October 19, 2017

EXPANDED COVERAGE: Practice Facility Architecture & Design

Contributing Architects:

  • Ron Forse, Forse Design Inc.
  • Michael J. Hurdzan, ASGCA Fellow; Hurdzan Golf Course Design
  • Stephen Kay, ASGCA; Kay Golf Course Design
  • Tim Liddy, ASGCA; Tim Liddy / Associates Inc.
  • Jim Nagle, Forse Design Inc.
  • Ron Pritchard, Ron Pritchard Golf Architect Inc.

Time-crunched golfers are seeking shorter golf experiences that still provide entertainment and fun – especially with the emergence of Topgolf. Does this trend enhance the importance of having a great practice facility?

Forse / Nagle: We believe it does.  Golf courses, both private and public are searching for ways to engage, maintain and grow members and players.  The importance of a really good practice facility has grown significantly in the last 10 years.  We even had a teaching pro mention the TopGolf facilities and asked specifically what we can do to “make their range more fun and exciting”.  In decades past, Clubs did not see the competition they now see for food & beverage; competition from kids sporting activities, dual professional families…….  Many MUST find ways to keep members active at their own facilities. TopGolf is pushing golf course designers to be more innovative.  More family oriented facilities are needed.

Hurdzan: Undoubtedly. Topgolf’s success is one of several strong indicators that creatively developed golf facilities that make hitting a golf ball more “fun” can earn ones discretionary time and money even in a fast-paced world.  While this fact holds regardless of golfer skill level, it is especially applicable to the avid golfer who often regard hitting balls as work – as in “work on my game” – for they too appreciate a departure from the prototypical, hum drum practice facility.  The common denominator, and our personal design objective, is to maximize the perception of fun.

Liddy: It increases the importance of having variety. Golfers want more choice in their practice including short game: pitching, chipping and putting. They want it fun. Incorporating the short game as an optional 6 hole par 3 course is a good alternative. A small course that combines practice for all ages. Young and old can play together without the pressure that comes with a 18 hole championship golf course. And all types of betting games can be enjoyed.

Kay: Yes it does – I have done more work in the last 5 years than any other 5 year period in being a G.C.A. for over 35 years. Many clubs are hiring my firm just to improve their practice facilities.  By the way I think Topgolf is great for the golf industry.  I have been to one and spoken to the marking person; tehy feel at 70 to 75% of their customers are not golfers.  If 10% of them become golfers that is a Win Win.

Do you have a favorite facility you’ve designed?  If so, what are the special characteristics?

Forse / Nagle: Winchester Country Club, Winchester, MA.  The facility was carved out of 11 acres of a heavily wooded rocky property adjacent to their 6th, 12th and 13th holes.  The facility includes a practice putting green, chipping green, large driving range and a 6 hole par 3 course.  Winchester CC is an original Donald Ross design.  The par 3 course design was inspired by Donald Ross type greens and bunkering.

Bald Peak Colony Club – (NH)  The BPCC practice area was also carved out of a heavily wooded rocky parcel within their property.  The facility includes five separate teeing areas hitting to a very large range area with views to some of New Hampshire’s most majestic mountains.  The practice putting is nestled into the tree line away from the range tees.  Further to the north of the facility is a two green multi bunker short game area.  The facility is unique in that each of the practice components are separated from one another providing some privacy.  Additionally, because of the distance views and beautiful setting the club has held non-golf functions on the practice facility.

Hurdzan: I do. Two, in fact.  Erin Hills (Wisconsin) and Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club (Ontario, Canada).

Erin Hills offered 35 acres of a near perfect bowl shape, allowing us to customize distinct teeing ground along the entire 360 degree perimeter and with a diameter no less than 300 yards.  We created tees with various turf cultivars, height of cut and slopes to mimic every shot that could be found on the course itself – including wind or direction or sun angle.  The difficulty was in designing greens that could be “read” from any or all of the tees, which resulted in a symphony of  false fronts, backs and sides all accented by sand bunkers.         This same tract of land had room for a couple of short game areas accommodating approach shots up to 80 yards and with all sorts of bunker configurations/stances imaginable.  Mounding behind the main tee hides the car parking, and ironically, made for tremendous area for spectator viewing during the US Open!

Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club was the polar opposite of Erin Hills in that it had nearly no space for even a conventional range, employing reduced distance range balls and a practice field enclosed within 100 foot high netting.  The initial installation cost of the nets alone was attention getting, but it was the operating costs of storage every winter (to prevent ice damage) coupled to the sheer ugliness that ultimately wore out its welcome.  However, on the surface, there was simply no solution – at least that is what several other golf course architects told the club leadership.  But knowing how important the range area would be to the long-term financial stability of the club, I ignored that assessment of my peers and set out to prove it could be done.  After an exhaustive schematic design process, I was convinced that if the club was willing to lose one stroke to par, and would consent to rebuilding several other holes completely, that a new full-size range could be possible.  Upon earning the trust of the membership, we ultimately delivered a netless facility with full distance range balls, a primary tee four times larger than previous, a much requested teaching tee, and had enough land to safely add a short game center and putting green.

Liddy: Vision and simplicity are an important part of any good design. I do not prefer target greens in the middle of a practice area. Any time a target green is placed within the range, the 30 yards behind it becomes blind. I prefer a large center area, much like a fairway, with no target greens, just poles. This allows accurate vision on where the ball lands. Target greens along the edge of the practice are much better. The practice area at Colleton River in Bluffton, South Carolina is designed in this manner and is one of my favorites.

Pritchard: There are several really good sets of practice facilities I have developed, and we are working on two today, but my favorite is at Charlotte Country Club. The golf course was originally designed by Donald Ross in 1913, and redesigned in 1930. The special characteristics are:

  • Excellent area. Probably 14-15 acres.
  • There are teeing grounds at each end, both completely rebuilt in the past two years. And a ball can be carried over 300 yards from either set without in any way impacting activity on the opposite end.
  • The topographic layout of the ground is such that the tees on each end – in particular the clubhouse end are situated well above the range thus visibility is excellent – you can see balls landing. In addition to a substantial range area, part of the large acreage is set aside for short lofted club shots of 90 yards and shorter. In addition there is a separate area for bunker practice.

Kay: Fiddler’s Elbow’s range and short game area is very nice as well as the Union League Golf Club at Torresdale.  Both have a very large grass tee with the newest in synthetic turf to hit off of.  Note all range tees need a line of astro turf to hit off of to give the real turf tee rest.

Do you believe in bunkering on practice ranges?

Forse / Nagle: We believe they add a nice visual contrast to the sea of green typical of a driving range.  If used, they must be built so as to allow for the ease of retrieving golf balls and maintenance.  If a club or course has the budget which allows for hand picking of the balls, then the bunkers can take on more of the appearance of what may be encountered on the course. We prefer to this solution as it can be more realistic to what is encountered on the course. When considering sand bunkers it is important to select a material that compacts well and does not wash easily.  Crushed granite, coquina or mason sand are good products.  Selecting a firm product will allow balls to bounce out of the bunker reducing hand-picking of balls.

Hurdzan: They should be mandatory.  The “loudest” feature of the golf course is the sand bunker as it offers the only visual contrast to the otherwise monochromatic shades of green.  The whiter the better in this context, for they function purely to add cosmetic interest and define target areas, especially necessary at distances over 225 yards.   This is not to say they should be a functioning bunker and thus demanding the requisite maintenance expense.  To the contrary, we generally prescribe packed limestone with diminutive low side lip to allow ease of entry/exit for cart mounted ball picker.

Liddy: If the practice range has a short game area, yes. And if the club can afford the maintenance, it is also preferred on the full range. As one of the first impressions of the golf course, it is an important aesthetic introduction.

Pritchard: I strongly believe in bunkering on practice ranges, unfortunately there is always a problem with ball picking, and few Clubs including will add natural bunkers. They take extra maintenance, extra cost. And I have not yet seen a good solution with some sort of imitation bunkers.

Kay: Question – bunkers in the body of the range or bunkers to hit out of.  I like the look of bunkers on the range.  When I designed this in I normally spec out a limestone screen which gets hard and they can drive thru it to pick balls. (see photos of Fiddlers).  At Manhattan Woods (a very high level private club I co-designed with Gary Player) we have really bunkers in the body of the range that they have to go in and hand pick (see photo).

