Setting Golf Course Budgets
We have added this rundown to give you an idea of the complexities involved in setting a budget for the construction of a golf course. All too often a client has a budget in mind which does not take cognizance of the specific site factors at hand.
The question of setting a golf course budget is one which inevitably arises. A firm of quantity surveyors may well take into account historical data in order to “Bench Mark” a golf course. Whilst there is some value to this exercise, there are a great number of variables and specifics to each site which are ultimately responsible for setting a budget. For the purpose of clarity, I have listed a few of the common variables which affect the course construction and budget.

A.Golf Course Design
The choice of designer will impact heavily on whether a course leans towards a high, intermediate or low budget. Most golf course architects “sell” their design with corresponding golf course specifications. Some also insist on using their own agronomists and their recommendations. The degree of flexibility with the design and specifications can impact heavily on overall costs. For example, drainage specifications such as “Cut off drains every 30 metres” can increase drainage costs substantially without necessarily improving the drainage plan. A rocky outcrop not picked up in a geo-technical investigation, may have to be blasted out at great cost or may be incorporated as a feature depending on the rigidity of the design and designer in question. The design fees themselves also entail a huge differential, where overall design fees may vary from US$200,000- to US$2,000,000-

B.Construction Variables
There are a number of reasons for highly variable golf course budgets:

1. Site Specific
   1.1 Soil Conditions
A Geo-Technical investigation will reveal whether a site has good or bad topsoil and/or subsoil. This in turn will be analysed to see whether the “in-situ” material is sufficient to be stockpiled and spread or whether material will need to be imported.

1.2 Rock
From the Geo-Technical one can deduce to an extent how much blasting may be required. At approximately US$30- per m3, this can have a massive impact on overall costs.

1.3 Extent of Bulk Earthworks
Following on from the point above, one could probably average out bulk earthworks on a standard golf course at approximately three hundred thousand cubic metres. That said, some sites may require substantially more, going up to eight hundred thousand cubic metres. Averaged out at US$6- per m3, one can see how this component can severely increase overall costs.

1.4 Shaping
The choice of a shaper will also influence both costs and quality. With top shapers charging up to US$18000- per month and in general contracts lasting 8-12 months, the use of a local secondary shaper with previous golf course experience may reduce these costs, however, this may often lead to short term savings at the expense of long term problems such as drainage.

1.5 Capping
To cap fairways (Importing topsoil due to the lack of suitable in situ material) can cost between US$600,000- and US$1,500,000- depending on the location of the course and availability of suitable material as well as the latter’s proximity to the site.

1.6 Drainage
Once again, drainage is a key factor in golf course construction. A shaper can substantially reduce drainage costs by using subtle swales and mounds to channel water along the surface, thus reducing the necessity for piping (at far greater expense). The underlying material may in itself also reduce drainage costs, with sandy soils draining well of their own accord. Continued playability due to good drainage will ensure a continuous revenue stream. Drier climates obviously may not require the same level of drainage as wetter climes, further factors influencing the setting of a budget.

2. Greens
2.1 Size makes all the difference here. Average greens of around 5-700m2 are the norm, should they be larger, the costs increase exponentially.
2.2 USGA Spec Greens are one option available. The layering required and availability of silica sand which meets the stringent specifications for USGA greens, may entail selecting California Spec greens when a new golf course is located a great distance from a silica sand site and transport costs for the sand make USGA an expensive option. Availability of local materials and equally important, consistency thereof, all affect the greens type.
2.3 California Spec Greens do not involve laying the 100mm stone layer or 50mm “Choker layer”. Additionally the silica sand/growing medium has a more flexible specification allowing for sourcing in a more immediate vicinity, making this the greens spec of choice on most low/moderate budget courses.
2.4 Sub-Air Systems – This is an option for top level specification golf courses which allow a course superintendent far greater control during maintenance.

3. Tees
3.1 Capping, if required can add a couple of hundred thousand dollars to a budget but has the positive of allowing for consistency of material through 18 holes, with no “Hard Tees”.
3.2 Levelling – Laser levelling is a marginal extra cost, though this method of levelling tees is now pretty much the norm on all courses regardless of budget.

4. Grass Varietals & Grow-In
4.1 The choice of grass has a large impact on costs. Seeding and/or sprigging should there be such an option also varies across the grass varietals. Kikuyu/Cool Season Grass’ for example can be either seeded or sprigged, whilst paspalum can only be sprigged or sodded. In the latter instance, working of 25Ha, the material alone will cost over one hundred and fifty thousand dollars as opposed to seeding/sprigging with kikuyu, which would cost less than half that.
4.2 The Grow-In also varies enormously, Cynodons and Kikuyu will generally get full coverage with less inputs (fertilisers and herbicides) and in far less time than for example Paspalum. That said, climate may dictate the latter and result in maintenance savings down the line.
4.3 The availability/appropriation of land for use as a nursery can reduce grassing and sod costs, substantially reducing overall outlays in the long run. The added benefit occurs during grow-in where sod reduces the hazards of rain/storm damage so prevalent in thunderstorm areas.
5. Irrigation
Irrigation is a component of construction that can vary from US$400,000- to US$2,500,000- depending on the system used and the site (Hilly sites may require booster pumps/rocky sites may require substantial hard rock excavation costs as well as import of bedding material). The more expensive systems are generally in use where water supply is less plentiful and where the maintenance team are looking for greater control over the supply of water.
6. Cart Paths
Cart Paths may be continuous/green to tee or somewhere between the two. Both the type (Concrete/paving, etc) and the in-situ material affect pricing as well as diameter (1.8m being the absolute minimum). Should suitable material such as G5 sub base need to be imported to the site, this will impact substantially on costs.
7. Bridges and Engineering Structures
Dams, Bridges and other engineering structures impact substantially on costs. In the case of dams, should there be a deficiency of clay on site for sealing, either plastic or bentonite sealing will raise costs by approximately US$150,000- depending on size.
Bridges at dam and river crossings will also impact substantially on costs.
8. Landscaping
Again, this is site specific. A course on previous undeveloped land may require very little due to the generous nature of indigenous material, whilst courses on for example prior sugar cane fields, will entail having large budgets to re-establish indigenous forests and plants. Others on previous mine dumps, require extensive budgets to establish the park layout (with a difference) from scratch.

The question of courses with “high” budgets is thus not a cut and dry one. Each site may demand a high expense component specific to it. Thus budgets are not necessarily set to be “High per se”, but rather the site will to a large extent dictate the budget required. Generous budgets are those where no compromise is expected to achieve the result. That said most courses involve compromises of one sort or another. It is worth noting that in essence a golf course could be looked at as a large landscaping operation which potentially produces an income. Expenditure of US$8 million amortised over a thousand stands results in a “landscaping budget of US$8K per stand”. Extensive feasibility/viability studies will generally dictate the allowable budget for a golf course, taking into account site specifics as mentioned above. As a general rule a “great site” could involve expenditure of US$5 million to achieve a fantastic result, such as Elements Private Golf Reserve. Others will involve expenditure of US$10 million plus to achieve a similar result.

Thus the question posed, in particular “Why a high budget is a draw card for the development” has no straight forward answer. The developer is often obliged to spend more due to site specifics. Equally, on the design side however, the debate is still on as to the marketability of a “Big Name Design”.