1 Planning, Design, and Construction
Building a new golf course or renovating an existing golf course requires careful consideration of the health of the golf course ecosystem during planning, design, and construction. Designers can draw inspiration and develop a balanced, functional design through intense study of the onsite and neighboring ecological features, habitat documentation, terrain analysis, circulation patterns (such as air, water, wildlife, and traffic), and a variety of other constraints and attributes.
The thoughtful use of BMPs during planning, design, and construction should result in an environmentally sustainable golf course that operates efficiently and profitably. Because each golf course project is different, considerable variance in the design process exists. Therefore, the approach outlined in this guidance is general and may not be applicable to all situations. However, this approach provides a framework for good decision making throughout each project phase.
1.1 Regulatory Considerations
Regulations are in place at the local, state, and national levels that impact planning, design, and construction activities on Virginia’s golf courses. These laws are in place to protect and conserve the environment both during and after the construction process. Before beginning any golf course construction or renovation, consultation with the appropriate regulatory agencies is recommended. Communication between developers, designers, owners, the public, and regulatory agencies should occur early and often. In addition, if new wells must be installed, experts should be consulted for proper siting in the design plan, and all setback and other regulatory requirements.
1.1.1 Stormwater Permits
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is responsible for issuing individual and general permits that control stormwater discharges from construction activities. DEQ administers these programs through the Virginia Stormwater Management Program
- Construction activities resulting in land disturbance equal to or greater than one
- Construction activities resulting in land disturbance less than one acre that are part of a larger common plan of development or sale that ultimately disturbs one or more A larger common plan of development or sale is a contiguous area where separate and distinct construction activities may be taking place at different times on different schedules. General permit coverage is required if one or more acres of land will be disturbed, regardless of the size of the individually owned or developed sites.
The construction general permit requires the operator to implement a site-specific stormwater pollution prevention plan (SWPPP). The SWPPP outlines the steps that an operator must take to comply with the permit, including water quality and quantity requirements such as reducing pollutants in the stormwater runoff from the construction site. The SWPPP also specifies all potential pollutant sources that could enter stormwater leaving the construction site and covers methods used to reduce pollutants in stormwater runoff during and after construction. More information on SWPPPs can be found on the EPA’s Developing a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) web page.
Most localities have also instituted a Virginia Stormwater Management Program. Therefore, the local regulatory authorities should be contacted regarding local stormwater management permitting requirements.
1.1.2 Wetlands and Floodplains
Activities that impact wetlands are regulated under sections 404 and 401 of the federal Clean Water Act (CWA). The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) regulates dredging and filling of waters in the United States under Section 404 of the CWA. DEQ’s role in the Section 404 permitting process entails issuing Section 401 certifications that the actions authorized by the permits do not violate state water quality standards. DEQ coordinates closely with the USACE during the certification process of Section 404 permits. Consultation with DEQ during the design phase of any construction activities expected to impact wetlands will assist in understanding the permitting process.
Development within a floodplain is generally regulated at the local government level through a floodplain ordinance based on guidance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
1.1.3 Erosion and Sedimentation
Erosion and sediment control plans must be prepared by a Virginia Professional Engineer in accordance with the Virginia Erosion and Sediment Control Handbook and regulations (9VAC25-840). Erosion and sediment regulations require a sediment control plan to be submitted, compliance documentation, and onsite record keeping.
1.1.4 Chesapeake Bay Preservation Program
Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act (§62.1-44.15:67 et seq.) specifies that the protection of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries will be accomplished through a cooperative state-local program. Local governments must advance the goal of protecting the bay through their zoning and land use authorities. In accordance with this premise, the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act requires cities, counties, and towns in the Tidewater region to administer the act and the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Area Designation and Management Regulations through their local ordinances, policies, and comprehensive plans. Therefore, any facilities within this region should check with the local regulatory authorities for additional requirements related to stormwater management and erosion and control measures. More information can be found on the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act Regulations, Guidance and Publications page of the DEQ website.
1.1.5 Listed Species
Virginia’s Natural Heritage Program maintains lists of state and federal listed species that can be found in the state. In addition, before beginning a large construction project, an environmental review request must be submitted to the program to screen for the potential presence of any listed species, significant natural communities, or karst topography.
1.1.6 Invasive Species
In Virginia, 606 species have been identified as naturalized, or introduced species that reproduce outside of cultivation. Of these, 90 species (or 3 percent of the total Virginia flora) have been assessed as invasive in natural communities. Though control of invasive species is not regulated in Virginia, superintendents should be aware of the presence of any invasive species and endeavor to control and/or eradicate them from the property. Fact sheets on control of individual invasive species are published by the Natural Heritage Program.