As for a practice bunker to hit out of, it is a good idea to design one in at the end of the range so the golfer can practice fairway bunker shots.

How important do you believe it is to have turf on the teeing areas that matches what’s on course?

Forse / Nagle: It’s not essential but some golfers prefer the same grass.  Member preference is key.

Personally, we don’t believe this is an absolute necessity.  Grass selection must be based on total tee size, budget, soil conditions, member use and air/sunlight conditions.  Courses with limited teeing space may be inclined to use ryegrass for ease with re-establishment through over-seeding in worn areas.  Some Mid-Atlantic clients have gone to the more cold tolerant bermudagrasses (Patriot or Latitude 36).  The bermudas are rather durable, withstand divots more so than many cool season grasses, and have aggressive stolons which help with quick re-establishment.

Hurdzan: For decades I agreed with this rule, but no longer.  I now suggest a three pronged selection approach: 1. Choose the grass that will heal fastest, that 2. Will tolerate the same height of cut as found on the course and 3. Offers the best lie.  For example, in northern latitudes where bentgrass is the predominant turf, it is not uncommon to plant the practice tee to “low-mow bluegrass” as long as it is cut to golf course height.  The bluegrass turf heals  from rhizomes below  the soil surface which are usually not damaged by divots, while bentgrass heals by stolons which are above ground and are removed in divots.  Granted bentgrass seed germinates faster than bluegrass, but divots heal faster from rhizomes than seed.  In southern climates, Paspalum cut to the same height as the Bermuda tees on course is becoming popular.  Paspalum is more aggressive and the worse it is treated, the better it seems to grow, even in mild winter temperatures.

Liddy: Again, much of this relates to affordability. It is always better to have the practice area as close as possible to the golf course but many times cost prohibits it.

Pritchard: I prefer having the same turf on the practice tees, however this can be a problem with turf recovery time. Many quality courses, use different grasses and over seed with rye. I usually stay out of this decision. What is important is the condition of the teeing surfaces, and a properly tight height of cut.

Kay: It is nice to have say a bentgrass range tee if the golf course fairway are bentgrass.  But often the range for several reasons is ryegrass while the fairways are a mixture of poa, rye and bent.  the most important thing is that the height of cut is the same – in most cases .5 inches.

What’s your view on using artificial turf mats vs. natural turf?

Forse / Nagle: Any course looking to improve/renovate their range tees MUST include a synthetic teeing surface.  That sounds like a bold statement or like we are distributors of the mats themselves, but in reality, it’s just the smart thing to do.  Very few clubs have the room to create one acre tees or even half an acre, so with limited space synthetic turf makes sense.  Courses are seeing more and more members practicing and more individuals are inclined to visit a public range versus taking the nearly 5 hours to play at a public course.  With so much wear and tear on teeing surfaces, the superintendent needs the ability to close the natural portion of a tee to allow for re-establishment.  The mats allow for such management practices.  They are also beneficial during rainy periods and even better for Monday outings where a range tee can really take a beating.

Hurdzan: Ideally, every facility should have both, especially if the area of natural turf is inadequate for a given demand.  Serious golfers demand natural turf, but the majority of golfers are without preference, or if biased, lean towards artificial turf as it corrects mishits.  That said, the improvements in artificial turf are so substantial that even open-minded avid golfers do not necessarily find it objectionable, particularly when they are just working on swing techniques and not ball flight enhancement.  The stigma of the mat is fading fast.

Liddy: Artificial turf has progressed nicely in the past decade. I find it is a good substitute in high traffic areas.

Pritchard: Regarding artificial turf mats; sometimes they are a must.  I am not troubled by having a row of mats at the back of the natural grass teeing areas if necessary, and well designed. There are some very prestigious clubs, who do have a row of mats available when necessary, usually they are nicely constructed, and thus not a blemish.

Kay: The most important thing is to have a range.  If no room (normally because of depth of range) then artificial turf/mats is fine.  The ideal is to have both.

How many target greens are ideal and what elements go into orienting and designing great target greens?

