Take Care of Drainage Sooner Rather than Later

It is amazing how often in the golf course industry that we see young golf courses ranging in age from one to twenty years old spending exuberant amounts of money to fix drainage problems. Winter tasks lists are constantly comprised of taking care of slow surface drainage areas and erosion plagued washouts. The golf course superintendent and staff wind up spending valuable labor hours and extra budget money to rent equipment and fix problems that should have been taken care of during the original construction of the golf course. You have to sit back and ask yourself the following questions, “Where were the golf course architect, contractor, and owner during the construction process and why didn’t they take care of these drainage issues during the planning and construction process?”

Drainage is one of the most important tasks to take care of when designing a golf course. It is golf course design 101, yet far too often it is a subject that gets overlooked in golf course development or better yet passed down the line to the next guy, most of the time all the way to the golf course superintendent. All types of drainage issues and design should be completely taken care by both the golf course architect and the golf course contractor during construction. If the golf course superintendent has to take care of even minor drainage concerns after opening day, you know the golf course architect, contactor, or both were at fault.

The three main areas of drainage problems commonly seen on golf courses are related to soils, cart paths, and hillsides. Soils are the foundation of any golf course project, especially the topsoil. They support the golf course just like your foundation supports your house. If your foundation is not properly constructed then the rest of the house falls apart. The same concept applies to golf course design and construction. If the soils are not the correct type, they can be very problematic to a golf course, its superintendent, and its membership for years to come. For instance, if a golf course has a topsoil with a high silt and clay content, surface drainage and infiltration will be constantly cumbersome on maintenance operations even with proper finish grading(for turfgrass it is less than 2% grade). Golf play will always be delayed for longer periods of time after a rain event and getting maintenance equipment back on the fairways without rutting up the turfgrass will be a headache. Then the superintendent is forced into installation of sub-surface drainage pipe all over the fairways or regrading the problem areas with construction equipment to increase the slope to speed up drainage. A golf course superintendent should not have to deal with these issues.

During the site analysis and feasibility of a new golf course project, the type of existing soils is one of the most important factors for the owner to consider in moving forward . If the soils are not sandy loam and unsuitable, the idea and cost factor of importing proper topsoil becomes part of the critical path of the project. Then if that cost is too high for the overall budget, the idea and cost factor of installing 4″ sub-surface piping in fairways becomes part of the discussion. If both of these scenarios are too high for the overall project budget, it is best for the owner and project team to walk away from this site and find another one.

Even though golf is preferred as a walking game and venue, most golf courses are built with golf cart paths traversing the landscape. This is unfortunate as the cart path and its adjacent areas become an extra area of concern to take care of during design and construction. Once again this is a category that requires a good bit of design thought and foresight by the golf course architect at the drafting table in the office . But often it is overlooked by big name architects during project design and pushed off until the construction begins.

The cart path should fit precisely into the grading scheme for the golf course because if it doesn’t it can create headaches for the future superintendent. Too often it is seen at golf courses where the cart path traps surface drainage on the uphill side of the path because the finish grading efforts failed to get the water flowing across the path during construction. This causes the puddling of water adjacent to the concrete or asphalt and the need to install a drainage inlet. Another point of concern is when the actual surface drainage of the cart path just sits on the path because the grading slope of the path is too flat. Then the superintendent is forced to cut into the asphalt or concrete to install a drainage inlet or trench drain. Since cart paths are impervious surfaces( surfaces that do not allow water infiltration) they can create a large amount of surface runoff as measured in CFS( cubic feet per second) in certain areas of the golf course. This large amount of runoff if not handled properly can generate highly erosive characteristics at various points of the cart path. For instance, on a long stretch of cart path that goes downhill and suddenly turns, a “miniature tsunami” of surface water will come down the hill during rain events and will spill over on the outside curve of the cart path creating a “blow-out” on the downhill side of the path. Without extra curbing and drainage inlet, this effect will make it difficult for the golf course superintendent to grow grass in this area as it will constantly be eroded away.

Another area of drainage concern is on large hillsides. On many golf courses , the design by the architect puts certain golf holes adjacent to existing hillsides out of necessity or massive artificially created mounding systems are created. Having these large expanses of grassed slopes also creates large quantities of stormwater runoff in rain events and should be addressed. In these instances, the steeper and longer the slope, the more velocity the stormwater runs off onto the adjacent fairway. If there is no drainage concept such as diversion swales, inlets, or french drains, these fairways are doomed to fail as similar to previously mentioned soil problems, as water will take longer to traverse horizontally across the fairway and vertically into the soil profile. Having this type of situation creates the need for addressing the drainage especially at the time of construction by the architect and contractor. Otherwise the golf course superintendent is stuck again fixing someone else’s job that they received payment to do in the first place.

John graduated from Cornell University with a degree in landscape architecture and was trained by golf course architect Tom Doak while at Cornell. He previously worked at Nicklaus Design performing golf course projects both domestically and internationally. John’s contact info below.

Hierarchy Golf Design, LLC

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