Ross McMurray

Date: Tue 20 Apr 2021

Tips for Successful Golf Course Redevelopment - Lessons from Royal Norwich

As part of BIGGA’s ‘Continue to Learn’ education programme, Ross McMurray MEIGCA, Immediate Past President and former BIGGA Chairman Peter Todd, the Estates Manager at Royal Norwich, took part in a video presentation to discuss their thoughts on golf course development and to pass on tips for any golf club looking to carry out work on their course.

18th Hole - Copyright European Golf Design

18th Hole - Copyright European Golf Design

Ross and Peter share their ten recommendations with us:

1. Have a clear vision & strategy (in writing!)
It is important to have a clear statement of what any redevelopment is trying to achieve and to ensure that the membership understand the objectives and goals and are fully on board. Royal Norwich had a clear, written strategy that was referred to on many occasions throughout the development to keep the project on track and to ensure that decisions were taken for the correct reasons.

2. Keep the decision-making group as small as possible

Copyright European Golf Design

Copyright European Golf Design

Having a large group of decision makers makes it difficult to move forward efficiently. At Royal Norwich the membership had previously voted to be run by a Board of Directors, rather than the usual golf club committee, so there was already an acknowledgement that this was a more effective way to run the club. For the course redevelopment there was a committee of four who were largely responsible for various different aspects, such as the course, the clubhouse, golf operations and finance. This made for a clear communications pathway, whilst still allowing robust discussions but most importantly, effective decision making. It did not require every element of the project to be approved by different committees or the members. It also enhanced the feeling of teamwork between all the stakeholders.

3. Carefully select your professional consultants

Copyright Royal Norwich Golf Club

Copyright Royal Norwich Golf Club

Choosing the right consultants to assist in a golf course redevelopment is essential to ensure that the project runs smoothly. These include the selection of the golf course architect, the irrigation consultant (for water sourcing as well as irrigation system design), quantity surveyor, building architect (if required), landscape architect or arboriculturalist and engineers.

It’s helpful to have consultants who also know how to deal with statutory bodies such as the environmental groups, highways authorities and planners, to ease the difficulties of working with these agencies.

4. Do your research

Copyright European Golf Design

Copyright European Golf Design

One of the main recommendations from Peter and Ross is to do your research. This might involve visiting golf clubs which have employed prospective golf course architects or contractors, or which have used different bunker lining products or irrigations systems. There is no substitute for speaking to others in the industry to get their thoughts on the people and products they would recommend, to look at work quality and to see products in operation.

5. Plan for sustainability
Look at opportunities to improve the sustainability credentials of the project, it may save money in the long run. At Royal Norwich surface drainage from the clubhouse roofs was connected into the golf course drainage system to be captured and stored in the irrigation reservoir, whilst the roof of the maintenance building has been fitted with solar panels to effectively make it self-sufficient for power.

Copyright European Golf Design

Copyright European Golf Design

In addition, Royal Norwich plans to make the site available for educational ecology visits, and has a provenance to use local produce in the clubhouse to assist local businesses.

6. Strictly control your budget
At Royal Norwich a percentage of the overall budget was assigned to each of the major aspects of the development, on the golf course, clubhouse, infrastructure etc. This allowed for each element to be tightly financially controlled, but it can involve compromises to avoid money being taken from one aspect of the development to pay for another.

Copyright European Golf Design

Copyright European Golf Design

One thing to look out for is that infrastructure costs often increase, perhaps with unexpected highways works, the need for extra drainage, or additional water sourcing costs, so it is important that enough allowances are made for this part of the works.

7. Be realistic about timescales
For projects that require planning permission it can be difficult to set accurate development timetables. Archaeology, environmental surveys, abstraction licenses, removal or installation of power lines and dealing with statutory bodies can all take much longer than anticipated. During construction weather can massively impact on the programme and, therefore, opening dates. Rain or cold spells at the wrong time can delay seeding or germination rates and put back when the golf course will be playable.

Make sure that the development programme is realistic and ensure that progress is effectively communicated with the membership so they are not under any false allusions.

8. Ensure trees and important features are protected
Royal Norwich had a tree preservation order on the whole site. It is very easy for construction and vehicle movements to have an adverse effect or even kill trees if the correct procedures are not followed. Peter ensured that site workers were properly educated about the importance of protecting trees and the rules on construction in their vicinity.

Copyright European Golf Design

Copyright European Golf Design

Fencing and marking out of important features should be carried out at the start of the works and regularly reviewed and changed as needed.

In addition, it is important to keep a record of the condition of the site prior to the onset of any works. Photographs of roads, paths, entrances and even grass areas prior to construction will provide a reference point for future discussions with the contractor, should it be required.

9. Keep your membership engaged
Royal Norwich made great efforts to communicate and engage their membership throughout the redevelopment process. Of real help were the twice weekly course tours for small numbers of both members and prospective members as well as occasional larger groups through the summer. These helped to generate interest and enthusiasm from the members and were also useful sales tool to generate new membership sales.

Copyright European Golf Design

Copyright European Golf Design

In addition, volunteer members carried out all the tree planting on the site as well as other aspects of landscape management, essential to the improving the visual quality of the golf course. Involving members like this has allowed them to become properly engaged in the project and to better understand redevelopment process.

10. Perseverance
Lastly, Peter’s final tip is to understand that, through any redevelopment process, there will be setbacks and times when things do not go to plan. He points out that, with perseverance, you will get through these periods. Be focused on the vision of what you’re trying to achieve and the effort will pay off.

By Ross McMurray MEIGCA

Golf Course Design
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