Renovation Construction Phase

By John Lafoy, ASGCA Past President

If everything goes perfectly, and it rarely does, one of the happiest days of your life is the day the golf course contractor completes his obligation and construction ends. You do not even want to guess what it’s like if the project does not go as envisioned. Visualize the bonding company coming in on a half completed project and going through the bid process again to find a contractor to finish the work. Imagine an additional half dozen meetings with the contractor and their attorney to negotiate damages for not meeting the completion schedule. Imagine three months of solid rain. Imagine a contractor pulling a crew off your project so that they can complete another one. Imagine testing the greens top mix after installation and finding that it percolates at 8″ rather than 16″, as specified. It is not hard to imagine all of these, if they have happened to you. Every architect can tell a dozen such stories.

A successful project, from planning to completion of construction, is not luck, or chance, or a “toss up”, or fate, or an aberration. It is a result of hard work and knowledge. There are four key ingredients that are present on every successful project.

They are:

  1. A Competent Golf Course Architect
  2. A Dedicated and Caring Owner
  3. A Professional Golf Course Superintendent
  4. A Knowledgeable and Competent Golf Course Contractor

These are not listed in order of importance. They are all equally important. When you start eliminating one or more of these key people, you are tempting fate and your chances for success diminish proportionately. Each of you could probably give one or more examples where a superintendent acted as his own contractor or architect and did a creditable job. Or where an owner acted as an architect and hired a good contractor to complete a reasonably nice project. The problem in thinking that is the way to proceed is two fold. First, you do not know how much better the project would have been if a competent architect or contractor had been employed. And secondly, it is flawed thinking to take the exception to the rule and use that as the norm, or justification for not doing it “right.”

A good architect will earn his fee by assuring that you maintain or increase the level of play at your facility. One private country club in central North Carolina increased its play from 16,000 rounds to 36,000 rounds in just two years after a greens renovation. The increased cart revenue alone would have paid the architects fee many times over in just one year. Had an architect not been used, the club could potentially be losing the equivalent of four times the architect’s fee every year, if it were not done correctly.

Likewise, a contractor who performs in a less than outstanding manner could conceivably cost the club for many years to come. Maintenance problems could be ongoing, and a golf course superintendent who is fixing irrigation leaks all day will have little time for grooming. Although a good golf course superintendent will keep an eye on the contractor, there are still a lot of mistakes that can be buried. Hopefully, the club has hired the best golf contractor that they can afford.

It goes without saying that all the hard work of the architect and contractor goes for naught without an excellent golf course superintendent to maintain and care for the golf course. The public and private golfer’s perception of a good golf course has much more to do with the condition of the golf course than its architectural integrity. Of course, if a layout is bad enough, no amount of grooming will make it a great course, but given a good solid routing, with nice golf features, the level of maintenance makes all of the difference in the world.

Although some may argue that a great golf course can be built or renovated without a good owner, the owner sets the tone of a project. The last thing that any architect wants to do is build something that the owner does not want. An owner with a clear vision is the architects best friend. On the other hand, an owner with no vision can leave an architect frustrated. A good architect will not be offended by ideas offered by the person or persons who are paying their fee. Some architects even obligate themselves in their proposal to oblige the owner’s ideas that are ” architecturally and engineering-wise feasible.” Most owners will take the advice of their architect once they have confidence in that person or firm.

The ingredients that make a golf course project successful are particularly important in the construction phase, as each has an important role to play during this period.

The following are roles and responsibilities that each may play, but their involvement may not be limited only to these:


  1. Contract Administration
    • Requests for Payment
    • Change Orders
    • Certificate of Substantial Completion
  2. Construction Observation
  3. Settle Disputes
  4. Approve/Reject Work
  5. Approve Materials (with Superintendent)

Owner/Construction Committee

  1. General Oversight
  2. Schedule Architects Visits (with Superintendent)
  3. Approve Change Orders
  4. Pay the Contractor
  5. Approve Materials (with Architect & Superintendent)

Golf Course Superintendent

  1. Owner’s Representative
  2. Coordinate Staging Area
  3. Traffic Control
  4. Approve Materials (with Architect)
  5. Architect’s Eyes & Ears
  6. Locate and Mark Existing Utilities & Irrigation

Golf Course Contractor

  1. Comply with Architect’s Plans & Specifications
  2. Supply Construction & Payment Schedules
  3. Supervise and Direct Work
  4. Provide Labor & Material (Occasionally Labor Only)
  5. Provide Material for Testing or Test Material
  6. Protect Personnel & Property
  7. Repair Golf Course

There are probably more pitfalls in the construction phase of renovations than all of the other planning phases combined. Unfortunately, most of the pitfalls have to be learned through experience. That is one reason that experienced architects and contractors are so important. Contractors and architects do this kind of work every day of the year, and you should draw on their experiences. Superintendents and owners may only have this opportunity once or twice in their lifetime and cannot be expected to know these things.

You can be sure that the following list in no way covers every potential pitfall. The best that can be said is that hopefully, at least you will not make these again. Golf course construction is loaded with built in “potential” for problems. Any kind of work that deals with “mother nature” can present problems. (Not to mention any kind of work that deals with humans.)

The following are pitfalls construction related, but should have been addressed during planning:

Owner Supplies Materials and/or Equipment

  1. Little Impact on Contractor’s Profit
  2. Owner Assumes Responsibility
  3. Built in Excuse for Contractor

Split Contracts or Piecemealing

  1. Poor Coordination between Subcontractors
  2. No Clear Cut Responsibilities for Damage
  3. Overlapping Responsibility

The following problems and snafus may occur at any stage of the construction phase and should be avoided:

Inadequate Staging Area

  1. Unsecure Location/Storage
  2. Parking Lot Damage/Poor Access to Work


  1. Unavailability/Supply Can’t Meet Demand
  2. Matching Delivered Material to Tests
  3. Contaminated Delivery Trucks
  4. Delivery Access to Specific Sites (Greens)
  5. Waste
  6. Inadequate Quantities/Estimates (Sod/Sand)

Conduct of Work

  1. Day & Hour Restrictions
  2. Protection of Work
  3. Inadequate Personnel
  4. Inadequate Equipment
  5. Poor Phasing / Construction Schedule
  6. Unauthorized Changes
  7. Rock Clause/Disposal of Rock
  8. Drainage
    • Wet Weather Springs
    • Minor Drainage
    • Lake Leaks
    • Poor Soil Conditions
    • Protection of Public
    • Improper Trench Compaction
    • Others

Damage to the Golf Course

  1. Fairways & Roughs
  2. Cart Paths
  3. Existing Utilities
  4. Irrigation

Grow In/Condition upon Acceptance

  1. Watering Schedules
  2. Poor Water Source
  3. Acts of God
  4. Un-viable Sod/Sprigs/Seed
  5. Soil Infertility
  6. Mis-application of Pre-Plant Chemicals
  7. Pests (Army Worms, etc.)

Again, please be aware that these are only a few of the problems and pitfalls that may occur before, during, and after a renovation project. You may want to use these as part of a check list when starting any renovation project. It may be a good policy to heed “Murphy’s Law”-anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. If you are only going to get one or two chances to renovate a golf course, make them successful and as pleasant as possible.