The challenges of building mountain golf

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The challenges of building mountain golf
Sean Dudley
By Wilfried Moroder

Wilfried Moroder

At Passiria, in northern Italy, we have recently completed an interesting mountain golf course project. The project started as an enlargement of an existing nine hole course with an exhausting routing – the first and ninth straight uphill, others with extreme crossslopes.

By the time we finished, the result was a new eighteen hole alpine course, retaining only the clubhouse and one hole: a lovely par three playing down a valley.

The course is 597m above sea level and is surrounded by peaks; the site has elevation change of about 175m. The valley runs north-south which means there is sunlight all year round. The climate is continental with hot summers and cold winters.

In mountain regions, especially the Alps, land is restricted, steep, with different solar exposure and changing microclimates. So the most important issue when designing a course is to analyse local morphology and understand the character of the land , the 'genius loci' which generates problems but offers big chances for unique design.

The main goal is to fit in the holes into their sensitive environment as if they had always been there. To be able to do this a precise topographic survey is required which allows a detailed study of the earthmoving necessary. But more importantly good sculptural imagination is needed to guarantee a low impact.

Obviously the routing is most important and finding protected but sunny spots for the greens and scenic positions for tees is key. At Passiria the top of the site is reached by a serpentine promenade, with fairways located on smooth terraces. This cut/fill operation is very delicate and to avoid straight steps that look like roads, we aimed for smooth contours. Level changes between holes are compensated using rock walls, lake borders or steep slopes.

To minimise earthmoving we studied many cross-sections. To provide playable holes and avoid unnecessary blindness, 3D modelling techniques were useful. In steep land a playable hole cannot be generated without intelligent local earth movements: concentrate these in a small part of the course doing local compensation with excavated material. At Passiria 280,000 cu m was moved but no material was brought in or removed except for gravel and sand.

In the Alps quality material is hard to find since gravel and sand is mostly calciumbased and not usable.

On the slopes water can easily run away, but since thunderstorms can be very heavy in the Alps, efficient storm-drainage is important to avoid erosion. The water is collected in catch basins, conducted into lakes, and pushes the overflow in the valley river. During construction and grow in special erosion protections had been brought in with blankets and provisional channels; bunkers had to be protected.

In the mountains, quality and quantity of water is generally good, but often you have to bring it from faraway springs or rivers.

Level differences and low temperature can cause problems. Often there is a need for pumps to raise the water to a basin or push it directly into the irrigation system with enough compression to reach the whole course. At Passiria the water source is above the course and pressure reducers had to be installed. The system has a basin on top with filters, and 250 mm tube brings water on gravity fall to the switches. A Rain Bird irrigation with satellite control was built in. In autumn, the irrigation is turned off and the system blown out.

You can produce good turf on the sunny part of the Alps. Grasses must be able to survive hot days and cold nights, and especially winter frosts. At Passiria, we chose a mixture of 30 per cent lolium, 30 per cent poa pretensis, 40 per cent festuca, while greens were seeded with L93 bentgrass. Because of slow grow-in it was important to re-naturalise slopes after shaping to recreate a natural environment.

Since suitable land for golf is restricted in mountainous regions, permission for new courses is often only given if you can propose a solution for a combined use of land for other leisure activities such as mountain bike and riding trails, fishing lakes or ski slopes . At present we are working on a project in Val Gardena, Italy, for hole course integrated with a cross country skiing track. The water basin and part of the irrigation system for artificial snow production will be combined.

Dr Wilfried Moroder is a golf course architect based in Italy and an associate member of EIGCA.

This article first appeared in issue 14 of Golf Course Architecture, published in October 2008.

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