Most of the world’s best professional golfers were in Augusta, Georgia, USA from 9 – 12 April 2015 for the 79th edition of the Masters, the historic tournament that each April kicks of the PGA’s series of four majors. While golf course construction has slowed from its feverpitch in the mid-2000s, golf courses continue to improve their play, beauty, and environmental performance by utilizing geosynthetics and affiliated products in course design and revision.
IT’S A TRAP
Sand traps are notorious frustrations for the average golfer, and on professional courses—especially in the United Kingdom and Ireland—they can be outright diabolical. But keeping a bunker playable requires a strong sense of drainage and a need to balance the bunker’s design (shape, slope angles) with the washout and erosion risks presented by the design within the environment of the course’s construction.
Manufacturers in the geosynthetics field have created bunker-improving products to assist this niche in golf course construction and course management.
Geofabrics Australasia’s BunkerMat® liners, for example, have been used extensively on international courses to provide strong drainage performance in the base of sand traps and stability to bunkers with steeper faces. The sand-colored polypropylene fibers of the nonwoven mats create a three-dimensional, durable, easy to seam system for efficiently constructing bunkers.
The system allows the mat to be pinned under the sod lip at the top of a bunker, which in the long-term can provide a robust base into which grass roots can grow, creating additional stability at the interface of the bunker and fairway or rough.
Milliken’s SandMat series is another example in which geotextile manufacturing knowledge is used to keep bunkers dry and stable … so that your ball can land cleanly in the sand.
SAVING WATER AND COST
Golf course pond liners provide more than just decorative appeal on the cleanliness of the pond’s appearance. Course ponds provide obstacles for players, improve stormwater drainage to keep fairways playable, conserve water (e.g., potential irrigation source), reduce stormwater management costs, and even provide habitat support.
Most courses are able to use flexible pond liners, which allow for highly efficient, economical, high-quality pre-fabrication of panels. This enables huge amounts of liner to be installed, to design spec, quickly and with minimal need for specialized labor and on-site panel welding.
It isn’t entirely without risk, of course. See the 2004 Geosynthetics Risk Management Program white paper, for example. There, the USD $36,000,000 development of a golf course was delayed by poor practices regarding a pond liner’s use. While the liner was only 0.3% of the overall development, misuse of it led to a $1.3 million charge for reconstruction (and the use of the experienced installer that was originally shut out of the bid in favor of a lower cost, inexperienced installer).
For an example of an experienced installers approach to pond liner usage in golf course construction, check out Colorado Lining International’s golf page.
Geomembranes aren’t the only liners used. Geosynthetic clay liner (GCL) from NAUE was used to line a large irrigation pond serving both a farm and a golf course in Japan. The pond side slopes were damaged during the massive earthquake in Miyagi Prefecture in 2011—the world’s fifth most-powerful quake—but the liner’s exceptional performance even under the strain of the earth shifting led the site owners to specify more of the same geosynthetic (Bentofix® BFG5000) for the pond’s reconstruction. The project was profiled in NAUE News 44.
HEALTHY VEGETATION, EROSION CONTROL
Fairway, rough, greens, tee boxes—everything is in play to the eye. Golf courses are often an act of engineered nature, like a research arboretum. Maintaining the vision of the landscape design and creating the course’s image (which may be as much its reputation as its challenges) requires exceptional groundskeeping.
Erosion control blankets (ECBs), turf reinforcement mats (TRMs), and hydraulically applied erosion control products (HECPs) are commonly used to expedite construction and vegetation establishment. These practices lower cost and ensure long-term performance.
Profile Products, which offers a number of turf and vegetation improvement and establishment products, has a strong case study library through its Profile Golf™ page.
The range of geosynthetics and erosion and sediment control materials used on golf courses is enormous. Vegetated walls, pathway reinforcement, and advanced turf drainage systems with geocomposite materials are just a few additional areas.
In the end, geosynthetics are used in golf course construction for the same reason they are used in larger infrastructure: to make the construction more economical, to improve the construction’s long-term durability, or even to make the construction possible.
Tencate Geosynthetics Americas stabilized the 18th hole of the incredible Trump National Golf Course in Los Angeles County after instability stemming from an ancient landslide was discovered. A section of soils on the course was collapsing. Multiple geosynthetic reinforcement and soil separating and stabilization materials were used to restore one of the country’s most unique waterfront courses.
On an even larger level, geosynthetic capping systems are being used over former landfills to create links-style (mostly treeless) courses, dotted with rolling mounds, coarse vegetation, and often deeper bunkers. These courses make use of what would otherwise be unusable space. A fantastic example of this is Bayonne Golf Club in Bayonne, New Jersey. Inspired by Scottish links courses, the 130-acre site covers a 38-acre former municipal solid waste facility.