“We have had to employ new techniques to oversee projects from afar”

“We have had to employ new techniques to oversee projects from afar”
Richard Humphreys
By Richard Humphreys

Beau Welling talks to GCA about the status of his projects and how he, and his team, are working and keeping busy during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have had one project that was just about to commence construction be put on hold for a year,” said Welling. “While two projects already under construction have temporarily stopped – hopefully, they will be back underway next month. The most notable project for us still under construction is the West course at PGA Frisco just north of Dallas, Texas. We are also working on finishing up construction on a practice range for Greenwich Country Club, where we completed renovation project last summer.

“Our projects that are currently in the master planning phase or have not yet started construction, despite receiving all necessary approvals, have understandably slowed down or paused as clubs consider what the impact of the Covid-19 crisis might be on their operations. This is a unique situation that we are experiencing right now, but I remain hopeful that our projects will continue to progress this year.”

Welling’s firm has a team of planning professionals who can work on non-golf projects such as resort and community planning, and urban design.

He said: “We have a handful of projects under construction on the planning side that are all moving forward including: GlenCove by Old Edwards, a new lifestyle community in Cashiers, North Carolina; Camperdown, an urban superblock redevelopment project that our team has master planned and designed all public spaces for in Greenville, South Carolina; and BullStreet, one of the largest mixed-use redevelopments in the United States where our team serves as primary master plan advisor in addition to designing all public spaces – including a 20-acre public park.”

The firm’s projects are following state- and local-ordered mandates as well as social distancing guidelines. “We have had to employ new techniques, as well, to oversee the projects from afar as we are no longer travelling to conform with local and state orders, but also to ensure we keep our team safe,” said Welling.

“At PGA Frisco, we have deployed drones to our shapers and construction team so that we can get daily and sometimes real-time updates on the progress and review design features. I think having the drones capture daily updates has been a great tool that we will likely continue to use as we are able to resume business as usual to supplement our site visits. Nothing will replace being able to make adjustments in the field, but we are still able to effectively manage the construction progress there in Texas.

“We have slowly made some headway on master planning projects as we’ve held conference calls or video conferences to review scopes of work and budgets, but, again, nothing will ever replace our team being able to interact face-to-face. Our process is very focused on engagement, so we will likely need to wait a while longer to proceed with those particular projects.”

Welling’s last trip was to New York and Greenwich, Connecticut, to put some final touches on a range project for Greenwich Country Club.

“Once I started to see how widespread the outbreak had become in the Tri-state area, I realised that action was warranted,” he said. “I, along with a design associate who was also on the trip, made the call to self-quarantine just to ensure we did not display any symptoms. We also opted to move everyone else on the team to working from home as a further precaution.”

The team has not travelled since mid-March. “We’ve been communicating a great deal with video conferencing and we had regular ‘virtual happy hour and brainstorming sessions.’ During a ‘session’ last week, I came to the realisation that this has been the longest span of me staying in one place since maybe the mid-1990s,” said Welling. “Since entering the golf industry, I have found myself constantly on the go. On the upside, this adjustment has been a nice break from travel to stay home in Greenville, South Carolina, but I am ready to get back on a plane to visit our projects and clients as soon as we are able to do so.”

Along with the ‘virtual happy hour’ Welling’s team had last week, they have had to make several changes to ensure the team is staying efficient and are able to remain productive. “The first week that we moved to working remotely we had fun sharing our home offices and made sure that everyone had everything they needed to maintain productivity,” said Welling. “Personally, I have a drafting table at home that I’ve dusted off to allow me to sketch and draw. Luckily, we are staying busy and remaining productive to keep our workload moving forward.”

The team has been interfacing with clients around the world. The communications they had to use to interact with clients in Asia and Europe, are now being used for inter-office communications as well as to interact with clients around the United States.

“I am not sure what will happen with new golf projects as the economic and psychological effect of all this disruption will be severe,” said Welling. “But I think there are positive signs for the game in general. In areas where golf courses have remained open in the US, many have seen rounds increase dramatically, despite social distancing restrictions.

“Now, obviously, people have extra time on their hands, but I think there is something deeper going on: people fundamentally need to be around other people. I am a strong believer that golf is inherently a social sport – that can still be played while maintaining appropriate distances – and a great connector of people. During these times where we are purposely distancing ourselves and having to resort to technology to socialise, I am hopeful that we come out of this disruption having found new ways to do things and a greater appreciation of our time, our opportunities, our game, and, most importantly, each other.”