Question No. 3 is From Tom F. in North Carolina,

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer


“How much should a golf course cost?”

Tom,

We hear some new courses dwarf the budgets of small federal agencies, medium-sized states, or the GNP of Third World countries, costing over $40 million! Even more incredibly, some are built for under $2 million! I am convinced of two things after designing 44 golf courses:

The answer is, “It costs what it costs.” Regional differences affect labor costs and irrigation requirements. Site quality affects earthmoving and drainage. Owners make decisions that dictate cost and quality. Your course is likely to cost what others in the area of similar quality cost.

It costs more than you want! The National Golf Foundation, American Society of Golf Course Architects, and the Golf Course Builders of America develop generic cost estimates, but these always seem low. Moreover, the construction cost of the golf course is at most half (and perhaps only a third, if you include land costs, permitting time and fees) of total cost, with clubhouse and other facilities, grow-in, equipment, pre-opening, etc., taking the rest of your money.

Every dollar spent on infrastructure - irrigation, drainage, sod, and cart paths – is a dollar saved in operations. Looking at both initial and long-term costs changes the perspective.

Whenever we have reduced infrastructure initially, clients add them later when it is more expensive and harder to do right. Cart paths are a particular problem, as owners often place them where we wouldn’t, like in the middle of the fairway, obviously favoring convenience over aesthetics.

Spending $400,000 for maintenance-related items amortizes to about $35,000 annual debt – about $1 per round. Without proper infrastructure, the superintendent will spend similar amounts forever adding to or fixing substandard areas, so long-term costs are equal. First impressions are so crucial that being fully mature upon opening is essential. Your parents told you, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right the first time.” As it turns out, that applies to golf courses.

Recently, my new courses have cost between $1.6 million to $11.3 million, with an average cost of $3.8 million, or about $200,000 per hole. These are mid-level projects bid out to professional contractors, making reasonable design compromises, and yet creating courses people like to play.

The owner of the $1.6-million course wished he had spent more. After trying to save money by doing it himself (his wife, kids and unsuspecting houseguests also pitched in), he would gladly hire a contractor to build the second course, and spend more generously. He learned these lessons the hard way. A quality contractor is worth the money.If you avoid the hard work now, in the future you’ll be paying for repairs to the faulty initial construction.

The $11-million course required rock excavation, and featured total sodding, retaining walls, waterfalls, and state-of-the-art environmental technology and irrigation. In business terms, courses costing this much probably don’t recoup costs, but those sums may be necessary to achieve the owner’s goals.

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