ASK THE EXPERT 2018-06-12T15:10:01+00:00



This is not meant to circumvent the knowledge of your superintendent, but to help utilize sound construction practices with proper maintenance, in order to provide optimum results with lower maintenance cost’s. These answers are based on results that I have gotten from situations that I have encountered in the past, I cannot guaranty the results that you will achieve. These answers should serve as a general guideline to help you with your situation, but I suggest that you consult a person with extensive experience and an artistic aptitude, to help you get optimum results.

A problem area during a construction or renovation project, or after years of wear (and settling)? Even on projects as small as solving a drainage problem in a seemingly insignificant area, sometimes we find ourselves in need of a little consulting on the best approach to the problem in order to obtain a functional, playable, as well as beautiful area, with the least amount of cost and disturbance.  A way to transform a “problem area” into something noticeably improved by everybody.

For over three decades I have been considered a “problem solver” in the construction industry, and most of that has been on golf courses both new and renovated. I can usually design/build a solution to the problem for a fraction of what it would cost if “put out to bid”. I have turned an “unfair” trickle of water into a pond that was in view and in play, so fast most members never knew the course was “under construction” till they saw the pond. I have spent four weeks “massaging” a new course into playability, because the shaping got out of control, just weeks before opening.

For most situations I can recommend a solution over the phone or Internet, FREE.  With digital cameras and emails, things can get moving pretty fast, and you’re on your way to improving the golfers experience at your course. You would be surprised at the improvements that can be done without devoting too many resources. Some situations may require a site visit, which can be arranged. With on-site supervision and shaping available for you to use my expertise to assist you throughout the various stages of your project, large or small, globally. I can point out which improvements can be performed with your maintenance crew, and which improvements would require my supervision and equipment expertise. I would prefer to work with your maintenance crew, and with you providing the needed materials in order to avoid marked up prices. If I need an architect, I know several that will give me a good price because they know the project will go fast and smooth.

I am all for eliminating fly mowing and hand raking bunkers. A golf course should strive to eliminate as much of the hand work as it can in order to lower maintenance costs. Native grasses should be utilized as much as feasible (saving water and mower time). Tees should be big enough to mow with ride-on equipment (speeding up mowing time as well as allowing more “healing time” for divots). As much as I hate to say it, a lot of sand traps seem to double as catch basins for surface water (terrible combination).

An Architect or experienced Shaper can help decide if a bunker should be converted to a basin, adjusted to divert water around it, or eliminated altogether. Along with this decision, in my opinion there is way to much “sand flashing” (sand placed high on the slope). Sand only needs to be flashed high enough to be seen if it can be reached by the golfer (in my opinion it is not a fair hazard unless it can be seen by the golfer). Some say “see how good it looks” but it does not look so good after a rain, or after years of rains cause contamination of the sand. A little less flash still looks good (even after a rain) and can be maintained with a Sand Pro. Some people like a ragged, jagged bunker edge, which means hand raking all the coves and hand mowing all the edges… Is it worth it?

There are tons of “methods” of building bunkers. I have heard of concrete sub-grades and molten plastic sprayed on the sub-grade to form a barrier to prevent contamination. To me this just exasperates the need to shovel sand back up the slope after a heavy rain. There are liners that provide a layer between the sub-grade and the sand for the rain water to travel through on its way to the drain. These work well for a while IF installed correctly, but the first time that you snag the liner with a Sand Pro, the fun is over and the work begins. I find it best to build low profile bunkers with lots of perforated pipe, and divert surface drainage around the bunker. If you find that the addition of a nearby catch basin will help, that can usually be accomplished very easily by connecting to the solid pipe that drains the bunker.

Tees should be Laser Leveled in order to insure usage of 100% of the tee space (not to mention it looks way more professional). Typically a Tee should be at least 30X30 in order to be big enough to mow with ride-on equipment and provide adequate tee space. The second tee and par 3’s require more space due to more usage and irons on par 3’s. I have seen a terrible, wavy, driving range tee that was about 2 acres, but you could only use about 25% of the tee. This means that if you only need 1/2 acre for a practice tee, if it were Laser Leveled they would cut 75% of their mowing time, and they would have an additional 1.5 acres to do something productive with.

Native grasses make a course look like it has always been there, saves on mowing and watering needs, and just makes a golf course look less “manufactured”, more “natural”.

We have the experience and expertise to help your course identify sensitive areas that can be adjusted in order to save maintenance needs, look more natural, and speed up play. Trust me, meeting the delicate balance of beauty/playable/maintainable is the trend that architects are starting to embrace.

I believe every golf course that has room to grow and plans to prosper, should have a qualified golf course architect help them with a master plan. And I believe that if you are planning a full 18 hole renovation, then it would be wise to have an architect on the team.