Forse / Nagle: 5 – 7 targets is adequate.  Of course the total number is based solely on available space.  It is important to position the target greens in such a manner to maximize their visibility.  Additionally, it can force golfers to work on their alignment when needing to aim at targets in different positions.  The target greens need not be designed with too much contour or elevation.  We feel canting the greens toward the tees is critical and to provide as much visibility as possible.  Target greens should be distributed between 100 – 250 yards.  In some instances the 250 yard green in unnecessary.  Instead the planting of a large specimen tree works.  The tree can also provide a nice contrast to the open field appearance of a range.  Years ago, PGA Tour golfer Dudley Hart told me he loved a singular Oak at the far end of the range at the Country Club of Buffalo.  He was able to translate in his mind the width of the tree canopy into a fairway on a course.  His goal was to always land a drive within the width of that tree.

Where possible two targets greens at 65 yards are beneficial.  Allows for golfers to practice short shots and not have to hit across the range tee.  Also take pressure off of the SGA.

Hurdzan: Ideal depends on what the golfing clientele is attempting to accomplish and the width of the range, but as a general rule, the more the better, with eight being a preferred minimum.   Perhaps surprisingly, the most cerebral feature to design on a course is often the double ended range, for it must feature targets of maximum visibility and, thus, utility, from opposite directions.  This is achieved with vertical and horizontal stagger, exaggerated green slopes (4-6%) and sized according to the USGA course rating Accuracy Table (see attached figure), which provides the required width and depth of a green, relative to distance from tee, upon which a golfer can land the ball 2 out of 3 attempts.

Liddy: See my answer above, “Vision and simplicity are an important part of any good design. I do not prefer target greens in the middle of a practice area. Any time a target green is placed within the range, the 30 yards behind it becomes blind. I prefer a large center area, much like a fairway, with no target greens, just poles. This allows accurate vision on where the ball lands. Target greens along the edge of the practice are much better. “

Pritchard: I prefer to have as many as a half dozen target greens, and if space permits – more. I always design them at a size of 4000 square feet plus. I think it’s important that you give players an adequate, rather natural target. There are important decisions which have to be made regarding positioning of the target greens depending again on how much space the range contains. It always makes sense to pitch then slightly toward the teeing grounds so players can properly see their shots landing on the target. When there are tees at both ends, sometimes you have to enlarge the practice green and crown them in the middle so a portion faces each set of tees.

Kay: Target green add so much to the look (at Llanerch, see photo, we simple brought in a little bit of fill for mounds and definition around the target greens, added a few sprinkler heads, sprayed ‘Round-up’ to kill the existing turf and seeded with bentgrass).   Often when a club on their own without a golf course architect added target greens to their range they make them way too small.  Minimum they should be around 3,000 s.f..

What are some maintenance considerations on a practice facility?

Forse / Nagle: Maintenance must be a top priority when designing a practice facility.  Many of the facilities being designed today can require one additional full-time staff member to maintain.  Plus, there is the need for someone to place and gather balls at the beginning and end of the day.  The desired end product must fit within the maintenance budget for a course, no matter whether it’s private or public.  The addition of a PPG and SGA increases the total square footage of greens surface; the range tee will require divot filling to maintain a certain levelness to it, there is overseeding and daily movement of the hitting areas.  Irrigation or the lack thereof will dictate the appearance of target greens.  People must realize it is going to add expenses.

Hurdzan: Remember, you get what you pay for.  Number one remains “how fast the turf can heal?”  This is why we regularly design tees from 75,000 to 100,000 square feet in order to spread the traffic and extend healing time.  A close second is sub-surface drainage on +/- 20 foot centers.  If the budget permits, a performance, sand based rootzone no less than six inches deep is a gift that keeps on giving.

Pritchard: Maintenance costs always have to be considered, but owners must understand the practice grounds are very important elements of activities provided. Golfers spend far more time on the practice grounds than they did in the past simply because we are providing a better experience. (I have a club in Chicago where we are currently working, and I am absolutely convinced that their emphasizing and developing much better practice facilities will be the absolute key to their increasing membership and better health).

Kay: A normal range might only be mowed once a week.  Hence only have to pick balls once a week. If a pseudo fairway is added whether it will be mowed at .5 inches or 1 inch (like a step-up cut) the fairway needs to be mowed more often )2 to 3 times a week) – hence golf balls must be picked more often.  Also the range needs to be closed while this happens.

What’s the ideal orientation of a range?

