Most golfers evaluate a green by maintenance over design quality. Given the superintendents goal of providing great conditions, so do they, and they know that a well-functioning green, is easier (never easy, mind you) to maintain. So, both groups have an indirect interest in the less sexy parts of green design such as good infrastructure.

For even the best designed green to function well, the devil is in the construction methods and detail design of cart path, drainage and irrigation design. But proper design of these elements is essential, too. Some random thoughts from almost 40 years of designing greens:

Cart path/circulation

This is to avoid paths breaking up before their expected life span. Concrete is more expensive than asphalt, but in most areas of the country, still the preferred option for its durability.

I covered cart path design back in 2004. Here are some green specific design tips updated from that article:

  • Strive for direct routes and easy circulation. Place the path where golfers want to go.
  • Provide a wide entrance/exit point from the fairway ahead of the green to spread wear. It should be relatively flat and as wide as possible. Avoid physical blockage like mounds and bunkers in front of the green on the cart path side, because they tend to limit circulation to one path.
  • Physical blockages can be mounds, bunkers, trees, etc. Even a 1-foot mound causes golfers to drive or walk around.
  • Provide relatively level walk-up entries from cart path to green, about 2 lineal feet per thousand rounds. Ideally, the main entry is near the back to avoid walking back toward play to access the cart to minimize delays.
  • Use 10-12 feet wide pavement (net of curb) and 4-inch roll curbs around greens to keep carts on the path and allow for more concentrated traffic to pass. It should extend the full length of the green, if economically possible. If not, widen the pavement as far as possible near the anticipated walk-up areas. Cart parking zones no longer than the carts concentrate traffic to limited spots, so install wider pavement the full length of the natural entry points.
  • Locate green area paths close enough to greens for ease of use, but far enough away to avoid affecting play. My basic standards are: 35-45 feet from back of green; 45-55 feet on left side of green; 50-60 feet on right side of green edge.
  • Gentle curves fit the landscape, look better, spread wear better and drive easier.
  • Remove trees if necessary to maintain minimum radii, and keep tree trunks 5-15 feet from the pavement to avoid cart dents and path damage from tree roots.

Soils and turf

Sand capping critical areas can work, but can be problematic and cost more than it is often worth. Most often, we use the native soils, but make sure we have ample depth (9 inches) around the greens. Herringbone tiles will be required in the approach with sand capping, and is sometimes a good idea in any soil to keep this critical area dry. Regarding sod: Two words – use more.

Drainage

Whereas 2-2.5 percent drains well in most cases, a minimum of 3-4 percent for slopes around the green is better Paths are often used as drainage ways, but even a half-acre of upland drainage heading toward your green requires collection in catch basins before finding/crossing your busy parking areas and/or turf walk-up areas, if paths are on the high side. Where paths are on the low side, elevate them several inches and give them visible cross slope to move water away from the paths.

Irrigation design

Adjust back to back part circle sprinklers so they have different stop and return points, which often cause over watering of the approach and other areas. Make sure the cart path side of the hole is well irrigated to reduce the stress of greater cart traffic.

ADA

At all courses, any renovated areas are required to meet ADA standards for golf courses (at least one route from path to green with no curb, and a maximum of 5 percent slope up/downslope and 2 percent cross slope). That gentle route is mandated for wheelchairs, but senior golfers appreciate it, too.

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.