On the other hand: Small repairs or renovations like switching grass on greens, leveling/expanding tees, adding/removing bunkers, and solving a drainage problem for example, are things that can be done without the expense of an architect. The inclusion of an experienced shaper can be cheap insurance that your project will have optimum results. My design/build concept combines a long history of golf, excellent diversity of architectural experience, and the talent of an experienced shaper with the ability to make snap decisions to keep the project moving forward productively.

In between these two scenarios: There are a handful of shapers out there that actually play golf, love the game, understand design concepts, understands budget, and has the ability to produce. These guys can cut so much money off a project that their salary is paid for. They can take your course to another level, without the help of an architect. I know several architects that would step in to help as much or as little as they are needed, if needed.

Generally I have found that great thing can be achieved with a collaboration of some golf course staff and myself, putting together a renovation plan that will work toward that goal of beauty/playable/maintainable.

What a huge issue this is. I have always said: No matter how good it looks, if it does not work, it is not any good. If an area does not drain then clearly it is not any good.

I have heard that the three top priorities in building a golf course is:

  1. Drainage
  2. Drainage
  3. Drainage

With that being said, the first thing that I look at when shaping a golf course is how will it drain? I prefer good positive surface drainage when possible however it is hard to get away from sub-surface drainage. When considering pipe size err on the side of larger pipe, stay away from those puny 4″ grates that clog with just a few leaves, and try to avoid less than 1/2 % of fall on the pipe. I build my basins with a minimum 12″ cast iron grate (obviously there are exceptions where smaller grates are more aesthetically pleasing) with a minimum of 2′ of cover over the pipe. And when connecting a series of basins together I try to make the connections at the basin, this makes researching problems easier in the future (nothing man made is perfect).

It is a shame that a lot of courses are built without the emphasis on the top three priorities listed above. Then after suffering for years, the superintendent decides that he has to remedy the problem, but who wants to trench through his course crossing irrigation, and dealing with settled trenches on an established course? Some try the maintenance nightmare “French drain”, some try airification in order to get the water to soak into the ground. Everybody wants to try the cheapest remedy available, but sometimes you just have to do a little re-shaping that will amend the problem with some creative low areas that can be drained via sub-surface drainage.

I think of a drainage problem as a chance to dramatically improve a boring area into “eye candy” for the golfer. So there you go, instead of suffering with a problem, turn the problem into a pleasure that can be appreciated by everybody from the daily golfer, the guy on the mower, the superintendent, and the owner, who sees more rounds because of the improvement made.

I feel like a well undulating fairway avoids the “Pasture Pool” look, provides more interesting challenges for the golfer, and makes for a well drained golf course. Another win-win situation!

No. Simply put, NO!

I have never seen a situation that would warrant a sock over the pipe. If you feel like you need a sock, then you need more gravel, or finer gravel. Remember, when the pipe clogs you can flush it out, when the sock clogs you are done. You would have to dig up pipe in order to clean off the sock. I understand, it’s like a pre-cleaner on the air filter to a tractor, except you can easily clean or replace the pre-cleaner on your tractor. In fact, I have replaced pipe that had a sock on it, and trust me, it’s much easier to replace the pre-cleaner on your tractor!

Anybody that has an appreciation for socked pipe I would like to hear from you, I still wonder how they sell the stuff???

Unfortunately a lot of bunkers really serve double duty as a basin, and as everybody knows, the onslaught of water wreaks havoc on the bunker. Sometimes it is as simple as bringing in a few yards of dirt to create more of a lip on the high side of the bunker, then some fresh sod, and eliminate this maintenance issue. Sometimes it gets more involved to the extent that I would advise on deciding whether to live with the issue or eliminate the bunker altogether!

There are fabrics that claim to eliminate the wash, and they do a very good job for the short term, if they do not “surface” either during maintenance or normal play. But they are not going to solve the “basin” problem. In fact a nearby basin may address your issue. It could be drained with the existing bunker drain and therefore help to minimize the costs of installation.

Another common mistake is having the sand “flash” up unnecessarily high. It usually only needs to flash up high enough to be seen and therefore be a “fair” hazard. There is a rare occasion where a green-side bunker needs to flashed up high in order to accomplish the “intimidation” factor! The fairway bunkers should have a low enough lip to accept a longer iron to exit and therefore should not be as deep, and therefore should require virtually no maintenance (unless you are suffering the “catch basin” effect).

There is also a liner system that prevents contamination by creating a barrier between the sand and the soil, either by concrete or plastic. It does not do much to hold sand up on the slope, but it does prevent the maintenance crew from contaminating the sand while raking the bunker. This should last the life of the course, but I would hate to think about having to rake all that sand back up after every heavy rain.

