Forrest Richardson with Wigwam Director of Golf, Craig Allen

The Wigwam Golf Resort sits on roughly 700 acres of prime real estate in the growing West Valley of Metropolitan Phoenix, Arizona. Its several hundred resort buildings, 54 holes of golf and twelve miles of cart and resort paths comprise one of the largest urban golf resorts in the world. While the Wigwam is much larger and far more complex than a new bicycle or a DVR with the TiVo feature, why is it then that the bicycle and the DVR come with an owner’s manual, and a major destination golf resort doesn’t?

“It’s a question my good friend and colleague Bill Yates asked a few years back,” says golf course architect Forrest Richardson of Forrest Richardson & Associates in Phoenix, Arizona. Yates is the founder and CEO of Pace Manager Systems and Grey Town Golf, LLC a noted golf consultant and management expert. “Bill got me thinking about what we do for owners and developers,” admits Richardson, “but more importantly, he got me thinking about what we don’t do.”

At Yates’ urging, Richardson set off to devise a way to capture and formally document the essential ingredients of a golf course project, and to organize those ingredients into a handsome “Owner’s Manual.” The Owner’s Manual would remain with the property and help the present and future owners to effectively manage and operate the course to ensure that the quality of its design, conditioning and delivery of a high-quality and high-value golfing product continued, as the course matured and physical and operational changes were considered. In the case of The Wigwam, Forrest Richardson & Associates had just completed a two-year restoration and remodel program to bring back the charm of legendary designer Robert Trent Jones, Sr.

“We had finished a dream project for the owners,” notes Richardson. “But while there were plans and notes from the past few years, nothing was put into writing that could easily be used as a reference. It was in a format that all golf course architects and owners see it, a loose bunch of pretty plans and papers in every format imaginable.”

The firm set off to develop a system that carefully documents and organizes all of the plans, the architect’s design intent, and records of the project that would be put into one convenient resource. The objective was to boil down the seemingly endless plans, specifications, field notes, and design and strategy details for the project, and to have them condensed and formatted to become a permanent record that would be used as both an historical record of the design or restoration project and as a day-to-day operations handbook.

For the Wigwam, the result was the development of a three inch thick manual containing an edited and updated collection of all course details that will be important to current and future operations personnel. Forrest Richardson & Associates now refers to such documents as “Golf Course Owner’s Manuals,” but realizes the contents are much broader. Included in the Wigwam’s official restoration manual are preliminary designs, strategy narratives, hole descriptions, field notes, original plans, field sketches, photo records and all of the detailed GPS data that was collected as irrigation and shaping came together to form the renovated courses.

Richardson and Yates believe that all courses should have such a document. “It is amazing when you think about it, that something as complex as a golf course operates without any manual or ‘how to’ document. Every day it gets set-up, maintained and used, but there are only fragments of instructions left behind to go by,” said Yates. While many courses receive CDs of GPS information and the occasional set of as-built plans, the nuances of what was intended in the design and for the day-to-day operation of the course are rarely left in one place. Forrest Richardson & Associates surveyed many of its clients, finding in most cases that a superintendent may have some records while the management and professional staff had others or none at all. Even more troubling are situations where the project development office had archives of plans and strategy documents, but had never shared them with the people actually operating the golf course.

What Richardson often sees is management attempting to do the right thing, but missing the key strategy or intent of a design. This wastes huge amounts of time, money and effort, and causes operation and maintenance practices to drift away from the original intent of the architect and developer. As a result, the quality of the playing experience begins to erode as does revenue and reputation. His visits to previous work prove the theory that an owner’s manual can go a long way toward keeping golf courses on target in terms of the original intent of the designer and the entire team that put the project together. Both Yates and Richardson see the value of such a document as a way of maintaining quality in many areas such as, pace of play, course utilization and revenue generation, course set-up, safety, maintenance protocols and, it will act as a sound baseline from which club committees can build policy.

Now like the DVR manual, this Owner’s Manual will help course management teams to “program” the delivery of a consistent high-quality product for years to come. “It is something we will do on a regular basis,” adds Richardson, “it is part of the added value we bring to each of our clients.”