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For the health and safety of the golf course, as well as the longevity of a superintendent’s career, it’s best not to turn course renovation into a DIY project.

The modern greenkeeper is a technically trained field scientist with expertise in turfgrass management and everything it takes to get grass to grow. When it comes to construction projects and changing the golf course, however, it’s best for the superintendent to give way to a consulting architect. Or, to be more precise, to work collaboratively in developing a program that can be implemented by someone else specially trained in digging up and repairing golf ground.

Modern construction equipment is incredibly complicated. Trained shapers can do wonders with a three-dimensionally articulating knuckle-bucket. They can virtually see through the blade of a 12-ton bulldozer and know exactly where the edge touches the ground. Some of them are deft enough that if you put a slice of pizza on the ground, they could slide the pepperoni off without the blade touching the crust.

If you have to import the machine for the job and it’s not part of your everyday arsenal, forget about operating it and hire a trained feature builder. For the vast majority of superintendents, that means confining to a sod cutter or small front-end loader for materials handling. Where superintendents are absolutely indispensable to the success of a renovation job comes in the planning stages and in overseeing implementation. Think of it as four-stage process:

Vet the architect

A civilian committee of members or public officials will never be able to properly vet the ability of an architect to get the job done right. It’s your job to help pierce through the sales pitch and judge the quality of the designer’s repertoire. Check their references; make site visits to their previous work. Find out from the superintendents they’ve worked with if they met the deadline, kept on budget, handled labor well and worked smoothly with the facility.


The best architects — not necessarily the celebrity ones — work closely with the superintendent in securing prices for materials at local rates. That means everything from sourcing sand, gravel and pipe to labor costs and — the big unknown — local temporary housing. Even if you end up bidding the whole project out to an experienced contractor and letting them do the entire project, it will help your budget process and give you a sense of security to know you at least got estimates that reflect prevailing local conditions.

at what cost?

Work with the design team during the planning process to ensure that you understand the budget consequences of the proposed renovation. If the idea is to cultivate more short-grass tie ins and firm up all approaches into the greens, there will be budget consequences to walk-mowing those areas and increasing your rate of topdressing. If you adopt a flashier look with dramatic grass faces to bunkers, make sure you can afford to fly mow them. The same goes for the choice of a proper bunker liner — or the decision not to go with one. The best architects see this process as a give and take; they should not impose their vision regardless of budget and you should not demand they compromise design integrity for the sake of maintenance ease.

Quality control

If you adopt a conventional bid-contract model, you are still responsible for making sure that equipment, materials storage and traffic heeds the character of the site and doesn’t just rumble relentlessly about. If the course is closed during the work, you will likely still be providing labor for jobs like sodding, grow in and repair. If the course remains open, you will spend half your time as a safety director and traffic cop. And if you adopt a design/build model and assume more of the risk internally, you will function as a clerk for materials testing, quality control, checklists and timeline management. You’ll also secure subcontractors for everything from tree work and cart path repair to wetlands management and civil engineering.

Without proper planning by the superintendent, a renovation job can easily end up with delays and budget overruns, and in need of ongoing repairs long afterward. It might not be as much fun as getting on a bulldozer and doing some feature shaping, but it’s the job you have been training for your entire career — though on a timeline and with an urgency that will feel breathless.

Bradley S. Klein, Ph.D. (political science), former PGA Tour caddie, is a veteran golf journalist, book author (“Discovering Donald Ross,” among others) and golf course consultant. Follow him on Twitter (@BradleySKlein).