When it comes to golf course construction, it is the destination but also the journey that counts. There are multiple ways to go about it and each has there own unique sets of pros and cons. We give a brief overview of what to expect from each and why one may be better than another for you.

Golf Course Construction

There are a variety of tried and true methods when it comes to golf course construction. Every project is different and what worked well on one project doesn’t always work well on another. Before you make any decisions, take a look at some of the options available.

Traditional Architect – Subcontractor Build

If you’re in the UK, this is pretty much your only option with the notable exception of Clyde Johnson, his method is discussed next under Architect Shape.

Using this golf course construction method, the golf course architect will usually create a master plan and detailed construction drawings (CAD) that are handed over to construction specialists who each carry out a task. The golf course architect will visit the club at each milestone to inspect and sign off on the work.

In theory, the components of the project are outsourced to competent firms after being fully vetted that do the job right the first time, to industry best practice standards, after competing in an open and independent tendering process.

Think of a small custom home builder who has an 18-house development in a subdivision. Each subcontractor does a specific job for the main builder who manages the project. Usually, he will apply a percentage to the line cost for lending his expertise, the trouble of managing the work, and dealing with any fallout.

One potential issue with this golf course construction method is when you appoint a golf course architect, you won’t usually know who is going to do the work. It may be that a specific firm is a preferred partner but the actual individual doing the job is usually unknown. He may be the best at what he does or he may also be a gap-year student who didn’t get the barista gig.

Design Build or Architect Shape

With this golf course construction method, the golf course architect will usually produce a detailed master plan, weighing heavily on detailed historic research in the case of restoration. Most design-build or architect-shape projects rely on the architect shaper being on-site building the course himself or herself. Notable examples are Tom Doak, Renaissance Golf Design, Coore & Crenshaw, and Gil Hanse.

The routing has been set and the overall design has been settled but the nuances and detail are determined by eye and sculpted by hand in the field. The golf course architect is on-site every day and if issues arise, they are dealt with in person then and there. The golf course architect will no doubt have interns who, in most cases, are future golf course architects who are interested in learning their craft from the ground up.

To illustrate this golf course construction method, consider a bespoke craftsman who is a true master of his trade. No detail is too small, because his blood, sweat, and tears are intrinsically linked to the work. If a specialist skill is required (irrigation, as an example), he will no doubt be involved in making sure their work compliments his own and is done to his own exacting standards.

One potential consideration with this method is it usually means smaller teams taking on fewer projects. However, it has been observed that in many instances, the end result is better, easier to maintain, and more cost-effective. In fact, most new entries to the world’s top 100 ranks in the past 30 years have been built using this method. There is tremendous variety in the way a project like this can play out but in many instances, the shaping cost associated with a subcontracted firm that builds according to plans doesn’t deviate remarkably from those of a skilled architect shaper. Often, the architect shaper will consult on a variety of issues the golf club faces in an ad hoc manner.


At some golf courses, budgets may be stretched or an ambitious golf course superintendent may fancy himself to be a golf course architect and/ or shaper. It is difficult to be a master of all trades and a course manager’s primary responsibility is to, well, manage the golf course. There are very few exceptions where a fully occupied golf course manager produces exceptional results whilst presenting his course to the standard required by the club and members. It may save some money and be necessary where budgets are finite but this would usually be seen as a last-resort golf course construction option.

Hybrid Approach

In most projects, there are advantages to merging elements of the three primary options. There are benefits to outsourcing highly specialized jobs to experts. Some jobs would be a waste to have an architect-shaper do. (Like screening sand, for example.) In any event, each plays a part and the correct golf course construction approach will be unique to you and your project.

Golf Course Construction Payment Terms

There are a variety of broad categories that dictate golf course construction methods and payment terms. From one side of the sliding scale to the other, there are innumerable options and combinations in between. All are different with no perfect solution for every club.

Cost Plus

Whatever the final bill, you add 10-20% to the invoice for the architect’s opinion and advice. Most contracts will specify that major line items be sent out for tender, which in theory, should ensure a competitive price. This is a great golf course construction method in theory but it is also open to the most amount of abuse.

Architect Shape

Pay for the work that matters the most. The bulk of the work is done by the golf course architect shaper rather than subcontracted out. In some cases, the budget for shaping is set and done to a fixed price. In many instances, the club may pay for materials and equipment directly. Those you hire are the ones on-site every day doing the work and editing as they go. It may mean there is more artistry in the final product but the plans from the outset may not be as detailed. Often with restorations, the architect shaper is working off visuals as much as plans.

Need More Help with Golf Course Construction?

Still, have more questions than answers? Do you want an independent opinion? Evalu18 is willing to offer independent advice on behalf of clubs, committees, chairmen, secretaries, and managers. Why not get in touch to see how we can help?