Golf Stormwater Architect

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Golf Course Architecture – Stormwater Architect

Renovating bunkers, creating alternate lines of play, and re-contouring green surfaces are part of the foundations of golf course architecture.  Play corridors that have been designed to give intelligent purpose to striking the ball can go beyond typical features.  There are many factors that go into the design of a golf course that involve shaping the land.  Let’s look at one area that many golf courses are underutilized for, stormwater treatment.

Shaping the land for golf was my original passion.  It is what gets me excited when developing grading plans.  Contouring the ground expands the types of shots played and entices players to be creative with ball striking.  Not all golf shots need to be heroic!  Sand bunkers do a wonderful job of visually establishing lines of play, but there are plenty of renowned golf courses with other features that determine golf angles.  Just look at the famous 13th hole at Augusta CC, home of the Masters.

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to work on a wide variety of projects.  Last century when I worked for Cornish, Silva, and Mungeam, we focused probably 60-70% of our time on new courses with the remainder on renovations or restorations.  Restorations primarily focused on golf features and occasionally strayed outside the existing hole corridors when there was evidence. New course work mostly started with a canvas of forested or ‘landfill’ landscapes.  We routed courses to best utilize the topography for golf holes, minimizing adjustments to elevations.  In New England adjusting elevations often means blasting. The only place that worked effectively was Black Rock GC

12th Hole at Black Rock, Hingham, MA where there was actually minimal blasting

New courses required the understanding of stormwater and we took advantage of that knowledge by re-defining watersheds so that stormwater was collected and used for irrigation.  There are some courses, like Oxford Greens, that would not have had a sustainable water supply if these efforts would not have been made.

Recently, my projects have taken a slightly different look at stormwater.  Now the focus is on water quality.  To do this, I am creating swales, or one of my favorite terms, ditches, to move water through pond shelves, forebays, and soil filters.  The key is to blend these man-made features with the golf course proper so not only do they improve water quality, but also have a positive aesthetic impact, and even become strategic elements.

This strategic impact is best demonstrated with my recent work at Pine Orchard renovation as highlighted in Club + Resort Magazine.  A project over ten years in the making, the scope included re-building the 1st fairway, 2nd tees, 9th tees and fairway, plus removing phragmites.  Raising the fairways and improving the soil structure has eliminated the full moon flooding.  When the next major storm comes crashing into Branford and neighboring New Haven, any flood water will now quick drain away and prevent long-term standing water.  With the ten-foot tall plus phragmites removed, vistas were opened between holes and created the much-desired long views. 

Sometimes lost in the engineering metrics, thanks to BSC Group for those, I had to meet with re-grading the hole corridors, was the re-alignment of the tidal creek across the 1st hole.  Prior to the work, the creek had little effect on the hole play for longer and more accomplished players.  They blasted their tee shots to the soft, but at least playable fairway.  However, the creek had a detrimental effect on seniors, ladies and less accomplished who often found their tee shots rolling in the water if they did not layup.  Can you imagine laying up almost 100% of the time on the opening tee shot and thus forcing the hole to become a par 5 since the approach shot was now out of range?  This was not a strategic choice.

Shifting the creek alignment further down the hole as part of the marsh re-grading allowed for the shorter hitter to hit a full tee shot to the left fairway.  Giving the creek a sinuous flow and splitting the fairway 65% left side no carry and 35% right side all carry gave the longer players something to ponder.  Depending upon the wind direction and strength.  The average players now has a choice to try and carry the creek, playing up the tight right side alley or playing more left and bring the newly expanded left greenside bunker into play. 

Pine Orchard 1st landing area (photo credit Todd Ogborn)

Further up the New England coast, in Bristol, Rhode Island, is a tight, very rudimentary course called Bristol Golf Club.  Bristol is a course that an editorial in the New York Times called the “Worst Course in America“.  After my initial walk, hired as part of a team to improve water quality and habitat, I would agree.  The 2nd hole tee shot played with a major electrical transmission line fifty yards in front of the tee.  The soil conditions were so wet I am still surprised that the majority of the site was not delineated as wetlands.  Stormwater passes through the course from the neighboring industrial park and junk yard and is further enhanced by more Canadian geese than actually reside in Canada.

I looked at this project as an opportunity to not only improve the water quality and expand the wildlife habitat as the grant funding required, but also to save a golf course that, with some changes in tee location and a couple new greens could be a great beginner’s course.  Working with Wright-Pierce and Save the Bay, among other groups, I created ditch that connects to special aquatic areas so stormwater traveled through pockets of native vegetation.  US Pitchcare completely understood the concept leaving found boulders and rock in place to provide additional erosion control and pockets for the water to settle.  This is out of the ordinary for most golf course contractors as we often want to create maintainable turf.

Pond shelfs with upland islands that provide wildlife and native species habitat at Bristol Golf Course

Working within the modest budget placed limits on earthwork and expanded work areas.  The site’s topography, or lack of, could only be enhanced with the material created in the stormwater excavation.  Even the soil filter media was used for the tee and green rootzone to simplify the project.  There was no existing soil suitable for a rootzone!  So far this summer, these ditches have done their job at consolidating stormwater from the playing areas, and even drying the surrounding soil. 

The most man made pond I’ve seen in many a year was also transformed by adding two wet shelves with upland islands.  Last week these islands were hosting some small birds and are being planted with geese limiting vegetation .  Even geese don’t like thorns!  To further limit geese, the wall to wall mowed rough is being transformed into out of play, even for a beginner’s course, native rough.  Some areas will be mowed a couple times a year.  Others will be transformed slowly, with successional vegetation, back to an eventual forest. 

Phase two just finished and continued the water quality work and included a new green for that famous 2nd hole.  This green will have some contours that will mimic some of the stormwater swales and even define the surface into separate plateaus!  You can’t take the architecture out of the project!

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