Forse / Nagle: The most important consideration must be morning and evening sun.  We have witnessed clubs with double-ended East to West orientation.  This allows golfers to hit to the West in the morning and to the East in the evening.  Wind must also be considered.  A range oriented with a left to right wind will exacerbate slices.

Hurdzan: Due to the sun, facing east is the worst, following by facing west.  This leaves variations of north and south.  If summer months are the preference, north is our recommendation, but if a heated practice shelter is in place, southeast is general optimal in northern climates to minimize exposure to prevailing winds.

Liddy: In the North where play is in the summer, hitting to the South is preferred. This puts the prevailing southwesterly wind at the golfers chest, much better for practice than into the golfers back. Of course wind characteristics are variable so having tees on both ends of the practice area are preferred. In the South, this might vary depending on the dominate winter wind pattern. Again, keeping the prevailing wind off the players back is important. Of course sun angle is also a consideration and practice areas with a north-south orientation are best.

Pritchard: The ideal orientation is North and south. If you really want to agonize over it, you can probably wrangle over sun angles in the summer and winter, (More important in the south because of 12 months season). If you have tees at both ends of a range, you can actually schedule practice so that the bulk of the players, (right handers), never have the sun in their eyes.

Kay: North is ideal but most clubs have no choice.

How important are aesthetics when it comes to range design? 

Forse / Nagle: Now more so than ever, aesthetics should be considered at the range.  Our tendency as a designer is to keep the flowers, shrubs…… around the clubhouse and not on the course.  A well designed range with cart parking, synthetic tees and other appurtenances can include some benches and planting beds.  We see practice areas as being a part of the entire course/club campus and therefore should be maintained as such.  For many golfers the range is where they spend much of their time golfing.  The overall experience should be pleasing.  It also depends on the nature of the course itself.  If the course is a minimalist natural course, then so to should the practice areas.  A cohesive look should be a priority.

Hurdzan: Highly important.  You’re asking a golfer to remain  stationary for 15+ minutes, 3+ times a week and so it logically follows that the view should be as spectacular as practical, especially as the practice facility is a direct reflection of the course brand, rather than a mere afterthought as it once was.  Those aesthetics are another opportunity to enhance the brand, but if ignored, can also detract.  Therefore, we prefer to see a fluid landscape of target greens threaded together with a practice field and adorned with sand bunkers, trees and off-color native grasses to polish what should be an artistic masterpiece.

Liddy: See answer above, “As one of the first impressions of the golf course, it is an important aesthetic introduction.”

Pritchard: Paying attention to aesthetics is incredibly important. I’m not sure I have all the answers, but you try to develop a feeling of comfort, and a set up where the player is captivated by the character of the practice facility. In art there are rules of composition that you learn by studying art and learning to paint or sketch. Far too few golf architects have this sort of background, and it is apparent in their work. Even golfers with no artistic background are affected by proper composition. They have no real academic understanding, but the mind just “feels” what’s right and wrong. I was fortunate to study art during my schooling, and have sketched and painted most of my life.  And certainly I am not claiming to have all the answers. But I do for sure understand the value of focusing on trying to establish the right strength of appearance.

One of the reasons certain of our old early architects created works of enduring value is because they unconsciously ingested what was simple and proper about early design. Too many contemporary architects, lacking this experience and training place their emphasis on all the wrong things.

Kay: Very important – it is what can attract new members.

Do you include the option to practice fairway bunker shots in your range designs?

Forse / Nagle: Yes and no.  Depends on the space available.  The addition of a fairway bunker seems to be dropping as a priority.  So often clubs and courses are limited in their available space and all the fairway bunker does is take up more teeing space.  When space is adequate then, yes we like to add them.  Often they simply get used as a greenside bunker where golfers hit onto the tee instead of the range.

Hurdzan: Yes.  But such a bunker need not be specimen of design acumen, rather, a functional piece for the small fraction of golfers who will use it.

Liddy: If room and safety provide the opportunity, yes. I do find them as the least used practice feature.

Pritchard: I usually do include the option of fairway bunker practice, but I am not sure this sort of feature gets very much use.

Kay: Yes if I have the room to do this.  Tee space however is too often the over righting criteria.

