Mark Mungeam, owner of Mungeam Cornish Golf Design in Douglas, Massachusetts, has designed myriad courses, including the Links at Hiawatha Landing outside Birmingham, New York; Cyprian Keyes Golf Course in Boylston, Massachusetts; and Owl’s Nest Golf Course in Campton, New Hampshire. He also directed the renovation of Olympia Fields Country Club outside Chicago in preparation for both the 1997 U.S. Senior Open and 2003 U.S. Open. He suggests the following tips to make maintenance more sustainable and less costly.

Obstructions at access point create unecessary wear at Farm Neck Golf Course in Martha’s Vineyard.

1. Tree Removal. Tree care and cleanup takes up a considerable amount of the budget for many courses. Selective tree removal will reduce maintenance costs by:

  • Increasing the efficiency of rough mowing by reducing the amount of turning,
  • Reducing the amount of leaf removal and branch pickup,
  • Eliminating pruning of branches and line trimming around base of trees, and
  • Keeping the turf strong by eliminating some trees, which steal fertilizer and water. The shade from trees also impacts turf health and vitality by making it slower to dry, resulting in increased potential for disease.

2. Number and Size of Bunkers. Most bunkers are expensive to build and maintain, creating an unsustainable situation. Reducing the number and size of bunkers reduces the amount of maintenance required. “I am philosophically opposed to the money being spent at many courses building (and caring for) bunkers,” Mungeam says. “They are supposed to be hazards. I don’t think the trend of lining bunkers and buying bright-white sand that has to come from Ohio can or will continue. If bunkers are built correctly so they don’t accept surface drainage, don’t have high sand faces that are prone to washing, and don’t use bright white sand that requires a liner to keep it from getting contaminated or losing color, then the bunkers don’t need the liner systems.”

Reduction of trees, clutter and trimming at the tee and constant moving of items.

3. Reduction of High-Maintenance Turf. Reducing the amount of highly maintained turf reduces maintenance costs. Though greens are the most expensive to maintain, their surface area is relatively small, and once established, it would be difficult to reduce the area without making it look awkward. Fairways typically comprise about 26 to 35 acres on an 18-hole course and are the next-most-expensive area to maintain. A single spray to prevent disease costs thousands of dollars, and multiple sprays per year are often necessary. “I look for ways to reduce the fairway area while maintaining the design intent,” Mungeam says.

4. Drainage. It is said that the most important aspect of a golf course is good drainage. Having good drainage improves the quality of the turf, allows for increased cart use, is less demanding on maintenance and is healthier for the grass.

5. Slopes. Whenever possible, slopes should be gentle enough to allow for machine mowing. As stated previously, labor is very expensive, so the more that can be done quickly with a machine, the less expensive the work.

6. Paths and Circulation.

  • Develop wide, unrestricted access and egress points. Avoid steps up to tees or breaks in hedgerows that dump players onto a single point of entry.
  • Extend cart paths far enough to produce multiple exit and entrance points.
  • Limit the number of trees (or mounds) inside the cart paths that limit or restrict access.
  • Use curbing to keep carts off tee and green banks.
  • Avoid using gravel on areas that have more than a 12 percent slope, or there will be frequent re-grading of the washed-out stone.

Mungeam’s final say: Maintenance budgets appear to have increased over the past couple of years at some clubs that were able to weather the recession, yet I think most courses are still operating on reduced budgets, and additional savings are very important at most facilities. Unfortunately, members continue to want improvements in maintenance, which can really put a strain on the director of grounds and course superintendent, who are already doing more with less. I have become more cognizant of making sure my designs are more easily maintained, with less manpower.