Master Plans of Improvements

Posted by AV GOLF INTERNATIONAL on December 28, 2013 at 10:25 AM

Why do a Master Plan of Improvements?


A golf course will change through natural and manmade forces. Over time playing features such as tees, bunkers, and greens deteriorate and become less acceptable in terms of playing conditions. Some features will actually become more expensive to maintain as extra ordinary measures have to be taken to approximate acceptable playing conditions. Sometimes, manmade changes are often made with a narrow perspective leaving a golf hole less than a satisfying experience for the majority of players.


• A master plan defines what we want the course to be for the long term future. Often times this vision is implemented in increments of time based upon priorities and funds. A master plan ensures the vision is implemented in the most cost efficient and creative manner possible.


• A master plan removes individual agendas from the process, while still allowing future committees to have input with the architect in accordance with the original master plan.


• A master plan provides a club the opportunity to reintroduce the original design integrity that made the golf course a special place, and to introduce design features in accordance with the original design integrity to meet today’s playing standards.


• A master plan provides the opportunity to restore consistency in the most important features of a golf course: the greens, fairways and bunkers.


• A master plan provides an opportunity to provide consistency in the most trafficked portions of a golf course: the tees, and cart paths.


• A master plan provides the opportunity for the superintendent to manage the most important element to them: water. Through the provision of proper surface and subsurface drainage, and an irrigation system custom designed to their golf course, a superintendent is better able to deliver excellent turf conditions for the golfer.


• A master plan provides the opportunity to assess the impact of vegetation on playing conditions, and maintenance budgets, and to provide a long term landscape plan to manage and enhance the wooded areas, and to allow areas requiring costly maintenance to revert back to natural conditions without impacting playability.


• A master plan gives the committee and the architect an opportunity to address the unique circumstances that face the golf course.


Typical Components of a Master Plan


• Inventory and analysis of the strategic design of the existing course;

• Inventory and analysis of the original course, if information is available;

• Inventory and analysis of the existing infrastructure and maintenance problems;

• Inventory and analysis of the existing landscape;

• Evaluation of cart trail system, and recommendations for improvements;

• Hole-by-hole document of master plan of improvements that includes plans and descriptions of proposed modifications of tees, fairways, greens, bunkers, cart paths, and other pertinent course elements;

• Conceptual landscape plan of the golf course.


Additional Commentary


Aerial Photographs

An important part of the master plan process is to examine the changes that have occurred to the course over the years through the use of old photographs and aerials. These important resources can help the architect and the club make better informed decisions for the long range improvement to the course.



The important issues pertaining to tees are environmental conditions, drainage and space. Secondary considerations are the appropriateness of the tee’s location in relationship to the design of the hole, and the height of the tee above the surrounding terrain.


As is typical for all course features that require excellent turf conditions, tees need plenty of sunlight, and air flow. Once these conditions are present then consideration should be given to the size of the tee in relationship to the design of the hole and to the number of rounds hosted annually by the club.


As a matter of preference, we design tees that are close to the elevation of the surrounding terrain whenever possible. It is important to ensure that the tee is protected from any surrounding drainage by diverting the surface water away from the tee. A tee that is close to the ground is more accessible, is not an unnecessary distraction on the land, can add distance to an uphill hole, and in some instances can add an element of excitement and uncertainty to the hole if not everything can be seen down the fairway.

There are many examples of multi-level tees that require increased maintenance because of the time it takes to move from one tee to the next, and the steep banks around the tees. Many of the tees are too small for the rounds played. Some tees are too small, have too many levels, and are stressed by trees growing too close to the teeing surface.



Fairways require many of the same considerations as other features on the course. Surface drainage, sunlight, and air circulation are important issues to get right if the fairway is to be in excellent condition with little inputs from the maintenance staff.


An important strategic element to consider for fairways on existing courses is the fairway mow lines. Over time fairways become narrow and assume a simple shape as mowing patterns are adjusted to make mowing more efficient or to adjust in response to encroaching trees. These efficiencies and adjustments can take fairway bunkers and green side bunkers out of play by leaving a large swath of high rough grass between the fairway and the bunker. Expanding fairways closer to the bunkers brings the bunkers into play in three ways. First, the ball rolling on the ground is more likely to enter the bunker if the fairway is cut close to the bunker. Second, if more fairway is near the bunker a player may choose to play close to the bunker in order to gain a better angle from which to play the next shot. Third, if more fairway is around the bunker, including beyond the bunker, a player may be encouraged to play over the bunker to the fairway beyond it again in order to gain a better angle on the next shot, or to shorten the distance required to play the next shot.


Expanded fairways near greens bring interesting ground features into play allowing a player to play a bump and run shot by using the ground features to roll the ball onto the green. This gives another exciting option for playing the hole.



One common issue with greens on older courses is that they become smaller. Exciting and challenging pin positions along the periphery of greens are lost making bunkers and slopes around the greens almost irrelevant in the strategy of the hole.


Green expansions can bring surrounding features into play and make the hole a more exciting, strategic adventure. For instance, expanding the green closer to a bunker can bring into play a downward slope toward the bunker. In this instance the golfer must be particularly careful with their approach shot. In addition, expanding the green area can recapture great pin areas along the periphery of the green. Expanded greens can allow pin positions in areas much closer to bunkers or other interesting features.



Drainage is probably the most critical issue for many older courses. Surrounding conditions change and more surface water is directed into areas on a course that now causes wet conditions and distracts from the play and maintenance of the course.


Older bunkers typically do not have subsurface drainage or the drainage is inadequate and has failed. We provide for an extensive network of drainage to be installed in our bunkers. This will make for better playing conditions and prolong the life of the bunker.

By Mr. Kelly Blake Moran - Golf Course Architect (AV GOLF INTERNATIONAL)


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