Is there an ideal size for practice putting greens, or is that dictated by the amount of space available?  see above – target greens (is that what you mean) should be a min of 3,000 sf. As for a actual putting green to put on the bigger the better – size of the area  dictates everything.

Is there an ideal size for practice putting greens, or is that dictated by the amount of space available?

Forse / Nagle: As large as possible and the shape of the green is important – oblong or rectangular is preferred.  A circular green becomes limited in usable space.  All practice areas are dictated by available space.  We have worked on PPG’s over 10,000 sq. ft. and as small as 2,500 sq. ft.

Hurdzan: The dreariness of space available of course trumps all great wishes, but we prefer to see no less than 10,000 square feet to service a typical 18-hole facility.  This platform offers enough room to support both flat and undulated surfaces which can be partially closed if/when necessary.  The importance of the ability to close either for rest or repair should not be underestimated.

Liddy: A good practice green needs two distinct areas. First, it needs a relatively flat area for practicing the mechanics of the putting stroke. Second it should contain rolling areas similar to the greens on the golf course to provide the important touch aspect of putting practice. A green no smaller than 6,500 square feet can accommodate these two features.

Pritchard: As stated above, I try to create natural appearing target green. In a sense that’s a part of the aesthetics question. At Charlotte the target greens are at least 4000 sq. ft. and a few are very much larger. (I know most will question this, but for me it’s proper). Also, obviously the space available may require that this be neglected.

Range design and consideration has changed drastically since golf’s introduction in the United States, but how has it changed in the past 10 – 20 years? 

Forse / Nagle: Emphasis on practice.  Now we are designing ranges with multiple targets greens which are fully irrigated; one acre tees built on a sandy/soil mix with drainage and precision targets from 30 – 90 yards.  As stated earlier golfers are spending more time on the practice areas and are also demanding better conditions.  They want feel like they are out on the course.

The biggest push in the last 5-10 years is the desire for one or two bay indoor hitting buildings.  People do not want to be held back from practicing due to cold or rainy weather.  We have also witnessed a huge push for a synthetic teeing area.

Hurdzan: Until 20 years or so ago, ranges were still relegated to a space permitting afterthought  to a golf course.  Today they are regarded as a profit center, alone capable of attracting golfers, especially those who want to stay current with their practice regimen but do not have the time to play.  Great golf ranges make for great addition to the bottom line, especially as, unlike the course itself, one can sell an infinite number of range memberships.

Liddy: As golf equipment, specifically the golf ball and large headed drivers, has everyone hitting it incredible distances, the need for short game practice has increased. This is especially true for college practice areas, as the short game provides the separation of the very best players.

Pritchard: There has been an increasing focus on the development of Practice Grounds that is significantly greater than when I first began practice. Of course we are seriously struggling with the length issue, because that has very seriously affected the adequacy of some wonderful old practice areas. The reason for this greater focus is the much stronger interest in practice. (At the club I mentioned in Chicago; they have had a real boost in membership because we are improving the practice grounds. Many players who haven’t the time for a round of golf after work – even nine holes, will stop by to hit ball or work on their short game for an hour).

Kay: The original golf course architects often would not design in a range (look at Quaker Ridge a top 100 designed by Tillinghast does not have a range, and right down the road at Winged Foot they have a limited range (amount of golfer that can hit at the same time and limited to irons).  They did not design in ranges for two reason – not enough land and not the demand for it.  Twenty years ago there was a big demand but not it is different in that they know it needs to look nice.

What are some minor things you can incorporate into a design of a practice facility for a facility that doesn’t have a large-scale budget for changes for improvement?

Forse / Nagle: 

  • Synthetic turf on tees.
  • Target greens can be added rather cheaply.
  • A small area dedicated to a hitting net with a synthetic tee.
  • A practice putting green built in a “push-up” manner with a reduced sand/soil profile.

We are currently working with a club on roughly 90 acres.  They have no room for a range.  We are proposing

Two tees (one on the 1st and one on the 18th) that allows for hitting balls onto the 1st fairway in the evening (after members are no longer teeing off) and in the morning on the 18th (until playing groups reach the 18th hole).

