Using similar forms, shapes, sizes and species provides the golfer with the feeling of comfort and relaxation. Photos by John C Fech.

Using similar forms, shapes, sizes and species provides the golfer with the feeling of comfort and relaxation. Photos by John C Fech.

For many golfers and members, the clubhouse is the first thing they see when they enter the property. In some cases, their interaction with it — positive, neutral or negative — can carry over well into the actual swinging of the clubs. A golf course clubhouse can also be a point of focus for a community or neighborhood, and as such it receives a lot of attention.

All clubhouse projects should start with the end goal in mind. For a clubhouse there could be several. To get started, think about what’s working and what isn’t and take notes.

A few of the more common changes/enhancements include:

  • Better traffic flow between the pro shop, parking lot, cart rental, bar/restaurant and practice green.
  • Screening or distance between the road and the clubhouse.
  • Reduction of overgrown foliage and woody plants.
  • Need for additional shading for various activities.
  • Need to diversify plantings — too little of some, too much of others.
  • Need for color in all seasons.

One, some or all of these are legitimate goals to work towards. A common tendency is to start choosing plants at this point, but it’s too early in the process to do so.

Be ready for a change

Some people resist change, while others embrace it. Realize that your members, regular golfers, and others have thoughts and perceptions of the course based on how the clubhouse looks. Most everyone is interested in aesthetics, at least to some degree. Some stop there, while others insist on a high level of functionality.

The change that will come with a clubhouse landscape project is inevitable. The key is to be ready for it in all aspects: praise, criticism, accomplishment of goals, disappointment and everything in between.

Gather critical opinions

Various stakeholders (owners, municipal employees, green committee members, philanthropic club leagues, pro shop representatives, homeowners association presidents) are usually very interested in what the new look of the clubhouse will be. If you’re planning a significant change, it’s wise to seek the opinions of at least some of these stakeholders.

When gathering opinions, ask them to be as specific as possible. Pay attention to concrete ideas, such as mentions of existing trees that should be retained or razed. A reminder that there’s a big Christmas event every year, and the importance of traffic flow between the pro shop, cart rental and the parking lot, can be very helpful. This could also influence your plant selection; for example, evergreen hollies with red berries would help set the tone for events held at the clubhouse during the holiday season.

If a seating area is required, think about options such as placement under trees. Photos by John C Fech.

If a seating area is required, think about options such as placement under trees. Photos by John C Fech.


Transfer information from the goals section to a basic sketch. It’s best to obtain a base map/plat/survey, and then use tracing paper for your drawings. Don’t worry about exact angles and measurements at this point. A highly functional clubhouse landscape will allow for easy movement, be accessible for maintenance and golf play, and be maintainable for the life of the arranged space.

Though there are many ways to address function, one that works well is to divide the parts into two categories: Physical characteristics,
including soil pH, sun/wind exposure, soil characteristics, wildlife issues and slope; and aesthetic characteristics, such as views and the color of clubhouse siding.

If a seating area is required, think about options such as placement under trees, pergolas and awnings. Draw in existing elements that won’t change in one color, items that may change in another, and potential additions in a third color.

Views from the inside of the clubhouse are important and shouldn’t be blocked with landscape plants. If Boston ivy is covering the windows or red maple limbs are within 3 feet of the glass, they hinder this function.

Short-term and long-term solutions

If it’s a new clubhouse or there is pressure to reach goals in a hurry, it’s best to create short- and long-term solutions. In the short term, containers for color, evergreens, close spacing, installation of 4- to 6-inch-diameter trees, hardscape enhancements, deciduous trees and shrubs with fall color and/or interesting stems and fast-growing species can be considered. However, keep in mind that fast growth equals short life, and problems for the person who maintains the plants.

Long-term solutions are generally preferred — installation with eventual height and shape in mind; massing plants in groups of three, five or seven; using a variety of appealing species, such as those with colorful bark, great texture and attractive blossoms. Landscape plants that perform best are ones with slow to moderate growth rates with stem diameters of 1 to 2 inches.

Classic principles

Whenever possible, endeavor to implement solid, classic landscape design principles:

Layering Placing plants under other plants. This usually involves trees for shade, understory trees, tall shrubs, medium and small shrubs, ornamental grasses, perennials of various sizes, and ground covers that knit perennials and shrubs together.

Gradation Short, medium, tall, usually in linear rows, can make a powerful and formal statement.

RepetitionUsing similar forms, shapes, sizes and species provides the golfer with the feeling of comfort and relaxation.

Unity An overall sense of design that all elements are held together naturally, rather than being disjointed.

Balance Asymmetrical and symmetrical. Both can work well in the golfscape. Symmetrical arrangements are designed such that the left side of a view looks exactly the same as the right side. Asymmetrical designs offer the same amount of mass and “weight” on both sides of a view, however different plant materials are utilized.

Separation of turf and ornamentals Each requires different equipment and maintenance inputs in terms of mowing, fertilization, irrigation, mulching and pest control, so it’s important that they’re separated. The separation also implements a positive force of mass/void, making each stronger and more appealing.

Line Clean bed lines help separate turf from ornamentals and increase the ease of maintenance.

Texture Differences in leaf width offer subtle appeal in the golfscape.

Right plant, right place The placement of ornamentals and turf in the best location in terms of wind, slope, sun, shade, soil and size for successful growth.

Proportion/scale For a clubhouse, keeping the size of the plant material proportional in relation to the size of the building is important visually. A golf course or landscape designer can be helpful in this regard.

Specific plant shapes

Plants are available in many shapes and sizes, and just like with turfgrass cultivars new ones are being developed every year. Foundation plants were originally used to cover up ugly concrete materials. This may or may not be important in newer construction.

The biggest concern with foundation plants is that they blend well with the siding and stay small enough to prevent problems with windows and doors. Plants chosen for the corners of a clubhouse can either strengthen or soften the corner, whichever is needed architecturally.

Border and edging plants are best used to define a space rather than compete with it and become a maintenance problem. Screening plants are usually upright and placed in a row or set of rows to block unsightly views. A mix of evergreen and deciduous species provides variety, and using two to three rows of plants provides depth and potential backup specimens that will fill in when a tree or shrub is lost due to extreme winters, insects or disease.

Ready for the next step

The plan that you take to a landscape designer or architect for their expertise should contain:

  • existing plants that are in good shape and serve both aesthetic and functional purposes;
  • input from various stakeholders;
  • site analysis conditions and observations;
  • hardscape ideas;
  • new plant choices (try to have two to three species/cultivars to choose from for each identified plant); and
  • pictures of plants chosen and sketches of hardscape ideas.

With all of these elements before them, a consulting professional will be able to create an effectively rendered final design.