1.1.7 Noxious Weeds
VDACS regulates the movement of noxious weeds with the Noxious Weed Law. A noxious weed is defined as any living plant, or part thereof, declared by the Board through regulations to be detrimental to crops, surface waters, including lakes, or other desirable plants, livestock, land, or other property, or to be injurious to public health, the environment, or the economy, except when in-state production of such living plant, or part thereof, is commercially viable or such living plant is commercially propagated in Virginia. Listed noxious weeds include aquatic plants, which may require special care for treatment or removal. The VDACS Office of Plant Industry Services should be consulted regarding the movement and reporting of noxious weeds.
Proper planning is the first step to any construction or renovation project, minimizing expenses from unforeseen events and maximizing long-term success. Good planning also incorporates conservation of natural resources and economic sustainability while meeting the stakeholder needs. Once a course is designed, construction must be carried out in a way that minimizes environmental impacts. Maintaining a construction progress report, as well as following regulations and coordinating with regulatory agencies as required, helps to ensure compliance. Table 1 summarizes the steps and best practices for each phase of the project.
1.3 Wetlands and Floodplains
1.3.1 Wetlands and Riparian Areas
Wetlands are transitional areas between aquatic and dry upland habitats. They are flooded or saturated by surface or groundwater at a frequency and duration long enough during the growing season to support plants and other life adapted to saturated soils where oxygen is limited and unique chemical properties form. Riparian habitats include the dense and diverse vegetation growing along streams, rivers, springs, wetlands, ponds, and lakes. They often support plants adapted to highly fluctuating water availability (from spring flooding to summer drought). In addition, wetland and riparian habitats are essential for many of Virginia’s fish, wildlife, invertebrate, and plant species. Nearly 50% of bird species rely on wetland and riparian habitats, as well as numerous other game, fish, and other wildlife species.
Conserving the state’s wetlands and riparian areas protects water quality and biodiversity, while reducing the potential for flooding and soil erosion. To protect these natural resources, wetlands should be identified in the field by qualified wetland specialists during the design phase and before the permitting process is initiated. Course design should minimize any impact to wetlands and streams tied to activities such as filling, dredging, flooding, crossings, or converting areas from one habitat type to another. In addition, natural buffers should be retained around wetlands (as with other waterbodies) to protect water quality and provide habitat.
Table 1. Best practices for golf course planning, design, and construction
|The team should include, but not be limited to, a golf course architect, golf course superintendent, clubhouse architect, irrigation engineer, environmental engineer, energy analyst, economic consultant, civil engineer, soil scientist, golf course builder, and a legal team.
|Identify realistic goals, formulate a timeline, etc.
|Conduct a Feasibility Study
|Evaluate finances, environmental issues, water availability and sources, and energy, materials, and labor needs. Identify applicable government regulations.
|Site should meet project goals and expectations. Identify all strengths and weakness of each potential site. During site selection, any site constraints, such as the presence of listed species or valuable habitat, should be identified.
|Retain a Project Manager/Superintendent
|This person is responsible for integrating sustainable practices in the development, maintenance, and operation of the course.
|Retain a Golf Course Architect
|An experienced golf course architect is the person primarily responsible for design of the course including preservation of existing native vegetation, design of course features, and selection of appropriate turf species/varieties in conjunction with the superintendent.
|Existing native landscapes should remain intact as much as possible. Consider adding supplemental native vegetation to enhance existing vegetation alongside lengthy fairways and out-of-play areas. Nuisance, invasive, and exotic plants should be removed and replaced with native species adapted to the area.
|Greens: Should have plenty of sunlight and be well drained. Greens should be big enough to have several hole locations that can handle expected traffic. Native push-up green design can provide an adequate playing surface provided there is adequate
surface drainage, sun and air movement. USGA putting greens should follow specifications in published in A Guide to Constructing The USGA Putting Green.
|Grass selection: Species should be selected based on climate, including winter hardiness, environmental and site conditions, and species adaptability to those conditions, including disease resistance, drought tolerance, spring greenup, and traffic tolerance.
|Bunkers: The number and size of bunkers depend on considerations, such as the resources available for daily maintenance. For each bunker consider:
|Design Irrigation System
|Hire a professional irrigation consultant/designer (preferably a member of the American Society of Irrigation Consultants), if possible, to design the irrigation system. Keep in mind the different water needs of greens, tees, fairways, roughs, and native areas. Consider the topography, prevalent wind speeds, and wind direction when spacing the heads. Choose the most efficient type of irrigation system considering available resources. The “Irrigation” chapter of this document provides detailed information on irrigation-related BMPs.
