1 Change is inevitable

Golf courses are living, breathing things. To ever imagine that they will not undergo change is unrealistic. Even the Old Course at St. Andrews has changed. One of golf’s most adhered-to standards came from a significant change there, that being the now-famous decision in 1764 which reduced the number of holes from 22 to 18.

The goal of those responsible for overseeing a golf course should be to identify change—to decipher necessary from unnecessary, needs from wants, foresighted from far-sighted, and bona-fide improvements from plain-ol
tinkering. Change should not erode a course’s integrity. Each golf course needs a personality. Change should bring this personality to the surface and allow it to flourish.

2 Who’s got the ball?

A small group is ideally in charge; the director, the greenkeeper, the head professional, and perhaps a course committee specifically charged with understanding the asset that exists in the design, its history, etc. No single person can be expected to have all the answers. This group must
relate its needs and ideas, focus on their specific area of expertise, and at all cost, strive for integrity.

3 The most specialized field on earth

Perhaps that is a slight exaggeration, but it remains true that there are only a few hundred full-time golf course architects in the world. The knowledgeable golf course architect understands golf courses inside and out. Beyond being a student of the game, they will know what is feasible, playable, buildable, maintainable, enjoyable, marketable and sustainable. they are part strategist, part engineer, and part psychologist.

4 The litmus test for any golf course

All golf courses should be able to readily claim who “their” golf architect is and when this individual last visited the course. If you cannot cite these two facts, I recommend you get to work figuring this out. The best of all worlds is for each golf course to maintain a close and long term relationship with a specific golf course architect. It is never healthy to constantly change directions. Preferably this trust is bestowed to the original designer, but for obvious reasons this may not always be possible.

5 No job is too small

A well kept secret: nearly all golf course architects will very happily consult with you, even on the most insignificant of matters, and very often without submitting even the slightest bill. Why? Because it is rewarding to see a golf course grow-up healthy and with that essential ingredient of integrity.

No course is too small or insignificant, either. All golf courses, their layout and details, are sacred ground. Golf course architects want to be in the loop at the onset, and there are volumes of horror stories that can be written about what can happen when changes are made by the seat-of-the-pants method!

6 The domino effect

No analogy is more true to changes to a golf course than that of one domino starting a cascade of falling dominos. A seemingly innocent tree over here can lead to a liability over there. Expanding one feature can cause another to become a nuisance. Again, no change should be thought of as “small.” All changes or additions lead to something else, usually several interrelated aspects.

7 Truth or consequences

The truth is that one cannot fully list the consequences of poorly orchestrated changes to golf courses in such a limited space as this. But here are some positives that can come your way when changes are made according to plan — they are the rewards of trust and foresight:

• Conditions can improve, this includes the course and the experience

• The asset can improve, and so too can the bottom line

• Liability can be lessened, especially with professional insight

• Maintenance can be simplified, and problem areas rectified

• Enjoyment, appeal, and pace-of-play can increase

• The future can be tamed by getting a handle on planning—any future changes can be looked at according to a “road map” that heads everyone in the right direction