Superintendents try designing a green

ASGCA architects lead interactive session on first day of GCSAA Conference and Trade Show.


ASGCA design worksheet with a sketch for a green
GCM's managing editor Andrew Hartsock tries designing a hole to ASGCA session leaders' intentionally vague specifications. Photos by Andrew Hartsock

A few dozen golf course superintendents tasked with designing a golf green during the ASGCA Interactive Design Challenge were purposely left in the dark.

Given a pencil, a ruler and a piece of paper with the beginnings of their holes already charted, the attendees at the session Monday on the first day of the GCSAA Conference and Trade Show at the Phoenix Convention Center were given some basic parameters and told to get sketching.

After scribbling away for several minutes, they finally were let in on the secret: The hole already exists. And most of them had seen it before — the telegenic No. 17 hole at TPC Scottsdale, which gets loads TV time as the penultimate hole for the WM Phoenix Open — the “Greatest Show in Grass.”

“This is a hole,” said the ASGCA’s Nathan Crace, who co-presented the session with architect Todd Quitno, “that gets a lot of airtime.”

While none of the assembled superintendents’ attempts matched the for-real version, that was just fine with the presenters.

“It’s an incredibly subjective profession,” Quitno said.

ASGCA member Nathan Crace stands in front of a group presenting on golf course design wearing the ASGCA's red plaid blazer uniform.
ASGCA member Nathan Crace speaks with GCSAA Conference and Trade Show attendees about golf course design.

The architects gave a quick talk about greens design and mentioned a few qualifiers. The hole, they said, is a drivable par-4, the existing green was roughly 7,500 square feet but budget would allow an increase to 9,500 square feet. The existing creek that marked the far boundary existed but could be rerouted or even turned into a lake. In other words, the sky was the limit, and the architects encouraged attendees to let the imaginations soar.

Though the resulting sketches were varied, there were some notable similarities, Crace noted after walking around the room. For example, representatives of smaller courses tended to design “smaller,” while the high-end superintendents went big. The majority of participants also designed similar bailout areas to the left of the green.

“There were a lot of the same ideas,” Crace said. “I thought that was interesting.”

The architects admitted they were intentionally vague, omitting details like budget, whether it was a renovation or new design and what other constraints that go into actual design.

“There’s a lot that goes into how you design a green,” Quitno said.

Then he listed many of them, including size, speed of green, aesthetics, construction decisions, maintenance and more.

“There are a lot of details to consider,” he said, “and I’m not sure we can do that in 30 minutes.”

Regardless, they gave plenty of details and stopped at every table, guiding the superintendents as they put ideas on paper. The session was inspired by a similar session at the 2023 GCSAA Conference and Trade Show in Orlando, which was concerned mostly with golf hole routing. 

As he folded up his completed — and very detailed — hole design, which he intentionally sketched to mimic one of his favorites he has played, attendee Mel Waldron, CGCS, beamed.

“This,” said Waldron, superintendent at Horton Smith Golf Course in Springfield, Mo., and a 33-year association member, “was a lot of fun.”

Andrew Hartsock is GCM’s managing editor.