Think of the role of a golf course architect, and it’s doubtful the phrase “water savings” pops immediately into your brain. Designers, however, during a build, restoration or renovation can play a vital role in reducing irrigation through a variety of means, most commonly by reducing areas of maintained turf while making sure the layout retains its appeal to golfers.
In Amarillo, Texas, Colligan Golf Design was charged with reworking the Mustang Course on the city-owned Ross Rogers Golf Complex, one of the course’s facilities owned by Amarillo.
Trey Kemp, project architect for Colligan, grew up playing the two Ross Rogers layouts. One of the company’s goals was to make the Mustang Course was noticeably different from the neighboring Wild Horse Course. In the process, they were able to reduce water usage by converting approximately 20 acres of maintained turf areas to tall fescue.
“It added definition to the course and gave more of a linksy feel,” says John Colligan, a member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA). “We wanted to create a contrast to Wild Horse.”
The layouts were in peril and on the verge of closing when Colligan was hired.
“The project was almost abandoned because of water issues,” Colligan says.
Making matters problematic for Ross Rogers, the facility is not allowed to capture runoff from the property to recharge its irrigation pond.
Even though he was not directly charged with reducing irrigation needs, Colligan made it a priority.
“It was just kind of common sense. The city didn’t tell us to do that,” he says. “I’m not claiming to be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I like to think I have a lot of common sense.”
According to Colligan, it can be challenging on many courses to decrease the amount of turf that needs water while maintaining the architectural intent. The firm has worked on such layouts as Oklahoma City Golf and Country Club, a Perry Maxwell Design that hosted the 1953 U.S. Amateur among other national tournaments, and River Crest Country Club in Forth Worth, which lists Tom Bendelow and A.W. Tillinghast as designers.
One way to leave the architecture undisturbed is to go the route Stevens Park Golf Course in Dallas did and forgo an irrigation holding pond for a 400,000-gallon tank on-site. Colligan redesigned the layout in 2011.
“There’s no evaporation, and it’s a lot cleaner way of holding it,” Colligan says.
The Callippe Preserve Golf Course opened in 2005 with Brian Costello of JMP Design as the architect. When the facility, located in Pleasanton, California, decided to undertake a bunker renovation project in 2014, Costello was once again called in.
The job, though, was not just about rebuilding sand hazards, but also about saving water. At that time, the drought affecting the region was in its fifth year.
Work was undertaken on three holes, concentrating on bunkers that faced south, southwest or were exposed to wind. The question, according Costello, became, “What can we do to better manager the water?”
The golf course superintendent, Mike Garvale, made the decision to go with the Better Billy Bunker system and Costello introduced the idea of subsurface drip line irrigation as part of the project. Delivering water that way not only cut down on evaporation and runoff, but also reduced the amount of water that needed to be put down since wind had no effect like it would on water thrown from an irrigation head.
“This applies the water right where you need it,” says Costello, a member of ASGCA.
For the most part, the lines were buried just below the surface but in areas such as walking paths. They are deep enough so as not to be disturbed by shallow aeration.
In addition, Garvale amended the soil where the dripline was placed with AquaSmart Pro, a polymer-coated sand that absorbs and retains moisture. In another move to reduce water use, Costello called for irrigation heads on the border of the course to be reconfigured from full-circle to part-circle.
Costello says the club estimates a 15 percent reduction in water use on the bunkers that were redone, enough of a savings for the go-ahead to be given for more work to be done on three holes this fall.
When Jan Bel Jan went to work on renovating the 36-hole Pelican’s Nest Golf Club in Bonita Springs, Florida, water conservation was on her mind.
As part of the project, the facility ran a 12-inch pipe for more than a mile to bring in effluent water. Up until then, the club was using well water with high salinity levels and then flushing greens with expensive city water to get rid of salt accumulation.
As part of the redo of bunkers and greens, Bel Jan also converted maintained areas, which rarely saw golf balls, into crushed seashells, a surface from which golfers can still play their shots.
Another Bel Jan idea, one that had nothing to do with irrigation, also ended up saving the club water.
She implemented what she calls Scoring Tees to the existing layout, thereby creating a short course of between 4,000 and 4,200 yards. Her target audience is golfers new to the game and the shortest hitters.
An unforeseen effect of the new tees is a decrease in the size of the fairways, almost 2 acres worth, according to Pelican’s Nest Superintendent Jason Zimmerman.
Because the golfers who hit the ball the shortest distance no longer play from the original forward tees, the distance from those tee boxes to fairway is lessened, converted to rough or in some cases, the crushed seashells.
“It allows the fairway to be moved forward, or no fairway at all,” says Bel Jan, an ASGCA member.
Zimmerman says the creation of the Scoring Tees probably saved the club. Yes, there was the expense of building and grassing the 600-square-foot pads, but they were constructed with the mix being removed from the putting greens as part of the renovation. The cost of having that soil trucked off-site was eliminated. As far as extra work, Zimmerman estimates each tee adds three minutes of mowing time.
Zimmerman says the tees are tied into the fairway and rough lines and they look natural, not like some clunky add-ons.
According to Zimmerman and Bel Jan, the best players at Pelican’s Nest have embraced the short course, which they find challenging.
“You have to be thoughtful about where you’re going to put the golf ball,” Bel Jan says of playing from her tees.