Bridging the Gap

The relationship between golf courses and bridges goes beyond the need for functional structures to span water, wetlands, gulches, roadways or naturalized areas. Bridges at golf courses can become iconic elements that are an aesthetic design component of course architecture and an experiential part of play.

The Swilcan Bridge at St. Andrews Old Course is a simple stone structure, originally built roughly 800 years ago to permit shepherds to move sheep across the stream that winds its way between the first and the eighteenth fairways on its path to the North Sea. The legendary Hogan, Nelson and Sarazen Bridges at Augusta National are technically not bridges. Augusta’s bridges are culverts, with the distinction being that a bridge spans an obstruction while a culvert permits water to flow through the obstruction. Semantics and engineering details aside, these somewhat modest bridges are legendary in the story and history of the game.

Other bridges define golf courses without physically being part of them. Noteworthy examples include

• The Austin Country Club in Texas that unfolds
against a backdrop of the Pennybacker Bridge
spanning the Colorado River.
• The Coronado Golf Course in California, which gave
up its second and third holes during the 1957
construction of the Coronado Bridge, requiring
architect Billy Bell to design two replacement holes
on land reclaimed from San Diego Bay.
• The one-hundred-plus-year-old Lincoln Park Golf
Course that overlooks San Francisco’s Golden Gate

Whether a golfer walks a bridge, drives a cart across it, or pauses to view it as a landmark in the background, bridges add to the memorability of a course and symbolically connect players to others who have crossed that same bridge in the past.

David Clemens is the National Sales Manager – Engineered Products at Wheeler, an Iowa-based company that has been in the business of bridges and lumber since 1892. David says, ‘In recent years, we have seen a shift in golf course bridges from utilitarian and being just strictly functional to being a part of the golfing experience and really enhancing the course.’

Cross that Bridge When You Come to It: Are You There?

With the 1960s boom in golf course construction, followed a generation later by a second boom during the growth economy of the 1990s, large numbers of golf courses are now nearing either their thirty- or their sixty-year anniversary. If these courses have deferred renovation and repair projects, allocating updates to a status of, ‘we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,’ superintendents may find themselves figuratively and in some cases literally now standing at the bridge.

Whether the need is for a new driveway bridge at a golf course entrance or a bridge designed for foot traffic, golf carts, automobiles or maintenance utility vehicles, architects, superintendents and member committees are recognizing the need to invest in durable, custom engineered bridges. When a bridge also heightens the on-course experience of golfers, it becomes even more valuable as part of the course’s design and appeal.

Steel or Timber Bridges

The site on which a bridge is to be built determines many of the bridge’s structural requirements. To simplify the process of adding or replacing bridges on golf courses, many superintendents elect to use a prefabricated bridge kit. Wheeler, for example, offers bridge kits that are designed by engineering professionals and then customized, based on specific data about the site and usage needs. While many companies outsource engineering work, Wheeler’s approach is one-stop-shopping with the added benefit that by offering both timber and steel, Wheeler’s clients can select the option that economically is the best fit for their project.

Based on the client’s choice of a steel or timber bridge, selection of Wheeler bridges involves some or all of the following steps:
1. Unique specifications are developed for each project
and include application, configuration, geometry,
loading, materials and other variables.
2. A registered professional engineer creates a design
that is customized to the specifications of each
installation. A staff of drafters then generates
detailed plans.
3. For each component, Wheeler reviews the material
options based on the combination of strength,
durability and economy.
4. Substructure design may be available; however, the
golf course may be required to provide site and soil
information, including grade, elevations and soil
5. Wheeler can provide sealed plans for projects

Prefabricated Steel Bridges

For new golf course construction, or in situations of major renovations, the decision to use a prefabricated steel bridge is a popular choice. When the site can be accessed by heavy equipment with minimal damage to turf, a steel bridge typically affords a relatively quick installation and can be designed to incorporate distinctive architectural features, lighting, signage, overlooks, signature paint colors or a weathered finish.

Wheeler is AISC certified for Certified Bridge Fabrication, and the company’s prefabricated steel bridges are shop manufactured with primarily welded connections. Shorter, prefabricated steel bridges can be shipped as one piece. Longer bridges are designed with field-bolted splices and are shipped in sections.

Timber Bridge Kits

Although timber bridges spanning 60 feet or less in length and 8 feet or less in width can be shipped fully assembled, most golf courses choose kits because kits allow for onsite assembly, and they limit the need for heavy equipment, thereby reducing or eliminating the potential for turf damage. While some field cutting and drilling is usually needed, golf course maintenance crews are often able to handle bridge kit installation, creating an additional savings for the course.

Another option in timber bridges is the timber slab span bridge or Panel Lam Deck System, which has a solid deck slab substructure, rather than separate bean and deck elements. Panel Lam bridges are typically used in spans from 10 to 40 feet.

Wheeler: For Over One Hundred Years

William Walter Wheeler was a bridge plank salesman before launching Wheeler Lumber Company in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1892. Recognizing that the Midwest was ripe for growth, by 1914, he had expanded the company, rebranding it as the Wheeler Lumber Bridge and Supply Company.

When Wheeler died in 1927, his top salesman Percy E. Hoak, purchased controlling interest in the company. Although the Hoak family still leads the company today, Wheeler’s corporate history, chronicled on its website, focuses minimal attention on the family and, instead, extols employees whose dedication and initiative helped build and grow the company.

Jonny Hoak, fourth generation family member at Wheeler, commented, ‘I have only worked here for 8 months, but most employees have been here for 15, 20, even 25 years. We have a few employees that have been here 35 or more years. The loyalty of the employees is what makes this place so special. They believe in what we do and understand how important they are to make this place succeed.’

In its century-plus history, Wheeler has witnessed two world wars, the Great Depression, and more recently, the Great Recession. Over the years, building requisites have changed, and the company has adjusted accordingly, but what never varies is Wheeler’s commitment to its clients, employees, and the communities it serves.

Today, Wheeler employs 150 valued workers and maintains the employee-driven Wheeler Philanthropy Committee. Through the charitable work of this committee, the team at Wheeler continually exemplifies the company’s motto, ‘Committed to Performance’ both in their jobs and in their communities.

Learn more about Wheeler bridges at

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