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October 1, 2016

Golf Range Design

Renowned architects believe practice ranges are pivotal to the design process

BY: SALLY J. SPORTSMAN

“I t’s a funny thing,” Arnold Palmer once said. “The more I practice, the luckier I get.” Many golfers take practice more seriously now than in years past, and the same can be said for those who design golf courses. These days, in the United States and around the world, a first-rate practice range, putting area and short-game center are deemed to be of great appeal to players – and distinguishing features of a golf facility.

While practice-facility design may not be foremost as architects plan new layouts or renovations, it seems to be occupying an increasingly consequential place in the strategic process. This is welcome news for golfers seeking to hone their games through prudent practice. A few prominent golf course designers recently shared with Golf Range Magazine their insights on some aspects of practice-facility design.

Lester George, ASGCA George Golf Design, Inc.

What elements go into making great target greens?

They must be visual and give feedback, in addition to things like the definition of turf, color and size. You want to see the ball hit or miss. Targets need to be realistic, not a barrel or pole in the ground. They need to have a presentation of a slope from back to front, and be distinguishable by grade.

Should the teeing area have the same grass as the golf course?

Yes, in most cases. Some courses will use a tougher variety – for example, zoysia on the tee, Bermuda on the course – to achieve more durability for divots. But there should be a general consistency.

How many target greens are ideal?

Four to seven are what you want to see. They can’t be set up like a row of soldiers. They should be staggered.

Must bunkers be similar to the on-course bunkers?

It always helps if the bunkers are built and maintained like those on the golf course, with reasonable sand and some variety. Golfers want to practice as if they are getting ready to go out and play.

What is the ideal orientation of a range?

Ball flight is always an issue. North or south orientation is best in this hemisphere, so you don’t get morning and afternoon sun. Past 200 yards, I like to have 200-250 feet between the right edge of the range and anything: people, parking, the clubhouse, etc.

What’s your view of mats? Indoor-outdoor bays?

Mats are necessary, certainly in the northern clime. Once the turf is wet, hitting off wet grass damages it. Even in Florida, you still want a tee line that is available to hit balls off during a big outing or inclement weather. Teaching buildings, with covered and heated hitting areas, are a good idea. People want to hit balls and learn golf, and pros want to teach.

What are some maintenance considerations on a practice facility?

If it’s grass, it should maintained like any other area on the golf course. On the range, I try for 12 feet between each tee, but it’s up to the operator.

Golf is becoming more inclusive. Do you design practice facilities to be accessible to disabled golfers?

Yes. Some courses are retrofitting their practice areas for accessibility. You want to look at turf slopes. There should be access points – flat spots – to greens and bunkers, and ramps going into the building.

Making renovations or enhancing the design of a practice facility can be a big investment for a club. What are some of your ideas for how they can monetize range renovations and/or design?

Practice is becoming a revenue generator for many clubs. Well designed and constructed practice facilities are in demand and can be easily justified in a number of ways. Some of the things we are seeing are:

  1. Membership sales and conversion to upgrades in member status. Exceptional practice facilities are driving the decision to join clubs, and, all else being equal, the practice facility is the differentiator in the decision. If there is an alternative to 18 hole, four-hour rounds of golf, such as an extensive short game area for interactive practice or 3-, 6-or 9-hole options, members will choose that over clubs without that choice.

2. Teaching programs, clubfitting and youth programs. This is where the clubs are generating the cash. Programming the practice facility properly and providing the widest range of amenities and services is the most immediate way to gain revenue and add value for member/golfers. The PGA Professionals who are thinking outside of the traditional methods and practices, and are offering real programming changes for women, youth, seniors and advanced players are making the highest revenue benefits. Clubfitting, video technology, physical therapy fitness are areas that members will spend additional money on.

3. Flexibility of range, short game and other facilities. The design and construction of facilities for multi-purpose uses, that may not even involve golf, such as special events, alternative outdoor recreation and large recreational gatherings have also been used to generate revenue.

What’s your favorite practice facility that you’ve designed, and why?

Kinloch Golf Club is still my favorite because it does all of the above. It has so much built-in flexibility and has been designed and constructed to accommodate every scenario. In a recent “Master Plan” revision, we have planned for the inclusion of a 9-hole “reversible” and “interactive” short course (on five acres) that will generate even more revenue if built.