In my opinion, the best solution is to minimize the basin effect, not flash the sand up any higher than is necessary, and use a lot of perforated pipe (without a sock). Then use the right sand. Once again, spending more money on the most appropriate sand could save money in the long run. Even then, you can rest assured that there is no maintenance free sand trap or else the IRS would not allow the depreciation of golf course features with sub-surface drainage.

There are promising solutions to help a properly designed bunker withstand heavy rains. Bunker Solutions, and Better Billy Bunkers are two that I have seen perform amazingly during heavy rains. These are very expensive systems and work best when used with very expensive crushed quartz for sand. A person would have to be very happy with their bunkers and not want to change them for a very long time in order for this to be cost-effective, and notice where I said “a properly designed bunker”.

The first thing a golfer looks at on a golf hole is where he is going to tee off from. I have seen some tees particularly on par 3’s where a lot of irons are used, that are just too small. But just as often, Ihave seen tees that are too wavy and only offer usage of less than half the tee space. It is way cheaper to laser level your tees than to make them bigger. Sometimes of course you may need to enlarge, and often that can be done by lowering the tee slightly and using that dirt to increase the size. Therefore avoiding hauling dirt across your golf course. I find a lot of tees that were built way higher than they needed to be, and can be lowered significantly without sacrificing the view.

I have seen a practice tee that was about two acres and only offered usage of about 25%, I personally think that they could have gotten by with a 1/2 acre of usable tee space. Who knows what they could have done on the other 1.5 acres? Not to mention less tee to mow.

All greens seem to get rounder and smaller over time. Not all greens were built with a tracer wire around the perimeter, or the plastic barrier (interface) separating the root zone from the surrounding top soil. It is easy enough to use a simple wire pin-flag as a probe to find the old edge. You can feel the difference between pushing the flag into sand versus top soil, paint a dot at that point then paint a symmetric line connecting the dots and you will see your original green shape.

Often when there is a green-side bunker, especially at the chipping green, the sand blasted out of the bunker will build up the lip three feet or more! This forces the superintendent to mow the green smaller in order to keep the resulting mound off the green. There comes a time when you need to rework the bunker lip by getting rid of three plus feet of material in order to make the bunker more player friendly as well as get your green back to its original size and shape. Did I mention lower maintenance?

This should be done before poisoning the green for your re-grass project.

The attraction of a river working in harmony with a fairway is a great invitation to put fragile features too close to harms way. If you are near a large river or stream you should be very careful about putting a green “down by the water”. A smaller creek would be safer to work into the landscape, while minimizing the possibility of the creek rising to the point of covering the green.

I have built one 18 hole golf course where during floods there are Island Greens left undisturbed, but when the water is down you cannot really tell that the elevations of the greens are manipulated to be a certain elevation while still “fitting in” to the terrain.

I would suggest really thinking through the temptation to merge with the water. It is difficult to maintain insurance on a course that is flood prone. When considering the cut/fill balance that must be met when working in a flood plain, it is possible to find that balance of beauty/playable/maintainable without loosing greens.

It is hard to put a lifetime of experience on this topic, addressing all variations of situations that can be encountered when undertaking such a project, in a space for a person to read in a timely manner. This pretty well describes what I have found to be the most practical approach to get your greens back to the “carpet” look.

Now is the time to address any problems that your greens may be having. This is the time to set up your greens for another 15-20 years of low maintenance performance. There are tons of issues that can cause a less than perfect putting surface. The main problem that I encounter is the build up of thatch that prevents the percolation of water down to the roots, as well  as the build up of “sludge” (for lack of a better word) especially at the low areas of the green where the majority of the surface drainage passes by while trying to get into the roots. This sometimes looks like something that washed up on a beach in Alabama recently.

After poisoning the grass, I suggest removing at least 2 inches of material off the top, and at the low areas of the green you may need to remove even more in order to get the sludge off.  Silica sand can then be used to replace the removed material (this usually amounts to 25-50 tons of sand per green) which is then roto-tilled into the existing root zone, which further penetrates the compacted root zone creating a uniform organic growing medium. 1-2 light passes with a roller to firm it up a bit, then grade and float the green to perfection matching the existing collar. Ready for a little fertilizer and sprigs.

This process also gives you the opportunity to correct small problems with the undulations on your green. Notice I said “small problems”, there is only so much you can do to a green when the collar is undisturbed. Very seldom have I seen a green that needed to be taken all the way down to the gravel blanket. This is also the time to correct a green that has been top-dressed for decades. I have seen evidence of up to 12 inches of top-dressing, but now we are getting into a whole different renovation project.

This is a good time to have a professional inspect your greens and work with your superintendent to suggest the most practical approach to put your greens back into the best possible condition that your budget will allow. This will also help you determine if you can use Round Up to poison your existing grass or if you need Methyl Bromide.

This is also the time to find out if your greens have gotten small and round, which is pretty much a guaranty.