0 Environmental Considerations in Design, Renovating and Construction of Golf Courses

Porto Cervo.jpgThere are numerous factors that need to be considered when designing, constructing or renovating existing golf courses. Golf courses are, after all, large land masses of green space and with clever and compassionate design principles, sensitive renovation and planned construction, the local diversity can be protected and indeed enhanced at a site in conjunction with improvements for the golfer and superintendents on the course. Environmentally responsible golf courses can be economically viable within a management system.


When designing a golf course (new course or improvements to existing course) it is very important to identify existing habitats. Conserving what habitats are already in place is one of the simplest ways of bringing the environment into the plans of the course. Emphasising the existing atmosphere of a site helps keep the local character of the area alive, while also reducing the fear of destroying local habitats and diversity of the area. The identification of sensitive areas and natural resources can be identified in a site analysis before the course is designed. This will help designers plan around any environmentally sensitive areas while ensuring playability and the sheer aesthetics of the course are all balanced together, to achieve the best quality course possible, in terms of its playability, aesthetics and also the local environment.

Local environmental issues and conditions need to be addressed early in the project. Advance input from locals can be important when it comes to the later stages of design and construction to run smoothly. Particular concerns can be aired out before definite plans are decided upon. Native plantings should be given top priority and retaining appropriate trees and shrubs already in place not only help reduce the cost of planting, but also keep the local character of the region in tact and causes least amount of disturbance and stress to the local flora and fauna, while at the same time helping to keep the costs down. Supporting locally grown products and businesses is also important and helps keep a positive reputation for the course in the locality.

The design phase of the course should involve particulars regarding the irrigation systems, waste management systems, bufferzones and so on, as it is easier to get these important environmental protection factors in place from the beginning of a project, designed to the required specifications, designed to fit the budget and function of the area, rather than as an after taught and of course. Is Molas Sardinia.jpg

Having an idea of the underlying soil types, slopes, hydrology, and local climate are important factors to take into consideration when deciding on the type of irrigation system, drainage system required in addition to the size and location of bufferzones, rough areas, contours of the course etc. The design of the course should also take into consideration the maintenance required in order to keep these factors fully functioning including pest management, plant management, ground maintenance, waste management, health and safety and so forth. Clever and informed design of a course will result in a golf course that protects the local environment and indeed enhances the local environment within particular budget and realistic time constraints.

Qualified contractors should be used for the construction of golf courses. Contractors with knowledge of the industry, good understanding of soil science and environmental issues is important. Superintendents should be involved in the project from the beginning - from design to completion, as ultimately, it is the superintendents who are dealing with the tactical (day to day) and strategic (long term) management of the site. Bringing in a qualified professional scientific agronomist at the beginning through to the end of the plan can help air out any problems that may be encountered and will also insure that the project will run smoothly from the design stage to the daily operation.


As with design, all renovations taking place on a course should help conserve the local character of the surrounding landscape. For minor renovations, it is still important to look at the entire course as a single functioning unit (or one large ecosystem), as changes made in one area of a course may have negative impacts or knock on effects in another area, for example, increasing the amount of sediment entering a waterbody. Also any changes that may take place causing alteration of the physical landscape should be carried out in a sensitive manner, ensuring existing habitats are not disturbed and habitat corridors for wildlife are kept in tact. Simple changes like altering slopes of river banks can adversely affect the local fauna in terms of entry / exit to and from the water.

Golf course development can be a means of restoring degraded sites. Many renovations that may take place on a course will enhance the local environment, for example, the replacement of exotic plant species with native species and the rejuvenation of waterbodies which have become polluted or degraded. There are four characteristics to healthy habitats that need to be considered in order to keep populations at optimal levels: space, food, water and shelter. Once these four fundamental characteristics of habitats are maintained the local ecosystem will be a successfully functioning system and will also ensure that the quality of the course in terms of aesthetics is kept in high esteem.


Is Molas1.jpgConstruction (and renovations) of a golf course is a large task, often carried out with hefty, dynamic machinery and many workers on site. It is of up-most importance that the contractors are professional and have in-depth knowledge of the industry. Excessive noise and unnecessary trafficking will not only upset the existing flora and fauna of the site but cause problems such as soil compaction and incorrect contours to suit the local topography, resulting in problems down the road in terms of run off and sediment entering waters along with difficult areas to manage, for example, difficult slopes for mowers.

In Summary

The design, renovation and construction of a golf course are important facets in the operation of the industry. With careful planning and considerations for the local environment it can be quite simple to enhance and protect the local environment of an area. This will not only help the aesthetics of a course but also increase the character and reputation of a course, which are all important factors in creating repeat visitors to the course (be they golfers or other creatures!).

The Author

Mary Purcell is carrying out research for a doctorate degree at University College Dublin in the School of Architecture, Landscape and Civil Engineering. For more information contact Mary at mary.purcell@ucd.ie

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