REES JONES, ASGCA Rees Jones, Inc.

What elements go into making great target greens?

You have to make sure your target greens are at grade, not up in the air, so they orient properly. The player wants to see the ball land. If you have an elevated green, you can’t see it land. Some designers put bunkers on the range; it’s a big debate. It’s not a bad idea, but coquina should be used, not sand. I don’t think bunkers are essential. They’re hard to maintain.

Should the teeing area have the same grass as the golf course?

Generally yes, and it is also important for the height of the cut to be similar. This is sometimes hard to do.

How many target greens are ideal?

We put nine target greens on every range we can. For every spot on the range, you can determine the best distance. Golfers can use technology to determine distance. If an average golfer can zero in on length, it improves scores. We like to close the range at times to convert it to a short course for juniors temporarily.

Must bunkers be similar to the on-course bunkers?

A lot of people do that. But I think in a practice bunker the sand should be pitched uphill, so a golfer gains confidence. The real problem with practice bunkers is that they are raked so much. The sand should be compact, irregular and sharp – not round sand, which is what occurs after so much raking.

What is the ideal orientation of a range?

I don’t think the sun is as essential as the wind. It’s good to practice into the wind; you can watch the flight of the ball. The percentage of greens hit in regulation was better in the old days, because golfers concentrated more to keep their caddies from shagging so many balls. Stakes are helpful.

What’s your view of mats? Indoor-outdoor bays?

Mats are necessary. They now have improved quality and feel, so hitting balls feels more like real shots. We are adding indoor bays at a lot of our clubs now. The concept has become quite effective for teaching. This is especially true up north for winter practice and instruction.

What are some maintenance considerations on a practice facility?

Different mowing heights, contours and grasses require special attention.

Golf is becoming more inclusive. Do you design practice facilities to be accessible to disabled golfers?

Our designs incorporate accessibility. Access to bunkers is the most prevalent element of accessibility.

Making renovations or enhancing the design of a practice facility can be a big investment for a club. What are some of your ideas for how they can monetize range renovations and/or design?

Many of the more recent range renovations include enhanced short-game areas, which can allow instructors to give unique lessons or clinics dedicated to specific short-game shots.

What’s your favorite practice facility that you’ve designed, and why?

I don’t have a favorite, but Oconee Club at Reynolds Plantation in Greensboro, Georgia; the Santaluz Club in San Diego; and Olde Florida Club in Naples, Florida are all very comprehensive and should be models for future projects.

BILL COORE, ASGCA Coore & Crenshaw

What elements go into making great target greens?

It depends on the project and the budget. On some projects the expectation is for the greens and bunkers to be beautifully sculpted and look like what you find on the course. Others are simply raised contours. It’s all about what the clientele expects.

Should the teeing area have the same grass as the golf course?

Ideally, that’s what you want to practice off of. However, for ranges that receive a lot of use, you want grass that recovers faster than on the fairway.

Must bunkers be similar to the on-course bunkers?

It boils down to the client’s goals. Bunkers should resemble those on the real course if possible, so you can practice different shots: shallow, deep, long. In a university situation, the players want different sand in different bunkers, so they can practice what they encounter at various competition sites.

What is the ideal orientation of a range?

In a perfect world, north-south orientation is best, or at least not completely east-west. This is often unattainable. Hitting into the wind is ideal. Orientation depends on the land you have to work with and the individual project. We like the practice facility to be close enough to walk to, but not right along a hole.

What’s your view of mats? Indoor-outdoor bays?

It depends on what part of the country you are in. In most places you can have grass, but you have to overseed if you are down south – or use a row of artificial turf. At highly-used public facilities, odds are you will need mats. As for indoor-outdoor bays, the owners tell us what they want.

What are some maintenance considerations on a practice facility?

Spacing between tees needs to be generous in terms of width and depth, depending on the turf. For quality turf, which is most appealing, you need huge amounts of space. For artificial turf, spacing is completely different.

Golf is becoming more inclusive. Do you design practice facilities to be accessible to disabled golfers?

We make sure the ground is level enough for people to get to the tees. We try not to make severe contours leading to the practice areas. Ease of access is key for disabled golfers – and for older golfers, too.