For the most part, superintendents are not involved in the design stage of golf course construction, although there are some exceptions. Usually, superintendents come along after the course has been built. They either enter the equation right after construction, or more likely, they replace the prior super after the course already has been operating for years.

In other words, we supers usually have little-to-no say in how we want the course designed or built. We simply deal with what we have.

I think it’s a topic worthy of discussion. I often find myself thinking that, if I had designed the course, I would have done this particular design feature differently, or that constructed area differently. The course I work at was designed by the late Robert Muir Graves and, in my humble opinion, it is a terrific layout. However, there are things I can’t help but think I would have done a bit differently had I been involved in the initial construction.

To be clear, that’s not a criticism of Graves or any other designer of golf courses, but I can’t help looking at things from a maintenance perspective – an angle that, had designers been more aware of it in the past, might have made my job today a bit easier.

One big factor in the design challenges faced by today’s superintendents is when the golf course was built. Was it built in the late 1980s or early 1990s, when golf was enjoying its boom and everything seemed especially big and extravagant? There were monstrous tees and countless, gigantic bunkers, and quite possibly wall-to-wall, double-row irrigation throughout. Perhaps it was built earlier, in the 1960s and 1970s, when minimalist design was the trend and things were a bit more cramped.

When the course was originally built dictates many things, including the size and scope of the architecture.

On many golf courses I play or visit, some of the things I often feel were not necessarily designed with maintenance in mind include:

  • Tees and bunkers that are much too big;
  • Greens and tees (which tend to need the most chemical applications) that are positioned too closely to water hazards; and
  • Irrigation systems that are designed to apply water wall-to-wall, throughout the entire property.

However, times have definitely changed. More than at any point in history, today’s golf courses are built with environmental sustainability at the forefront of the architect’s mind, and that approach often comes with a more maintenance-friendly perspective as well. Sustainable golf and ease of maintenance tend to go hand in hand. This new trend is not only friendlier to the environment, but also to the modern-day superintendent.

Sustainability’s impact reaches beyond new course construction; many redesigns and renovations also are bringing older courses up to date and making them more environmentally friendly. That means there is hope – even for those of us on an older golf course – that a redesign may result in easier maintenance in the future.

The Golf Environment Organization, an international nonprofit based in North Berwick, Scotland, that is dedicated to the future of sustainable golf, has a great quote on their website: “Developing – or redeveloping – golf courses around a vision of social, environmental and economic sustainability is an extension of golf’s roots. It’s not a revolution but an evolution of old-age values.”

And that’s really the heart of the matter. For many years, golf courses were overbuilt and got away from the origins of the game. They were built too big and required too many resources. Sustainable golf is the future of golf, and an unintended perk to this movement just might be that superintendents will find their golf courses much more user-friendly.

Perhaps the environment is finally bringing golf course design and maintenance together.