in the United Kingdom that anywhere else, especially now that more play extends into the wet cool winter months. Investment in drainage provisions at the time of establishment is generally inadequate with intentions to instal further pipe drainage as required in the seasons that follow. One major failing in this approach is the reliance on pipe drainage and the lack of planning good surface drainage.

Heavy loam soils predominate throughout the land and infiltration into them is very restricted. As water will not generally percolate easily through such material underground drainage lines alone are inadequate to remove all surplus water. Creating suitable gradients for adequate surface flow through a grass sward should be the prime intention in any reshaping programme.

Where possible the architect should ensure that no part of the fairways or green approach is flatter than a gradient of 3% and where possible run-off areas of at least 6% should be incorporated. In order to accommodate these gradients on the golf course a degree of reshaping may be necessary in certain areas. Ensuring there is satisfactory surface water run-off becomes cost-effective with the reduced amount of underground pipe drainage that must be installed. Pipe drains can then be confined to low areas and the surface water is removed from the field of play to ditches, streams or collection areas.

2. Cost effectiveness of earth moving

Generally moving earth more than 50m (a normal limit of pushing soil) involves a cost in excess of £1.00 per cubic metre. To elevate greens and tees and construct a few mounds already accounts for more than 30,000 cubic metres. With reshaping to enhance the aesthetic value and challenge desired, this quantity can easily increase to well over 100,000 cubic metres while complete reshaping can amount to in the region of 250,000 cubic metres.

The overall benefits of the reshaped environment are judged essentially in the appeal created and are mainly warranted in accordance to the level of architectural design and the amount the client is prepared to pay for the final product.

At the time of reshaping, consideration should be given to access routing around the golf course. Whether buggies are to be used or not a firm surfaced pathway enabling easy access to every tee and green is a cost effective investment for the future maintenance of the golf course. This becomes vital with all year round golf.

With most courses developed on heavy clay loam soils continual travelling over designated rough areas can lead to isolated quagmires and unsightly scars. More important, the quality of the rough does much to frame the holes and provides a contrasting texture that is quickly lost with repeated use by vehicles used in maintaining the course.

3. Reshaping and landfill legislation

With the requirement of full planning permission under the Town and Country Act the degree of reshaping and the importation of soil are matters of concern. The exact nature of the imported material must be described along with the location of the source of the material. The Environmental Agency must approve the project. One of their main requirements is that the altered landform does not adversely affect the flood plain. Any culvert, diversion, weir, drain or like obstruction to the flow of water courses also requires the consent of the Agency under the land Drainage Act 1991. Once approved the Local District Council may require the recording of imported material and its source for reference purposes.

If controlled waste is to be imported the activity would be subject to waste management licensing. This is a prolonged exercise and strict legislation is in force to control the receipt of waste materials and to handle and incorporate them to required standards. Full details should be discussed with the Waste Licensing Team.

4. Incentives and benefits

Within the Ministry of Agriculture there are limited incentives – namely the Woodland Grant Scheme and the Rural Enterprise Scheme. In the former these are grants for the development of woodland areas based on the species planted. Basic grants for the establishment of a conifer plantation are £700 per hectare and for broadleaves £1350 per hectare.

The Rural Enterprise Scheme is aimed at giving assistance to support diversification where there is benefit to the community in a declining agriculture scene. Farmers and small business could be eligible for grants in the development of a golf course where the project was competitive and a regional need was established. This scheme is managed on a regional basis.

5. Problems encountered in reclamation

The utilisation of land that has been subjected to mining, quarrying, contamination, flooding or instability warrants detailed investigation.

In all circumstances a basic soils survey is an essential requirement before a site is considered for golf course development. Superficially the land is judged on the degree of undulations, stoniness, established trees and woodland together with the scope for surface drainage.

However a more detailed study incorporates a topographic study, assessment of the potential for flooding, the existence of mineral contaminants, the presence of ecologically unstable areas and the inherent instability in the terrain – whether occurring naturally or arising from previous action or works on the site. The nature of layered materials to the depth of envisaged excavation should also be studied as they may well be used in the reshaping exercise and end up just below the topsoil layer in the finalised landform.

The benefits of properly planning the development

Planning the systematic development of the golf course site can help prevent unnecessary expenditure in the future. Considering drainage provisions, ditch reticulation, lakes or ponds – if they are to exist – access roads, woodland planting, after use of borrow areas, maintenance facility and the property boundaries can have a significant influence on future costing and harmony on the course.

Once the golf course routing has been finalised the programme of earth movement and reshaping should be properly planned hole for hole. Undue soil compaction is inevitable, but this can be restricted to the minimum. Topsoil stockpiles should be strategically placed and maintained in a weed free conditions. Spraying off vegetation prior to final topsoil placement does not control the amount of weed seeds that can accumulate. These seeds produce plants shortly after topsoil placement on the golf course modified landform.

The proper treatment of compacted areas and the judicious handling of topsoil spreading has long lasting influence on the welfare of the fine turfgrassed areas in the future.

The sequence of the items of work incorporated in tee, fairway, green and bunker construction as well as drainage and irrigation need to be properly planned. Unforeseen circumstances are bound to arise and critical path planning is essential if unnecessary costs are to be avoided.

Gordon Jaaback

May 2001