I think the renovation of existing courses must be the most nerve-racking and thankless commission bestowed on any golf architect.
At most clubs such a project is usually entrusted to a formidable body known as the greens committee. Many other names have been bestowed on this body, but they cannot be mentioned in this article.
A greens committee is normally composed of intelligent and successful people who have no clue about renovating golf courses. Most seem to think that any course worth its name must be par 72. The unlucky course not blessed with the magical 72 and a length of 7,000 metres is met with disdain.
Unfortunately clubs do not usually elect committees of one or two: this only happens at courses that are privately owned or within real estate projects. Usually the number of representatives is anything from four to twenty. My father told me a committee should always be composed of an uneven number and three was too many.
The committee is supposed to represent the club and ensure the course is renovated according to the brief and members' wishes. It is very difficult to defend the view of 600 members, so representatives usually give their own opinions which strangely coincide with the way they play the game.
The best time to inspect a site with a committee is during a torrential downpour, a strong wind and an average temperature of minus five Celsius, or at 45C with a humidity of 100 per cent. Of course, everyone must walk! How can one inspect the works if one rides in a vehicle? Walking in the pouring rain with five kilos of mud sticking to each foot is a great pleasure.
Under such conditions, after the first few holes, most suddenly remember they had some very important appointments. The most sincere, however, admit it is a crappy day and only idiots such as the architect, the contractor and the greenkeeper would walk around in such weather. Those days are the most productive as decisions are taken quickly and without bias. Unfortunately most are disputed at the next visit.
The committee is usually split into various groups:
– The hard liners (handicaps five and below): they want a tough, uncompromising 'championship course.' – The not-so hard liners (handicaps 15- 20): they usually want a course that is not too hard but at the same time not too easy.
– The undecided (handicaps 20-30): they would like the course slightly difficult but also quite easy and not too long but long enough.
– The defenders of the 'fair' course (handicap 30-plus): the course must be fair for seniors and high handicaps. Fairways must be 100 metres wide, no rough (except around the car park), no bunkers (except at the pitching green) no lakes, trees, streams or any other stupid obstacle. But it must be par 72!
Occasionally there is actually a member who defends the interests of the greenkeeper. Could one not make the course a little maintenance friendlier? In fact this person (usually the treasurer) is trying to save money on maintenance and wonders if two men would not be enough to maintain the course and collect balls on the range?
By the time the architect returns to his office and reads his notes, he realises they are illegible, incredible and intricate. He tries to recollect what was said and ends up writing what should have been said.
So, to anyone thinking of joining our profession: please think twice because you will have to contend with 'experts' who think designing a course is a cinch! But most of all you will have to contend with the awesome, fearsome and most intimidating organisation of them all: the greens committee! Actually, there are three things that ruin a golf course: too much fertiliser, too much water and the greens committee!
Peter Harradine is principal of Harradine Golf and a third generation golf course architect.
This article first appeared in issue 14 of Golf Course Architecture, published in October 2008.