As much fun as creating interesting golf holes and dreaming up new ways to punish golfers can be, the one underlying theme, and unavoidable task, of golf course architecture is drainage. Creative drainage doesn’t sound quite as sexy as golf architecture, but it is a ton of fun if you use certain techniques.
First and foremost, water is destructive, and over time will always win. To solve this problem I funnel runoff into drain inlets, channeling it underground, which immediately stops water’s destructive potential. Instead of letting water surface drain over a 200 acre golf course, we try to divide the course into hundreds of small watersheds with each containing its own individual drain, like a shower. An example of this can be seen at any fast food restaurant or small commercial development where a retention basin has been created on the property to catch run off and hold it for a while. This not only helps replenish groundwater, but lessons problems downstream from accumulating run off during large rain events.
For a golf course, additional benefits of this technique include resupply of irrigation water and on site retention of potentially harmful chemicals used in turf grass management, keeping our downstream neighbors happy.
Architecturally, the most beneficial design principle that comes from this type of drainage is unlimited design opportunities. Not having to create small channels around design features throughout the golf course to channel runoff, and simply installing drain inlets in any area you would like, provide the design freedom to put any feature anywhere.
Additionally, these small watersheds can be used to greater distinguish between design elements. A number of watersheds can be used as a group to define a fairway, or other design feature. Often golf course features are only distinguishable by different types of grass or mowing height. These watersheds can be used with varying degrees of slopes, sizes and locations to put a much more sharp definition to golf course features.
Smaller watersheds can also be used to create a more fair test of golf. Golf balls will migrate toward the drain in the bottom or low spot of a watershed. A well struck golf shot that lands in the fairway will roll towards the drain inlet in the fairway, while conversely a ball that lands in the rough will head towards the drain inlet in the rough. This eliminates the well struck shot that rolls forever across a fairway and finishes in the rough, and the poor shot that lands in the rough and bounces into the fairway.
Lastly, separating conflicting design elements with many different watersheds greatly reduces contamination of competing grasses and different maintenance products, especially during the grow in process of a new course.
The next time you play golf, try to imagine how far water would travel across the surface of your course to its final destination. Find the top of a hill or mound and then locate a property line, water source, or drain inlet at the bottom of the property. The longer the distance this is, over time more problems will develop. Eventually, drainage channels will be cut into the property and only get worse with every rain event.