© guy cipriano

Golf courses continue to forge forward with renovations, restorations and other enhancements. Before you enter project mode, remember every action you take today will have short- and long-term ramifications. By no means am I trying to play architect at your course, but here are a few things to consider based on my maintenance and design experiences.

Before making a decision

First and foremost, plan, plan and plan some more.

Planning a project takes time. To get a good start, determine overall, immediate and long-term needs. One of the most important pieces is to get out your crystal ball and try to forecast where you will be regarding available labor. Everyone reading this has already faced a staffing shortage, and I can’t imagine ever going back to the numbers we had 20, 10 or even five years ago. Plan accordingly to where you think your staffing levels will be during the lifespan of the upgrade.

Once you determine your needs, begin to prioritize. It’s nice to get everything on the wish list, but be prepared if not everything gets granted. Cost out every project that needs attention — even if some aspects might be out of financial reach.

Contractors are facing the same labor challenges as superintendents. Everyone is stretched too thin and most projects are done in phases now. This is unlikely to change soon.

After making a decision

Items to focus on if tees and greens are on the list:

Tee resurfacing. Are they properly sized for play levels now? What is envisioned in the future? How are they maintained? Can they be maintained with a triplex vs. having to deploy a team of walk mowers every mow?

Greens construction. Proper mix/soil and drainage are key factors. Once a mix/soil is selected, budget for proper testing so you will receive desired consistency throughout the project. Work with a lab and agree on how many samples will be needed throughout the project, and when they will be needed. Make sure the green can be constructed in a way that it can be mowed with a triplex unit. Even though you might prefer to walk mow and currently have the staff to do so, it’s best to prepare for what might happen. If there is anything this year has taught us in the turfgrass industry, we need to be prepared during a crisis to be as efficient as we can.

Last but not least: Bunkers

A lot of projects that I have been hearing about simply involve coring out new floors and adding new drainage, new liner and new sand. This is shortsighted and not doing your facility justice. Think about how many bunkers you currently have. Are they all needed? Are the sizes needed? Can anything be done to shape water away from them on the outside without compromising the intent of the hazard? Are they set at proper angles and depth?

Let’s focus on bunker quantity and sizes. Here is where you get out your crystal ball (again) and try to forecast future staffing levels. If you can’t properly maintain them now, why not reduce where possible? Do you have to rake them all by hand now? Can you reshape them so they can be spun out mechanically?

Focus on proper depth next. Say you have a long par 3 or 4 with a bunker cut on the front right of the green. You will likely notice large deposits of sand thrown out on the green. It’s a good bet that bunker, although maybe very strategic, is set at an improper depth. If it was cut deeper, maybe as much as 3 to 4 feet, would you have all that sand thrown out on the green surface every morning? If the problem is addressed during the renovation, bunker placement remains the same. But it’s probably more strategic to stay away, because it presents more of a challenge at a deeper depth.

The focus then shifts to faces and their maintenance. If there is currently a problem, why not address it during the reconstruction and fix it for the long term? Most bunker problems usually start externally, not within bunker confines. Drainage problems and mowing of faces and surrounds are common problems. Make sure you are giving ample consideration to these areas.

Lastly, we all need to remember what a bunker is at its core. It’s a hazard, and sometimes it needs to play as such!

Kelly Shumate is the director of golf course maintenance at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. He has helped design multiple courses, with the most recent one being The Ashford Short Course.