Many of the world’s best professional golfers will be in Augusta, Georgia, USA from 8 – 11 April 2021 for the 85th edition of the Masters, the historic tournament that annually kicks of the PGA’s series of four majors. While golf course certainly 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 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.
Similarly, TerraBunker from Terrafix separates soils to mitigate the migration of fines from the subgrade. This simple geosynthetic separation function keeps the bunker clean of subsoil contamination to reduce course maintenance.
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 quickly and with minimal need for specialized labor and on-site panel welding.
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 at the time—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.
It must be noted that pond lining systems, while readily available, should not be taken for granted. Experienced handling is highly recommended. In our “Four Failures That Still Tell the Right Story” article, we offer a profile of a USD $36,000,000 golf course development that 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 by an inexperienced, low bid contractor led to a $1.3 million reconstruction cost. An experienced installer was secured to properly rehabilitate that work. In short, just as experienced course designers are trusted, so to should experienced contractors and geosynthetic installers.
GOLF COURSE 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.
To make groundskeeping most efficient and economical, vegetation and soil health must be protected.
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.
Also, geocellular confinement systems are used to improve slope erosion protection, as demonstrated at this course in India.
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.
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, and even to make the construction possible.