Hurdzan: In order of priority:

  • Turfgrass teeing area
  • Artificial turf teeing area
  • Target greens and surrounds
  • Target fairway
  • Drainage to increase days and hours of operation while minimizing damage
  • Clean restrooms and snack areas
  • Aesthetics of entrance and teeing areas
  • Classroom for group instruction or critique
  • All-weather teeing area
  • Affable counter or range tee person

Liddy: A pitching field is a fun feature. Essentially it is an area with flags (or other targets) at ten yard increments. With proper coaching it can be a fun, fun area.

Pritchard: First and most important is to try to come up with the funding necessary to build tees that have the proper structural construction which will be incredibly important in the use and the management of the teeing grounds. Secondly, I think it prudent to create some sort of somewhat elevated target greens.

Kay: Again you mow in pseudo target greens and fairway (see photo of Rossmoor – this is just changing mowing heights)

How do you approach a range renovation compared to designing a new range?

Forse / Nagle: Both can be very similar in that available space will dictate design solutions.

Renovating a range can be very similar to renovating a golf course.  Overall scope of work may be limited because of existing infrastructure which a club/course may wish to keep in place (i.e. drainage, irrigation, cart paths and vegetation).

New or Renovated primary goal is to provide a practice experience which mimics play as must as possible.

Hurdzan: There is no difference, save for specific membership requests.  The teeing area to be as large as space allows and easy to access, even if that means moving golf holes or other infrastructure.  Ideally the range should be visually as beautiful as reasonable, yet fully functional.  Golfers want good surfaces to hit from and see their ball land and finish on what appears to be a piece of golfing ground.

Liddy: Most practice areas are too flat. Getting the tee area up slightly is important for visibility. It is normally the first component I look at in renovation or new range design.

Pritchard: Obviously when you are renovating a range, you have to work within the limits of the existing space. Other than that probable limitation, I feel it’s important to utilize every means and method available to create to most attractive and properly functional range that you can provide.

Kay: With an existing range there are often items we can not change such as where tee is, where irrigation main lines are.  With a new range a designer does have more freedom but the designed elements we need to fit in are the same.  Is there room to diesn in a Short Game Area.

Have you ever debated with a facility or owner on their range renovation/design plans, won the argument and ultimately won their approval with your expertise?

Forse / Nagle: To date, Ron and I can’t recall any situations that are worthy of inclusion

Hurdzan: No.  The client has the gold and makes the rules – unless it is a matter of safety.  If we’ve not effectively explained our opinion, then we have failed as designers.  The net result is that we are always proud of whatever we produce within the constraints imposed, knowing that the features we omitted often be added at a future time.  Just as a course renovation often requires several stages of polish over time, so too does the sophisticated practice range.  The overriding goal is to fulfill the clients expectations, and produce a profit within the client’s business plan.

Pritchard: I cannot recall a time when I had to debate a client on issues regarding range renovation or design. Almost without exception clients listen to what I suggest, and I always seek whatever input they might offer.  I do have a Fairly recent client who had very firm ideas about how he wanted the short game practice area to be developed, and I just exempted myself from the process. I felt it was his golf course, and chose to concentrate on the golf course and let him develop the practice area as he desired. We are now redesigning these practice grounds.

Kay: I have convinced several owners/clubs to mow their range differently by showing them photos of what I have done in the past. the photo of Llancerch CC’s range has convinced many clubs to at least try it.  By the way just look at Topgolf the body of their range has different color astro-turf besides the targets which give it character.

How do you design drainage for new ranges?  How do you incorporate drainage for existing ranges?  Do these plans differ from golf courses?

Forse / Nagle: Drainage for the hitting area is primarily all surface drainage.  Our approach to a range hitting area is much like our golf course design – limit earth disturbance as much as possible.  Let the natural topography dictate appearance.  In those situations where we much move a lot of earth then we will convey water to low spots and pipe off of the range (just as we would do on the course).  For larger tees we will install a drainage system in a herringbone arrangement with spacing on 20 – 25’ centers.  Most facilities we work on do not have an existing drainage system.  If one exists then we will incorporate the drains into a modified or new system.

Hurdzan: Sound drainage is sound drainage.   We design range drainage to the same standard as the golf course, to include surface and subsurface drainage.  Skimping on drainage under the logic of “it’s just a range!” is pennywise and pound foolish.

