Someone, please, turn off the faucet. Tell Mother Nature that we have had enough rain already! While we will now see greener fairways and lakes with water in them, we will also lose 50 yards of roll on our drives.
As the rain washed out yet another planned round, one of my buddies wondered aloud why it is that some courses or holes drain well and others do not. Most of us don't ever think about what is under the course. The myriad of catch basins and drainage pipes installed before the first blade of grass grew on the course is usually of no concern. When the rains do fall, however, all of these work in concert with design of the course to rid each hole of water as quickly as possible.
My late friend, Charles Ankrom, was an internationally acclaimed golf course architect. I used to do some side work for him and I remember asking him just that question.
"There are three factors that affect course drainage," he explained. "Site, soil and the client."
The first factor, site, varies from course to course. Some courses are located in areas with little rainfall, strong drying winds and an abundance of sunshine. These courses drain well.
In Florida, courses are normally subject to a lot of rain, and while we do have strong winds and abundant sunshine, we suffer from high humidity. The evaporation rate is much lower than you'd expect. We also suffer from not having much elevation change. Water simply has no desire to run anywhere.
Soil content is next. The greater the amount of topsoil that a course has, the better it can handle a downpour. Topsoil will absorb a large amount of water, and the thicker that layer, the more water the course can handle.
However, it is the subsurface soil stratum has the biggest influence on course drainage. A course with a sandy subsurface will have an excellent absorption rate. Martin County Golf Club has a very sandy sub-base. That course stays open when some of the exclusive private clubs in our area have to shut down. That's because it absorbs water so well.
Courses unlucky enough to have a hard subsurface, such as marl or sandstone, will need more lakes, more storm drains and more collection areas for the water that the course will shed during a storm or wet season.
Probably the biggest factor, aside from nature, is the client. If the course owner or developer has the money and is sensitive to the golf course, he or she may be willing to spend the money needed to design and build a good drainage system. If the owner simply wants an amenity for the housing development, then chances are that the money will not be spent and the course won't drain well.
If the soil can absorb an inch of rainfall and it rains two inches, the ground is fighting a losing battle. The high points of the course will absorb the first inch and then the second inch will flow downhill. As that water flows to a low point or a catch basin, it grows exponentially adding itself to the water already accumulating downhill.
Most architects use many more drains now than 15 or 20 years ago. I remember a total renovation that Ankrom did where he added 220 additional drains to capture water. The original early 1970s design had water running a thousand feet before finding a drain. That was changed so that water only had to run a hundred feet.
Modern architects also use nature to help drain the course. Sand retention areas and waste areas have become quite popular. Lakes are used to do three things, disperse water, generate fill for building the course, and storm water storage.
The fairways and rough aren't the only places that a golf course architect works to drain water from the course. The greens of a modern course have a complicated drainage system built into them as well.
Today's modern green is topped with 12 inches of custom topsoil. Under that is four inches of gravel followed by a herringbone system of drainpipes set 20 feet apart. The water that makes it to the drainpipes is taken to a lake, swale, dry well or other low point well away from the green.
Thanks to modern irrigation, courses are kept very lush. Unfortunately, sometimes very hard rains follow this irrigation and simply add too much water to the equation.
For now I'm happy to see the rain. We can always use a few drops. I just need Mother Nature to turn it off by the weekend.
James Stammer has been an avid golfer and golf enthusiast for nearly 40 years. He hosts the Thursday Night Golf Show on WSTU 1450-AM. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.