How Do You Know if itís Time to Renovate Your Golf Course?

Published Thursday, January 10, 2019
by Paul T. Stringer

MANY GOLF CLUBS today face the decision of when to renovate their golf course. There may be some specific circumstances that confront the daily maintenance and presentation of the golf course. The board of directors, management and members may have various opinions on how the golf course is presented (e.g., mowing practices, speed of greens), and there could be many issues or conditions that lead up to considering a renovation.

Here are some reasons to consider renovating your golf course:

  • Safety concerns: New housing, roadways, dangerous holes that may run parallel and cause daily safety concerns.
  • Golf course maintenance issues:
    An aging golf course causing contaminated or poor turf conditions, poor drainage, an irrigation system that may need replacement, greens that are contaminated with other grasses or have shrunken over time, bunker sand that needs to be replaced or not draining, cart paths that may need to be replaced or re-positioned, overgrown or too many trees.
  • Modernization of the Golf Course: Golf balls going further, need for larger “member” tees, become more relevant and competitive in the market place.
  • Golf course design issues: Slow play caused by improper routing or poor design, lack of character, bunkers that are in the wrong places or too many
    to maintain, too many or not enough water hazards, finishing holes that are not near the clubhouse.
  • Natural maturity of the golf course and property: Need for more practice facilities, (i.e., driving range, practice putting greens, chipping greens) and other club amenities that may need to expand on the property, or new roadways that may impact the golf course.

After establishing some of the reasons why a golf course may need to be renovated, what is the best way to proceed with how much to renovate and when?

The Renovation Process
First, determine what you want the golf course to be in the near future; this includes some or all of the following:

  • Better condition and presentation
  • Improved playability
  • Better design and shot making values
  • Adjust tees for aging demographics
  • PGA Tournament or top amateur/ state tournament
  • A competitive market forcing improved conditions and golf experience
  • Increase pace of play
  • Profitability due to the renovation and modernization in fees/dues

Next steps to begin the renovation process include:

  • Interview golf course design companies
  • Spend significant time talking with your superintendent and head golf professional
  • Interview other golf consultants (contractors, agronomists, irrigation designers and irrigation companies)
  • Spend significant time with the board of directors organizing the thoughts and results from your interviews
  • Establish a priority list of those items you wish to renovate (from the best-case scenario to a more modest renovation)
  • Once a list is established, have golf course contractor and/or golf course designer give you a range of pricing to determine a budget

Implementation steps for the best outcome and result for the renovation process include:

  • Present the budget to the board of directors
  • Have the golf course designer create a master plan of the changes to present to membership
  • Establish a time line for the renovation (including closing one nine at a time or all 18 holes or spread out over years) with a program start date and completion date
  • Clubs planning to re-turf or do a significant renovation should account for best growing windows of turf grass, seasonality of your club, etc.
  • Create a nursery for turf grass if space is available on property
  • Agronomist makes a recommendation on turf grass based on your water quality, climate and maintenance practices
  • Be clear on what the expectations are for the renovation and keep members informed (through communication or renovation boards in clubhouse)
  • Document visually by drone or video (before and after results) and best to time-lapse video for membership communication

Fund the Renovation
There are several options to cover the costs of a renovation including:

  • Bank loan in connection with the clubhouse renovation
  • Assessment to members (could be in combination with loan or assessment on its own)
  • Owner to fund project if club is owned by a private owner
  • Increase initiation fees, dues and/or increased green fees from the renovation
  • Proper marketing of the club during the renovation to help with new member prospects

When considering the renovation of a golf course, remember it is a living, breathing thing that has a shelf life. Many clubs don’t properly prepare for renovating the golf course until the course has significant problems. Proper planning and budgeting in advance will produce the best result in a timely and economic manner.

There are many good golf course designers and consultants in the industry who can be a great asset to your club. Make sure you are confident that the goals of the club for the golf course will be met by the golf course designer, contractor and consultants and deliver the golf course on time and within budget. Give your club a contingency on costs and also time in case of adverse weather conditions or other unforeseen factors.

Lastly, it is very easy to do a “band-aid” approach to the renovation process. Take your time in planning and organizing the renovation and your overall results will be successful and lasting.

Paul T. Stringer is executive vice president, Nicklaus Design. He can be reached at For more information, visit


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