Course Set-Up - General Principles When Running a Competition

Course set-up is an important aspect of running a competition and in this new series of articles, we will examine the key points that a Committee should focus on.

Future articles will look at more specific areas of course set-up, i.e. teeing grounds, bunkers, and the area that receives the most attention, the putting green and hole locations.

In the first of this series, we look at the course set-up general principles.

GENERAL PRINCIPLES

The “Committee”

The “Committee” is defined in the Rules of Golf as “the committee in charge of the competition.” The Committee is, therefore, responsible for carefully drafting the Local Rules and conditions of competition and for accurately marking course boundaries, ground under repair and water hazards.

In addition, the Committee is also responsible for setting up the course. There are few things that are more likely to provoke the anger of golfers playing in an event than a poorly set-up golf course!

The reality at many courses and events is that course set-up may be left to the greenstaff to determine. That is fine but, as far as the Rules are concerned, the Committee remains in charge and the buck stops with them. A good Committee would be wise to work closely with the greenstaff and, at the very least, be aware of what is happening on the course.

What are the objectives?

It is important that, prior to a competition, the Committee has a clear idea of how it wishes the course to play. What are the objectives? Does the Committee want the course to play difficult or easy? Does the Committee want hard and fast ground conditions, receptive greens or penal rough? Only when the Committee has a clear idea of how it wishes the course to play is it possible to make it a reality.

That said, the Committee must be realistic in terms of what can be achieved. It is easy to be seduced by the standard of course set-up seen at professional tour events on television. These course set-ups invariably take time, lots of equipment, materials, manpower and money. So it is essential to know what resources you have, the timescales involved and what is actually achievable.

What is the standard?

The Committee also needs to bear in mind the level of the competition and the standard of golfer playing in it. There is no use setting up the golf course like an Open Championship if it is a handicap event and the average handicap is 15. Narrow fairways, thick rough and difficult hole locations may have their place in top events for elite golfers, but they are not necessarily suited for every event. Additionally, pace of play is likely to be negatively impacted if the course is too difficult. The course must be set-up in a manner that is appropriate for the level of ability of the competitors

That said, each hole should be evaluated in terms of distance, tee position and hole location in an attempt to provide a good test of golf. A course that is well set up will test a player’s ability to play a range of shots using all, or at least most, of the clubs in his or her bag.

What did the course architect have in mind?

Every golf course has its own characteristics and has been designed by the architects to have distinct features. The R&A does not provide standard golf course specifications, such as recommended putting green speeds or rough heights, as each course is unique and a one-size-fits-all model would not work for all course designs.

In preparing a course for a competition it is important to take account of the architect’s strategy of how each hole should be played and set the course up to reflect this.

Advance Planning

Depending on the event, establishing the correct course set-up may involve visits to the course months in advance of the competition. Good course set-up does not happen overnight. While it may not be desirable to interfere too much with the programme of the greenstaff, it is important to ensure that desired green speeds, rough heights and fairway widths are agreed upon with them and understood well in advance of the competition.

In addition, it is important to allow any repair work enough time to mature. For example, any replaced turf should be given time to settle and take root. Also, any fresh sand that is put into bunkers should be done at least a couple of months prior to the competition.

Consistency is Key

It should be the aim of the greenstaff and the Committee to have the condition of the course virtually identical from the first practice day to the last day of the event. Significant changes in course conditions between practice and the event itself, particularly in relation to the putting green speeds, are undesirable. Some variations may be necessary to accommodate adverse weather conditions during an event, but the aim is to be as consistent as possible throughout the duration of the competition.

Course Set-Up Essentials

  • The Committee needs to work closely with the greenstaff when setting up the golf course
  • Be realistic with course set-up
  • Course set-up should be appropriate to the level of ability of the competitors
  • Take into account the strategy that the course architects had in mind when designing each hole
  • Course set-up should be consistent as possible throughout the competition, subject to weather conditions