For modern golf architects there is one clear divide in our timelines and history – pre-computer and post-computer-generated plans. After many false starts, we drew our first complete set of plans on computer in 1998. One of the biggest advantages of CAD is that drawings require minimal storage space. I have some on CDs, some on thumb drives and all offsite in the cloud.

However, that still left 15 years’ worth of paper plans to store. I’m never happy to throw out plans. However, it frees up attic space, which makes my wife happy. The fire marshal and insurance company are happy, too. Most likely, someone filing a future lawsuit against me would want to see them, so my lawyer is happy.

And so, every year, I use the Christmas holidays (although the schedule sometimes slips) to wean my collection of old plans from attic storage. As the cost of scanning comes down, my rate of scanning goes up. I started weaning out my contracts and specifications long ago. I then threw out any unused preliminary plans made prior to the final routing, followed by the full construction sets, keeping only 100 scale grading and drainage plans, which show the design, and the old green detail plans. This year, I finally tackled scanning those.

I hadn’t looked at those in quite a while and got nostalgic about all the hand drawn green details. We took pride in drawing plans that worked. Most did, and the best ones were also works of art.

Each staff member felt compelled to add their own flair to my initial sketches when I wasn’t looking. And, each had their own drawing tendencies, that somehow missed the artistic mark, with various associates:

  • Using circle templates to draw contours, resulting in unnatural conical mounds
  • Setting sand bunkers perpendicular to natural contours
  • Setting greens too low to seem overly fixated on saving fill and expense
  • Drawing domed greens or sand box depth bunkers because they didn’t truly think in 3D

There are a hundred things you can solve on a green detail plan and luckily, if you don’t, minor (and sometimes major) details can be fixed by field direction or a talented shaper. In fact, one of the best arguments for detailed green plans is that design requires many iterations to get just right, and it helps if the first one (or two) iterations are done before construction to save time and expense of making repeated changes with bulldozers.

It was a pleasure to relive those plans and the many good greens built from them. I wanted a mulligan on some, because they look worthy of building again. Or are they?

Theoretically, most architects take pride in being original on every design. However, the busiest architects have been known to and derided by critics for reusing designs from the drawer.

Some architects justify it because clients tend to hire based on liking your previous work and want something similar. It minimizes risk. Others justify it in the name of “their brand” or standardization caused by regulations like ADA green entrances or good maintenance practices.

I think it’s justified in restorations. I have copied and pasted the best of an architect’s sand bunkers to other holes to replicate his look. On new work and renovations, I have experimented with reusing green plans, but it is hard to drop them in new locations without plan changes due to grades, specimen tree locations, sunlight or circulation needs.

But some of those old green plans seemed “so cool” that I was immediately tempted to use some version of them on current projects. However, even my favorite old green designs would require “tweaking” today to reflect modern course needs and my long-held but occasionally demoted in importance design philosophy of preventing maintenance and speed of play problems before they begin by design. Typical changes to my old green plans would include:

  • General flattening due to faster green speeds
  • Reducing bunker number, shape and size because sand bunkering was too large in the “awards” era
  • Making sure bunkers don’t:
    • Extend too far in front of the green
    • Narrow the frontal approaches
  • Reducing the amount of drainage flowing on the green surface

You would think a veteran architect with more than 1,000 golf hole designs to his credit could do his next project as a collection of his greatest holes like a band’s “greatest hit” albums. But music and golf courses are different, and I think my next design will have to be another original.

Jeffrey D. Brauer is a veteran golf course architect responsible for more than 50 new courses and more than 100 renovations. A member and past president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, he is president of Jeffrey D. Brauer/GolfScapes in Arlington, Texas. Reach him at jeff@jeffreydbrauer.com.