|Select Qualified Contractors
|Use only qualified contractors who are experienced in the special requirements of golf course construction. Members of the Golf Course Builders Association of America make great candidates.
|Follow all design phase plans and environmental laws. Soil stabilization techniques should be rigorously employed to maximize sediment control and minimize soil erosion. Temporary construction compounds and pathways should be built in a manner that reduces environmental impacts.
|Install Irrigation System
|Installation should consider the need to move equipment and bury pipe while maintaining the original soil surface grade to minimize the potential for erosion.
|Turfgrass establishment methods and timing should allow for the most efficient progress of work, while optimizing resources and preventing erosion from bare soils before grass is established.
Wetland and Streambank Restoration
In some instances, wetlands and streams can be improved or restored during golf course construction. For example, a highly degraded stream or wetland can sometimes be reshaped, rehabilitated, or replaced entirely to meet project goals and improve ecological function.
Qualified environmental consultants can evaluate the overall benefit of stream enhancement or restoration and assist with permitting issues, which may include a federal 404 permit and/or state 401 certification. The Virginia Stream Restoration & Stabilization Best Management Practices Guide provides detailed information on stream restoration and stabilization measures.
1.3.2 Tidal Wetlands
In Tidewater regions of the state, regulations require that a vegetated buffer area not less than 100-feet wide be located adjacent to and landward of all tidal shores, tidal wetlands, certain associated non-tidal wetlands, and along both sides of all waterbodies with perennial flow.
Golf course development is often compatible with floodplains, particularly when compared with other uses such as residential or commercial development. Minimizing encroachment into floodplains to the extent possible is prudent.
Any substantial disturbance to a floodplain, including clearing and grading, generally requires an engineering analysis to demonstrate minimal impact on the base flood elevation in accordance with local ordinances. Depending on the complexity of the encroachment, this analysis may be as simple as a comparison of cut and fill quantities within the floodplain or as complex as a detailed floodplain model of the entire watershed. A complex analysis may require a FEMA review along with potential revision to the floodplain mapping.
Key course components (such as greens and tees) should be designed above the 100-year flood elevation whenever possible to avoid loss of golf play due to periodic flooding. Any effects on the floodplain and floodway should be considered, and the required offsetting adjustments should be made in grades or vegetative treatment.
Proper golf course drainage influences the quality of every aspect of the course and therefore has a profound impact on the long-term quality of the golf course turf, the maintenance requirements, and golf course revenue. Many BMPs prolong the retention process as long as practical, retaining as much of the stormwater in surface or underground storage as is reasonable, and may even improve the quality of water leaving the property. A high-quality BMP plan for drainage addresses runoff containment, adequate buffer zones, and filtration techniques. However, drainage of golf course features is only as good as the system’s integrity. Damaged, improperly installed, or poorly maintained drainage systems negatively impact play and increase risks to water quality.
Poorly draining golf courses often fail and are at greater risk for environmental concerns. Erosion can quickly result in a stream that receives poorly defined pipe outlets. A pond will stagnate if it has a poorly shaped edge or cove that does not accept flow from either a significant drainage area or the curvilinear flow within the pond itself. Poor drainage design usually requires retrofit solutions, which result in more maintenance and more chemical and energy inputs than needed for a well-designed course.
1.5 Stormwater Management
Techniques that manage and conserve water, such as Low Impact Development (LID) philosophies, should be adopted whenever possible. LID techniques filter, infiltrate, retain, and detain stormwater runoff near its origin and mimic the natural hydrology of the site to promote infiltration whenever practical. Depending on the intent and need, methods of water management include the selective slowing and speeding of grades to move water that can be used in conjunction with one or more structural water management devices. An extensive discussion of structural water management devices is included in the 1st edition of Environmental Best Management Practices for Virginia’s Golf Courses.
Existing golf course construction techniques can be smartly modified to assist in water quality and water quantity protection. While tradeoffs in design exist, these effects should be planned for in advance as much as possible.
1.6 Habitat Considerations
In urban and suburban environments, a golf course may provide the best habitat for many species. A number of golf course management activities can maintain and enhance habitat and provide food and shelter for numerous species, including mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, insects, and native plants. Examples of ways to maintain and enhance habitat include:
- Identifying and preserving wildlife and migration corridors to help maintain populations at sustainable
- Retaining natural buffer areas around wetlands and watercourses to preserve habitat while protecting water quality for aquatic
- Planting native species to provide food for animals and
- Retaining dead trees to serve as nesting
- Providing nest boxes for birds, bees, and
- Removing exotic and invasive species to improve habitat.
