Planning a golf course?

The planning of a golf course development involves many different factors. Marketing studies, site suitability reports, planning permissions, project team selection, construction management and golf course operation are just some of those which must be considered, programmed and costed.
For any potential developer the seemingly simple task of building a golf course can become a complicated, drawn out and expensive affair. This guide aims to clarify the golf course development process and, where possible, offers advice and help on the best approach.
We have also included a downloadable pdf of a publication by The R&A on the development of affordable golf facilities which provides some very useful information and advice on this subject.

First Steps

It is hugely important to establish from the outset whether the project is feasible. This should be ascertained by the commission of two important studies.

A report to ascertain the suitability of the site for golf. This study should examine whether the physical elements of the site, such as land area, topography, soils, geology, vegetation, drainage and water availability will allow a golf course to be built, and, if so, how many holes (9, 18, 36 etc.). This report should be prepared by an experienced golf course architect. It is important that the site suitability report also examines other restraints such as legal and environmental restrictions, surrounding land use, local infrastructure and location of services, and identifies any potential conflicts or safety issues which are likely to occur. Common limitations which restrict golf course development are steep slopes, rock or poor soil conditions, lack of suitable water, the need to conserve important natural habitats and public rights of way. The information gathered from this study should allow an approximate golf course construction cost to be compiled.

An analysis to accurately determine how the golf course will fulfil the market requirements, both locally and, if necessary, internationally, and to establish the type of project which will best ensure long term success. This study should be carried out by a reputable research group, preferably with experience of golf.

Site Requirements

The amount of land needed for golf development will vary depending on the type of golf course planned (i.e. tournament, resort, residential, private, pay and play etc), how many holes, extent of practice facilities and so on. However, on average, an 18 hole golf course with a practice area will require between 60 and 90 hectares of usable land. Typically golf courses set within a residential development require more land because of the additional safety margins which are required. Sites which comprise steep terrain, protected zones or are of an irregular shape also need to be larger.

Steep slopes often lead to extensive earthworks in order to make them suitable for golf. Similarly, very flat sites may also require considerable earth movement to facilitate surface drainage and to create fill material in order to build golf course features. The ideal site has gently undulating landforms which are capable of forming natural locations for greens, tees and fairways.

What Next?

Once the feasibility of the project has been determined it is now time to develop a masterplan


Once the feasibility of the project has been determined it is now time to develop a masterplan in order to investigate precisely the opportunities which are available and to fix the locations of the various project elements within the site. The masterplan should be developed by a project team typically consisting of some or all of the following;

  • Golf Course Architect
  • Land Planner
  • Building Architect
  • Civil Engineer
  • Irrigation Designer
  • Landscape Architect
  • Ecologist
  • Planning Consultant (the latter to identify local and national planning requirements and restrictions).

Often the golf course architect will play the role of project leader, helping to coordinate the various disciplines. As well as establishing the layout of the golf course and practice facilities he will play a central role in locating the clubhouse and maintenance compound, determining the irrigated area and landscape character, and planning the location, style and size of lakes, streams, walls, bridges and pathways.

Planning Approval

During the masterplanning stage the relevant authorities should be approached to determine the submissions which will be necessary to allow planning approval. Requirements for approval differ greatly from country to country and even between regions within the same country. Often the procedure for obtaining planning permission can be lengthy. It is important to fully understand the approval process and its likely programme at the start of the project. In Europe it is common for an Environmental Impact Assessment to be produced as part of the approval documentation and it will often be necessary for the design team to complete much of the detailed design package in order to fulfil the planning submission requirements.

The Design Programme

On a typical project members of the EIGCA will offer the following services:

Carry Out Site Suitability Study;

Establish Design Concept - identify clients objectives, assess design opportunities and restraints, review site surveys and prepare conceptual options showing potential locations of all major project elements;

Develop Masterplan - Using information gathered from the marketing and site suitability studies and conceptual designs establish final golf course layout, locations of clubhouse and maintenance facilities, road and infrastructure layout. Determine development styles and landscape character. Prepare approximate construction programmes and budgets;

Assist in the Preparation of Planning Applications - prepare documentation to enable project approval by local and national authorities;

Prepare Detailed Design Documentation – Prepare contract documents, plans and specifications to allow the project to be tendered. These documents may include some or all of the following:

  • Grading Plans
  • Drainage Plans
  • Clearing Plans
  • Irrigation Plans
  • Grassing/Landscape Plans
  • Green, Tee and/or Bunker Details
  • Construction Details
  • Specifications and Bill of Quantities;

Tender Evaluation - If necessary assist client to evaluate tenders and select the best contractor;

Construction Phase - Assist in the development of an accurate construction programme. Carry out regular site inspections during construction to ensure that the golf course is built according to the contract documents and to the agreed timetable;

Establishment Phase - Mark out mowing lines for greens, fairways and roughs and sand lines on bunkers. Establish with the Golf Course Superintendent a maintenance regime which will generate the intended golf course character.

Please click here to download The R&A publication:

Affordable Golf Facility Development

Download:
Affordable Golf Facility Development


Golf Course Design
Sustainability