Yesterday’s “maintenance sheds” have become today’s “agronomy centers” that are not only more efficient, but a source of pride to their properties.
“Out of sight, out of mind” used to sum up most properties’ attitudes about their golf course maintenance facilities—often more commonly, and fittingly, referred to as sheds. But today, more course-and-grounds command centers are now literally being brought out into the open, as clubs no longer feel the need to hide unsightly turf maintenance buildings in remote and inconvenient parts of the property.
SUMMING IT UP
• The flow of how jobs are performed should be one of the most important considerations in designing a new maintenance facility.
Many clubs, in fact, have built state-of-the-art “agronomy centers,” as they recognize the need for their course and grounds crews to be able to operate more efficiently, if they are to deliver high-quality conditions on a consistent basis. In some cases, properties are so proud of these upgraded facilities, they’re not only happy to show them off, they’re finding ways for members and guests to use and benefit from their features, too.
Ask many superintendents what they like most about their jobs, and they’re liable to tell you they have the best “offices” in the world—an outdoor panorama of open green space. While he is certainly among those who prefers to be outside whenever possible, Bill Larson, Certified Golf Course Superintendent at Town & Country Club, St. Paul, Minn., is a lot happier now when he has to spend time in his indoor office, too. With four giant windows that overlook holes 1, 9, 10 and 18 on Town & Country’s 110-year-old course (and also provide a nice view of the downtown Minneapolis skyine) Larson’s office is part of a new 18,000-sq.-ft, pre-fabricated concrete, two-building, $2.5 million maintenance complex.
The Town & Country maintenance crew moved into the new facility, which was part of an overall property upgrade, in the spring of 2009, after a three-year planning process. “We had a lot of town-hall meetings with members. I talked to a lot of different superintendents, and I toured a lot of agronomy centers all over the world,” Larson says. “I took the best features from each and combined them into our design.”
Town & Country’s main, 11,000-sq.-ft. maintenance building includes staff offices, a conference room, a locker room, a laundry room, a mechanics shop, the equipment washing bay, and areas for pesticide loading and equipment staging. A second, 6,000-sq. ft. building is unheated and houses the equipment storage area, enclosed soil bins, and irrigation area.
|Town & Country Club
St. Paul, Minn.
“We had a lot of town hall meetings with members. I talked to a lot of different superintendents, and I toured a lot of agronomy centers all over the world.”
Larson and his team paid special attention to making sure their new facility would be as efficient as possible. For example, the washroom boasts a microbial system that treats water used to wash oil, grease, and grass clippings from turf maintenance equipment. Also, the crew mixes chemicals and fertilizer in a dedicated pesticides room, which is accessible only by full-time staff. Any spills that happen in that room fall onto the floor and run through the water treatment system.
Town & Country’s new agronomy center features porcelain tile floors, and each room has energy-saving, motion-sensor lights. The building is fully wired for Internet capabilities, so the department’s mechanic, for example, can tap into the databases of equipment manufacturing companies as needed. The rooms, which open from one to another, also have in-floor heat.
The real jewel of the new complex is at the front of the main building (see photo, top of opposite page). “The conference room has a SMART board, and we can rent it out to members,” Larson says. “It has an outdoor patio that has been popular for club events, too. We have a beautiful facility, and our members want to be a part of it.”
Worth the Wait
This past September, the maintenance staff at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., moved into a new $3.85 million, 27,000-sq.-ft. Operations and Turf Maintenance Center that was five years in the making, reports Matt Shaffer, Director of Golf Course Operations—four for planning, and a fifth for construction.
|Merion Golf Club
“It makes us more organized, which is an enormous advantage for our maintenance staff…three mechanics can work in the shop simultaneously.”
—Matt Shaffer, Director of Golf Course Operations
The complex features two buildings and a service courtyard. The administrative building houses offices, a conference room, a wet lab for soil testing, six dormitory rooms and a living room, a break room, an equipment maintenance shop, and two locker rooms for the maintenance staff—a men’s locker room that accommodates 50 people, and a women’s locker room for six more.
The building boasts its own telephone terminal and a new fiber-optic line from the main road. Other Merion staff members can use the facilities as well. “The golf pro uses the conference room to meet people who are selling apparel,” notes Shaffer.
A separate building includes a self-contained chemical and fertilizer storage facility and a cold-storage building for maintenance equipment.
“It makes us more organized, which is an enormous advantage for our maintenance staff,” says Shaffer, who will lead the efforts to get Merion’s storied East course ready to host the 2013 U.S. Open. “Three mechanics can work in the shop simultaneously.”
