It is unusually good timing for Golf Course Industry’s “construction issue,” since we are in the home stretch of a very interesting presidential election and one of the major issues is building a wall.
I’m not going to weigh in on politics, other than to say that if you are undertaking any kind of construction project — your own personal “wall” — then you had better have a plan.
Someone can’t say “wall” and expect you to just start digging.
Say you work at a wonderful old course and the powers that be at the club decide to hire a hot architect to restore or reinvent it. Either way, you have to beware and be wary: Don’t get roped into automatically thinking it’s the next best thing, and don’t buy into something that the club can’t afford.
All the fancy drawings, member meetings and personal reassurances won’t secure your future. Even if no one else is as cautious, you must insist on a full-scale plan, one that carefully lays out every phase of construction from initial concept to end result.
And get it in writing.
Make sure that there is an architectural review board and, ideally, an unbiased third party or independent consultant to review the entire plan before any work begins. Construction needs a system of checks and balances so that affordable reality doesn’t become expensive pie-in-the-sky. And while an independent manager might seem a luxury, think of it instead as an insurance policy to protect the members’ and/or owners’ investment — as well as your livelihood.
As you review the plan — and you want to be sure that you not only have input but significant decision-making powers along the way — look for the sorts of features and nuances that could make your life miserable: over-the-top design elements that will be hard to maintain and turn-off potential members or customers. And expect pressure from the low-handicappers and influential members who try to push for particulars that suit only them and will annoy many others.
Here are a few areas to think about when reviewing the plan. Be prepared to question the architect, the committee, the project manager and anyone else with influence. Ask early, ask often.
In most cases, you’re best off following USGA construction methods. Make sure there is consistency in the soil profiles and drainage.
Are the new greens overly contoured? Too flat? Can they be effectively maintained without breaking the bank? Will they provide enough challenge to good players without ruining the round for new and less skilled golfers? Can you find enough good hole locations? Can you make the greens fast enough for good players and events like the club championship?
How much hand maintenance will be required to rake the bunkers and mow the banks? Will they be difficult for most players to enter and exit? Will new liners be installed? What type of sand will be used? Will it be playable for the majority of golfers coming to the course?
If the architect is enlarging or adding tees, ask why. More and bigger tees raise the costs of maintenance — labor, equipment, material — and add to the time needed to prepare the course each day. Also, are the tee positions too difficult? Do they call for carries over native areas and water? Your members might not think twice about spending thousands on the redesign, but every $5 golf ball they lose will drive them crazy.
If you think the redesign project will result in the U.S. Open coming to your course, wise up. Unless the course is already hosting majors or other significant events, there’s almost no amount of work possible that will elevate your facility to that level. If the architect or some members make that argument, take a step back and ask what this project is really all about: Is it just for the select few or for the enjoyment of all your constituents?
Someone must constantly check every nuance of the project and verify that the process is being handled correctly with tremendous attention to detail. And that someone is you.
As the superintendent, you must be engaged and involved every step of the way, in every decision. You have to be mindful of many different concerns, most notably the ability to maintain the finished product properly and economically, plus the financial impact on the club in both the short and long term. Let others be blinded by the thought of a shiny new toy: You think about what it will cost to keep it shiny a week, month, a year down the road. And whether new members and guests will want to play (and pay for) it.
Is the architect planning to be on-site regularly, tweaking and reviewing every step of the way? Or will he/she be an absentee artist, doing a fly-by every few weeks to wave a magic wand and bestow a blessing? Someone must be accountable for the design and the execution of the plan. You’d better know who that’s going to be before any work begins.
Are there plans to redo the practice range? Other facilities? Will your maintenance budget — buildings, staff, equipment — grow with the expanded responsibilities?
Who will monitor the costs? Who has the power to say “stop” or “no” if one of the design ideas proves exorbitantly expensive to build or maintain? If that person has to be you, will pulling the emergency brake lead to you losing your job?
These are just some of the questions you should be asking before any work starts, not when it’s underway or, worse, when it’s all done. Don’t accept, sign off, or pay for any part of the design or execution that isn’t totally acceptable to you. Don’t say yes to something you know is wrong, even to quiet one or a dozen members whining and cajoling. But if you say no, be prepared to back up your reasoning with cold, hard facts and costs.
As the superintendent you have to be both 100 percent on board with the project as well as a constant voice of reason and asker of questions. Because when the work is done, the target will be on your back as the person responsible for maintaining the new creation.
When the “wall” is built, you want to be on the inside, doing your job and doing it proudly.