The US Open was recently hosted by Erin Hills in the state of Wisconsin. It’s obviously not possible to get a complete feel for a golf course from the TV screen but from what I could see from a Golf Course Architects point of view, it looked amazing. It has a hint of seaside links, rolling fairways bordered by long fescue grasses and a good variety of holes (including a 250 yard Par 3 and some blind shots). However, its most striking features were the beautifully sculptured bunkers. They are intricately shaped features with narrow nooks and crannies, some high sand faces, but also steep grass banks with intricate styles of shaping. Overall, the combination of the features described made for a stunning visual affect.
However, my question is: is the golf course financially sustainable? I counted over 100 bunkers and their style of design must demand huge maintenance resources. I often tell clients that the better a bunker looks, the more expensive it is to maintain. I can hazard a guess that there must be a minimum of 5 greenkeepers permanently maintaining these bunkers. Hopefully the Club has a financial model to cope (with it hosting the US Open they will at least be able to bump up the green fees).
Additionally, one has to consider the playability of the golf course? Much of the long fescue rough will be removed and the course shortened. However although the bunkers look fantastic, even the commentators were pointing out their narrowness and depth, enquiring about how playable they are for the average golfer? – very difficult I imagine – maybe too difficult.
Bearing in mind their maintenance costs and playability issues, I would not be in the least bit surprised if Erin Hills look very different in a few years with maybe as many as half the bunker removed and those that remain, having a new design that is toned down considerably.
My point is that, although elaborate design styles can look stunning, at the same time it is very important to consider the sustainability of the golf course. It’s all very well designing high cost maintenance features that look fantastic but the client must be aware of the resultant costs; there is little point constructing a golf course in this day and age that needs renovating soon after opening.
I really hope this does not happen to Erin Hills; it is a stunning golf course but with the sustainability of golf courses currently in question, the correct balance between cost and beauty must be a factor considered when designing courses.
ABOVE: An example of an elaborate Westenborg Golf Design bunker with sustainability taken into consideration and ensuring the Club has the resources required to maintain them.Tweet