The “Pollinator Protection” and “Landscape” chapters provide additional recommendations and BMPs for enhancing habitat on the golf course.
Superintendents should be aware of any invasive species that may be present on their facility and endeavor to control these species.
1.7 Turfgrass Establishment
Below are summaries of the important considerations when establishing turfgrass. For detailed information on establishing turfgrass in Virginia, see Section 6-7 of the Urban Nutrient Management Handbook from the Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) and Section 6 of the Virginia Nutrient Management Standards and Criteria from the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).
1.7.1 Cultivar Selection
Turfgrass cultivar selection should take into account variables such as drought, cold, heat, and disease resistance, as well as color, fertilization and pesticide requirements, and intended mowing heights. The National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP) provides information on the testing and adaptation of the major turfgrass species and publishes the results. The NTEP website publishes results from variety trials in four locations in Virginia. In addition, the selection of drought resistant turfgrasses for roughs/fairways can decrease irrigation needs significantly, and disease resistant turfgrasses can decrease pesticide usage. Informed turfgrass selection can greatly affect other aspects of a design, so these decisions should be made as early as possible.
1.7.2 Seedbed Preparation and Planting
Proper seedbed site preparation can help avoid long-term problems, such as weed encroachment, diseases, and drought susceptibility. Debris should be removed that could hinder root growth and limit access to water and nutrients. Any drainage issues should be corrected through grading and installation of drainage technologies. Whenever possible, soil pH should be adjusted prior to establishment as preplant incorporation greatly accelerates the neutralization of the acidity throughout the root zone.
Turfgrass establishes best when proper attention is given to:
- Preparing the site and
- Understanding correct planting techniques for the material being used (seed, sod, or plugs).
- Properly caring for the grass after
Appropriate establishment timing promotes more rapid establishment and better long-term turfgrass performance. Sod installations provide significant inherent advantages in water quality protection by mitigating soil erosion as well as almost immediate turf use. Sod establishment is typically successful at any time of the year for any turfgrass as long as it is not planted on frozen soils and its water needs can be met by rainfall or supplemental irrigation. However, even sod establishments benefit from favorable establishment timings that provide the most opportunity for plant maturity prior to seasons of environmental or intensity-of-use stresses.
For cool-season turfgrasses, the ideal establishment period is late summer to mid-fall, with a secondary planting window of early to mid-spring being possible. Fall establishments are vastly superior for long-term turf success since they allow for the development of a mature root system prior to the typical heat and moisture stresses of a Virginia summer. Warm-season grasses are ideally established from mid-spring to mid-summer depending on the location in Virginia. Mature plants are critical for first-winter survival of warm-season grasses.
1.7.3 Establishment Fertilization
The amount of N used as a supplement in grow-in programs is highly dependent on the grass, the soil, and the N source. For example, cool- or warm-season grasses on heavier textured, predominantly silt/clay soils typical of golf fairways and roughs that are unlikely to have significant physical modifications prior to planting likely have limited leaching potential.
Therefore, up to 1 lb N/1,000 ft2 can be applied in a single application at planting with a ≥ 50% slowly available nitrogen (SAN) source, which feeds the turf for up to four weeks. N sources containing predominantly water-soluble nitrogen (WSN), should be applied at no more than 1 lb N/1,000 ft2 over the first four weeks by splitting the applications into regular intervals. At four weeks after planting, 0.25 to 0.5 lb WSN/1,000 ft2 per week should be applied for the next four weeks.
Appropriate water management is critical for successful turf establishment and reduces soil erosion and nutrient leaching/movement potential. From a practical standpoint, granular or sprayable fertilizers can only be made to a soil that is dry enough to minimize rutting potential from either equipment or foot traffic. Large scale grow-ins on golf courses are sometimes achieved through fertigation systems that provide light and frequent nutritional supplements through the irrigation system. While not a requirement for grow-in success, properly installed and functioning fertigation systems provide an extremely efficient method of nutrient delivery for turfgrass establishment.
