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Building a new golf course? Consider these factors first

By Ron Garl, Special Contributer

Based in Lakeland, Fla., Ron Garl has won national and international awards, from Golf Digest, the Audubon Society, Golf Magazine, Links Magazine and Southern Living, among others. He was named "Golf Designer of the Year" by International Network of Golf in 1996.

The most distinguishing and controllable feature of a quality golf course is most often the quantity of earthwork available for construction. Second to earthwork is internal drainage.

On sites that are relatively flat, creating an interesting golf experience may require large quantities of earthwork. The construction of lakes, in addition to their site enhancement, provide drainage and storm water storage devices while generating large amounts of valuable fill material.

Quality golf courses present challenge to all levels of play, but they are distinguished by also producing a genuine "park-like" feeling to golfers. To accomplish this, I have utilized special features such as terraces, elevated tees, greens, and island greens. These features serve in accenting natural systems, which improve aesthetics and drainage. Appropriately sloped fairways and drainage structures facilitate play after rains.

As you might expect, imported fill generally demands a premium price; therefore, it is very important to keep your cut and fill balanced. All earthwork designs should be carefully checked by your design professionals to assure equal volumes or a surplus of fill, since you will always be able to use more dirt than less. My experience has taught us to plan on a minimum of 500,000 cubic yards of earthwork for a quality golf course, on a site with flat terrain.

The most important phase of golf course construction is shaping. It is really distinguished by its art form nature. Good shapers are hard to find, but worth the search since they will facilitate your golf designer's concepts. A close relationship between your shaper and golf course designer will enhance the quality of your course.

Irrigation, the next major cost, can be a real eye-opener to one not familiar with golf course construction. To truly appreciate the notable irrigation costs involved with a golf course, you must first realize the hydraulics involved with large area irrigation.

Nozzle dynamics, sophisticated time clocks, significant pipe size and strength rating are substantial. There isn't a standard quantity of sprinkler heads for a golf course, but we have many designs, which include 700-1,000 heads. If you are utilizing grey water as a source, sprinkler quantities will increase to direct sprays away from environmentally sensitive areas and lakes,

Cart paths, a necessary item for quality courses, can be constructed of varying widths and materials. Widths vary from 7 to 10 feet, depending upon whether maintenance equipment travels their route. They are constructed of concrete, asphalt or shell, with the latter having lower installation costs.

When viewing long-term maintenance and replacement costs, however, concrete tends to be a better value. The extent of cart path construction has a direct effect upon paving costs. You may elect to keep cart paths to a minimum by using them in high traffic areas or in fragile soil environments, or go to the other extreme by paving the entire length of the course, which we term "wall to wall."

More detailed features such as walls, bulkheads, bridges and rock features can vary a great deal, depending on several things. Square footage, spans, quality of materials, and labor supply each have an impact on the cost of these items.

Grassing and sod may cover an area from 90 to 180 acres, depending upon course length, slopes, and fairway widths. The grow-in phase of construction normally requires a labor and supervision cost, which may range from four to six months. Erosion control during this phase can become a significant expense, if construction isn't able to follow seasonal weather patterns most conducive to prevent erosion.

Drainage pipe, inlets and drain tile for traps and fairways will vary, depending upon the drainage complexity and the climatic zone of your site and the design itself.

Soft costs may include impact fees, permit fees, surveying, legal fees, and other professional fees. Other performa costs might include interest costs, contingencies and an allowance for future modifications.

When you total all these items, a quality golf course might cost anywhere from $4 million-$7 million. A good portion of these costs can be accounted for during the design stage by quantifying volumes and surface areas and applying unit costs. You should carefully research the unit costs particular to your site vicinity, preferably early in you design process.

Start your construction budget off on the right foot by selecting a site that already has a good amount of character and you may dramatically reduce your costs. Realize the importance of net useable area for the golf course and retain a professional golf course designer who can best utilize the site benefits.

By having a good earthwork allowance as part of your budget, you will have appropriately addressed two of the most important aspects of quality golf course construction; net useable area and earthwork volumes.

Checklist for Estimating Golf Course Construction Cost

Site Preparation
Clearing/Machine, Hand
Stripping Topsoil
Excavation/Lake, Cut & Fill, Rock
Rough Grading
Large Pipes and Inlets
Small Pipes and Inlets
Fine Shaping
Drain Tile w/Rock
Solid Drain Pipe
Lake Liners
Bunker Construction
Green/Tee Construction
Plating Topsoil
Irrigation/Wells, Wet Wells, Pumps, Electric Service, Sprinklers
Rock Walls
Vertical/Angled Wood Walls
Float Work/Fairway Prep
Nuisance Rock
Bunker Sand
Soil Amendments
Cart Paths
Planting/Grassing, Sod
Tee Planting/Landscaping

Ancillary Expenses Checklist

Maintenance Equipment
Maintenance Complex
Practice Range Equipment
Rain Shelters/Restrooms
Land Costs
Water Source/Costs
Interest Expenses
Recreation Facilities
Environmental Mitigation
Permit and Impact Fees
Professional Fees
Management Labor
Access Road, Car Parking, Landscaping
Tee Markers and Signage
Clubhouse Complex

Ron GarlRon Garl, Special Contributer

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