Best DIY golf course tip? Use professional experts!

September 2, 2016·by Tony Naidu·in Golf Course Construction

Golf course construction requires a uniquely specialist set of skills and yet, we continue to utilise generalists and suffer the outcomes. Let me explain…

What separates a good golf course from a great one? Take that question to architects, engineers, course owners, greenkeepers and keen players and you’ll get a host of different answers. Of course, when you’re passionate about the game you know a great course when you play it – in the same way you recognise a beautifully balanced putter in your hands.

In my near on 30 years in golf course construction and as a keen player, it seems to me that there’s three key factors; vision, execution and maintenance. Whichever way you debate it – a great golf course needs all three to an exceptional standard to be truly considered great.

New Zealand has a proud tradition of DIY. We’ll take on any challenge with a no. 8 wire attitude… its part of our DNA. Unfortunately, this DIY attitude can even be applied to golf course construction and renovation where the results often speak (rather miserably) for themselves. I struggle to understand why our attitude to golf course construction in New Zealand is oftentimes so different to the way it’s done in Australia, Europe and the US.

Overseas, golf course construction is recognised as a unique industry – it’s as much about craft as science, and it brings together key companies and individuals who have long histories as specialists. In seven years in Europe I learned a time-honoured craft under recognised master course builders. Here in New Zealand we tend to treat building a golf course like a large landscaping job or a civil construction project that can be completed by anyone with a digger license.

Of course the populations overseas mean that there’s much more dedicated golf construction work. The kind of work where specialists can really hone their expertise, learning from repeated exposure and wildly variable challenges to reach a standard where they can be judged against their peers in the profession.
That experience and judgement extends to every part of the project. It means getting the budget right from the outset – not the kind of creeping contingencies that in New Zealand can more than double the intended cost. It means every element of design and construction factoring in what will deliver best – from the land and the prevailing weather conditions to the architect’s vision and ultimately the players’ experience.

Price is always going to be an important consideration. Golf courses don’t come cheap. Yet in our time in the industry we’ve seen contracts awarded that could never possibly be met. We’ve seen budget blow outs by competitors that have comprehensively undermined project delivery. And we’ve seen some atrociously inefficient methods of overcoming challenges due to lack of industry knowledge.
The reality is that in the hands of a properly qualified golf construction expert, this doesn’t happen. Those kinds of blow-outs would embarrass most international golf construction companies – wound their reputation mortally! Of course contingency funding is essential for projects of this scale. At GRASS, we use an internationally accepted measure of five percent and very rarely do we touch it.

The difference is in the preparation. As New Zealand’s only 100% dedicated golf course Construction Company, we know our business and we get the numbers right from the outset. We work closely with the club / owners, the designers, the technical experts and the other contractors, and the earlier we’re involved – the better the outcome.

When it comes to the bottom line contracting out the problems via penalties doesn’t work either. All that does is put pressure on contractors to find workarounds or legal loop holes – what it doesn’t do is build great golf courses. This is one of the reasons that a number of civil engineering contractors, who do great work, will never touch another golf course because they’ve been so badly burned in the past.

So here’s my question to you. Why do we persist in a DIY mentality for golf course construction here in New Zealand? We’re as passionate about the game as anywhere in the world, we have incredible opportunities for world class golfers to everyday club players – and we’re missing making the most of them with a no. 8 wire approach.

The way I see it – we would never contemplate building a house without using architecturally designed plans nor use a non-qualified building company, so why do we get it so wrong when we remodel or build new courses (which can cost considerably more than the average New Zealand home).

Isn’t it time we gave proper attention to constructing outstanding golf courses that deliver on time and on (or under) budget – as well as an outstanding experience that will stay true to its vision long into the future?

Adam Jones,
Managing Director, GRASS Ltd
New Zealand’s only 100% dedicated Golf Course Construction Company

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