Liddy: Drainage is always important. Surface water should not travel more than 100 feet to a drainage basin for best results. Also, the floor of the range should face the golfer. Much different than a golf hole where hiding areas of the fairway is preferred.

Pritchard: Drainage as in all things, and perhaps more so is a crucial element of practice grounds. Obviously the architect has to fully evaluate, and use every option of both surface and sub-surface drainage.  I would add, that in my experience it is absolutely critical that the teeing are of each of the practice tees has a perfectly laid out, properly functioning sub-drainage system. On occasion clients have been somewhat resistant about this expenditure, and sooner or later they accept better guidance, and undertake this work.

At Charlotte Country Club, this expense was quite significant, and now just one year after rebuilding the tees at the clubhouse end of the range, everyone recognizes how incredibly well these tees drain, and how rapidly they cycle back into play. The teeing grounds at the far end of the range were completed this past winter, and are now in use. It will be next year, before the tees are perfectly firm, dry, and exhibit the same rate of turf recovery.

Kay: Drainage on a range is very important you do not want golf balls plugging, then they are almost impossible to pick with the ball picker.  Drainage is not as complicated as most people make it.  The key is get the water in the drain pipe as fast has you can.  Every range is different as far a drainage goes.

In your opinion, what are some of the most overlooked aspects when it comes to practice facility design?

Forse / Nagle: Simplicity – too often past designs of practice putting greens and short game areas seemed to be designed with too much character.  A practice putting green can be designed simply with a single flat area (allows for working on putting stroke without having to worry about break or various slopes.  Also allows a golfer to try out multiple putters on consistent surface when considering a purchase.  Perfect for pros to teach putting techniques).  Provide a crowned surface which allows for upslope, downslope, left to right and right to left putts.  Too much contour limits usable area and increases stress on the turf.

We have renovated many SGA’s because they also have too much slope and undulation.  Often SGA’s are relegated to small portions of a property.  Take a tight spot and add an undulation hitting area, bunker and green and clubs are left with a limited use SGA.

Safety – Orientation and location of practice areas must keep safety as the number one priority.  Adjacent holes, roads, homes, properties, parking areas……….  Must be evaluated with considering practice areas.

Hurdzan: The customer service/experience off the range.  This extends from tidiness of the restrooms (especially to women) and snack areas to employing a person behind the counter that makes everyone feel welcome and important.  If the range has at least 20 hitting stations, it might be economical to staff a range tee “monitor”, that is, someone who offers free of charge suggetions to beginners or simply ensures proper behavior and etiquette.  Never discount human factors because “it’s just a range.”

Liddy: My pet peeve is too many targets greens, especially in the middle of the range. They reduce visibility to the remainder of the practice facility.

Pritchard: The most often overlooked aspect is the installation of drainage as described above. Far too often clients opt to avoid this expense, and I always feel it’s a regrettable decision.

Kay: Turf tee big enough and not enough space for each golfer – it is 10 feet per hitting station.  So a tee that is 200 feet wide will give twenty stations.  many clubs think they can cheat on this but then they find out how unsafe that is.  A club I know several years ago decided not to hire my firm and do it themselves.  The promised there members they would get 16 hitting stations but then only built it 130 feet wide and ended up with 13 not 16 (they thought they could squeeze in the golfers until a golfer on the very first day got hit in hte cheekbone with a backswing of another golfer).  The next day they had 13 stations and a very upset membership.

In your opinion, what is the most important aspect when it comes to practice facility design?

Forse / Nagle: Maximizing usable area in a functional manner that allows for a realistic golf experience.  Practice should also engage a players mind just like 18 holes of golf.

Hurdzan: Delivering all the amenities requested by the client in a safe, functional and profitable design.

Liddy: Even though I am a golf course architect, management and teaching staff are paramount. Great teachers can be just as productive on a simple field than a million dollar range. I am always impressed with those great teachers working in the hot sun all day trying to make us all better golfers. God bless them.

Pritchard: Drainage.

Kay: Discussing all the issues that are involved with the Club (which must include the PGA pro, the superintendent, GM and say three members).  How many members will use it on a Saturday morning, is there outside outings (can they be put on the astro-turf mats?), irrigation, topography of range (are all shots visible) and how much money do they have in the budget.  These are just a few of the important items.