By: Sally J. Sportsman
Lester George is an award-winning golf-course architect, based in Midlothian, Virginia. His portfolio includes new designs, renovations and several courses for The First Tee. With respect to ranges and practice facilities, his design strategy for private, public, resort courses or stand alone ranges, rarely wavers.
“I always tell people they should design and conceptually lay out their range and practice areas as if money were no object, in order to get everything you want,” says George, a member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects. “If you are not thinking that way, you will never get the best you can.”
The goal, George says, is to have an all-inclusive practice facility that provides plenty of natural grass and other areas of teeing space, such as sloped tees, fairway bunkers and non-fairway bunkers, an isolated area for private lessons, and a superior short-game practice area. In other words, what is needed is plenty of room for teachers to teach and golfers to practice every shot. And George is seeing more interest now in putting courses. They allow for junior-golf programming and for families to learn golf together.
“Practice facilities should be designed to encourage interactivity,” George says. “We should focus on the idea that practice is a function of learning.” George believes that realistic learning takes place with realistic views, so he favors natural-looking targets and simulated fairways. He recommends center-cut fairways, so balls will be concentrated in the middle of the range, and therefore are easier to pick up. If money were no object and there’s plenty of space, north-to-south range orientation is ideal, as it is less intrusive in terms of the sun in one’s eyes. Good players like to practice into the wind. For learning, it’s fine to have the wind at one’s back. For practice, though, wind conditions should be considered, along with light, and morning and afternoon shadows.
If budget were of no concern, George also recommends shade provided by natural vegetation. If there is no natural vegetation, “import some,” George says. Shape the land so that it provides light, shade, texture and shadow – on both the range and the short-game center. George also is a proponent of 3, 6 and 9-hole courses and as well as reversible short courses. “In learning and practice,” George says, “people tend to get bored without variety and change. You want to keep them coming back.”