Nitrogen-based establishment fertility programs for cool- or warm-season grasses on naturally occurring or modified sand-based soils require more attention in order to meet plant needs and protect water quality. In these highly leachable soils, it is important to use ≥ 50% SAN sources at up to 1 lb N/1,000 ft2 for the first four weeks of establishment for either type of grass. For warm- season grasses, apply 0.25 to 0.5 lb WSN/1,000 ft2 per week for the next four weeks. On cool- season grasses, up to 0.25 lb N/1,000 ft2 per week (or 0.5 lb of a ≥ 50% SAN source every two weeks) should be applied after germination is complete for the next eight weeks.
1.7.4 Erosion and Sediment Control
The loss of topsoil from a site can be a problem for numerous reasons. Soil carried by wind and water transports contaminants with it. For example, erosion can enrich surface waters, where phosphorus and, to a lesser extent, nitrogen can cause eutrophication. When sediments and soils enter water, they can also increase turbidity, which harms aquatic plants and animals. Therefore, control measures should be documented in an erosion and sediment control plan, put in place prior to any soil disturbance, and properly maintained.
1.8 External Certification Programs
Golf-centric environmental management programs or environmental management systems, such as Audubon International’s Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf and the Groundwater Foundation’s Groundwater Guardian Green Site program, can help golf courses protect natural resources, as well as gain recognition for their environmental education and certification efforts.
1.9 Planning, Design, and Construction Best Management Practices Planning and Design
- Maintain appropriate erosion controls during construction (e.g. silt fencing, wattles, straw bale checks) to prevent erosion and sedimentation in accordance with the
- Establish a low- to no-maintenance buffer along wetlands; check local ordinances for any buffer
- Establish and maintain an effective riparian buffer around wetlands, springs, and channels; check local ordinances for buffer
Wetlands and Floodplains
- Install stream buffers to restore natural water flows and flooding
- Install buffers in play areas to stabilize and restore natural areas that attract
- Install retention basins to store water and reduce flooding at peak
- Evaluate the watershed size to understand drainage needs and appropriate pipe
- Ensure that no discharges from pipes go directly to surface
- When constructing drainage systems, pay close attention to engineering details such as subsoil preparation and the placement of gravel, slopes, and
- Discharge internal golf course drains through pretreatment zones and/or vegetative buffers to help remove nutrients and Do not discharge directly into an open waterbody.
- Routinely inspect the drainage system to ensure proper
- Identify any listed species and critical habitat that may be present on the site and preserve habitat, including feeding and nesting areas, as
- If any listed species are identified on site, take appropriate mitigation
- Identify the different types of habitat specific to the
- Identify habitat requirements (food, water, cover, space) for wildlife
- Identify and preserve regional wildlife and migration corridors by avoiding or minimizing Design unavoidable crossings to accommodate wildlife movement.
- Design and locate cart paths to minimize environmental Construct the paths with permeable materials, if possible.
- Remove or treat nuisance and invasive plants safely and in a manner so as to not promote any further spread on the premises and replace them with
- Maintain clearance between the ground and the lowest portion of any fences or walls to allow wildlife to pass, except in areas where feral animals need to be
- Retain dead tree snags for nesting and feeding sites, provided they pose no danger to people or
- Construct and place birdhouses, bat houses, bee boxes, in out-of-play areas.
- Plant pollinator gardens around the clubhouse and out-of-play
- Retain riparian buffers along waterways to protect water quality and provide food, nesting sites, and cover for
- Select species and varieties that are adapted to the desired use, taking note of disease resistance, spring transition and greenup, drought tolerance, and other traits such as shade and wear
- Prepare seed/sod beds to maximize
- Ensure erosion and sediment control devices are in place and properly
- Plant cool-season grasses from seed from mid-August to early September to allow the seed to germinate and develop well before cold temperatures significantly slow growth prior to
- Plant or establish sod when the turfgrass is actively growing so the sod will root or “knit” down into the soil as quickly as possible
- Fill gaps in sod seams with soil or sand to provide a uniform
- Use selective pre-emergence herbicides to reduce weed competitions and improve the chance of success with seeding establishment during the
- Apply a fertilizer containing phosphorus at An additional application should be applied if turf displays symptoms of phosphorus deficiency.
- Nitrogen and sufficient water are essential during establishment. Light and frequent applications of nutrients are most desirable, unless a slow-release nitrogen source is
- Allow the turfgrass to initially grow one-third to one-half higher than the desired mowing height before beginning to mow and never remove more than one-third of the turf leaf at
- Reducing watering prior to mowing will help the soil dry a bit to better tolerate the weight of the
- Consider mowing with a walk-behind mower rather than a heavier riding mower to avoid making wheel track depressions in the
- Keep mower blades Dull mower blades may dislodge or damage young grass.