The façade of Merion’s turf center features cut block and stone on the front, and two sides of the facility are built into the ground. The new facility also boasts a number of sustainable features, including a truly “green” roof.
“We have fescue turf on the roof, because we didn’t want anyone to see a roof line from the golf course,” reports Shaffer.
“We also have motion-sensor lights and a heated floor under the maintenance shop area that is fueled with used motor oil from the maintenance department.”
Shaffer believes eco-friendly features such as green roofs will become the norm rather than the exception when properties upgrade their maintenance facilities.
“There are more and more demands on energy efficiency, and wash pads are starting to become mandatory instead of a luxury,” he adds.
And Merion is counting on the sustainability aspects to help produce a long return on the investment in this new facility. “We might upgrade our maintenance complex occasionally, but we hope it will last 75 or 80 years,” Shaffer says.
A Place for Everything
At Eldorado Country Club in Indian Wells, Calif., the golf course staff moved into a new $2.5 million, 17,000-sq.-ft. agronomy center in November 2006. The original maintenance building was 54 years old, notes Golf Course Superintendent Craig Ellis, and the new center was part of the property’s long-range plan. But a redesign of the golf course in 2003 increased the urgency to build a new maintenance shop.
The construction project included a two-year planning stage and a nine-month building process. Then, Ellis says, it took a month to move into the new facility: “I wouldn’t let anybody in the shop until every piece of equipment and every tool had its place,” he notes.
Eldorado CC’s new maintenance area includes a 5,000-sq.-ft., three-sided storage facility, and a 12,000-sq.-ft., T-shaped main building that features offices, a break room, irrigation room, a two-bay mechanics’ shop, and a self-contained fertilizer and pesticide storage area (spills go into a trap, are pumped back into a containment area, and then pumped into a sprayer).
“We’re a lot more organized, both for inventories and employees, and that always helps the bottom line,” notes Ellis. “And our mechanics have a better area to service the equipment.”
While Ellis used to be embarrassed to have members come to the club’s previous facility, he reports with a laugh that “we can’t get rid of them now—they’ll come to the shop to get their tires checked.”
Improving While Staying Put
Even if a need to relocate to a more convenient location doesn’t exist, clubs are still finding reasons to build new course maintenance facilities. At Garden City (N.Y.) Country Club, in fact, a new 11,000-sq.-ft. structure is being planned for the same site—centrally located on the 130-acre property—as its predecessor. “The new facility will be a pre-fabricated metal building designed to our specifications,” says Golf Course Superintendent Russ MacPhail.
MacPhail teamed with Garden City’s GM, the club’s Greens Committee chairman and members of its Building Committee as well as a private club consulting firm and an architect to work through the design and decision-making processes for the new agronomy center.
“Whether to renovate or start over was one of the first decisions we had to make,” he reports. “The original building couldn’t do what we wanted it to do, and renovating and adding on to it would have cost more than building a new facility. So after many meetings, we agreed to start over.
“Our new building needed to be big enough for today and for future growth,” he adds. “It had to have all the amenities to accommodate a staff at a private country club and 18-hole golf course.”
The new building, scheduled for a spring 2011 completion, will include an 8,000-sq. ft. cold storage area for equipment, and 3,000 additional square feet for a mechanics’ shop, training and break room, locker room, and separate offices for the superintendent and assistant.
The maintenance area will also include a vented, self-contained chemical and fertilizer storage area with pans in the floor, and a vented mechanics’ area with a designated grinding room. Future plans call for the addition of a wash pad, to clean equipment and recycle water.
With a larger space and more room to work in the new building, MacPhail expects the turf center to improve operations and efficiency.
“Every piece of equipment will have its own parking spot, and we’ll have the proper amenities for safety,” he explains. “We won’t have to empty out the entire building to get one piece of equipment.”
He also expects the improved storage to offer better protection for the equipment from Long Island’s often-harsh weather—and that in turn will help it last longer and save on replacement costs.
Keeping Things Under Cover
Even with facilities that are now more eye candy than eyesores, clubs that have invested in new maintenance buildings are taking extra steps to make sure they blend in well with their surroundings.
Landscaping will surround the new building at Garden CC, but the site will not be visible from the golf course.
Concealing its new building was also part of the design process at Town & Country Club. “It’s in the dead center of the golf course, but in a secluded area,” notes Larson.
“We planted vines to crawl on it, and native plants and trees around it.”
|Eldorado Country Club
Indian Wells, Calif.
“Our inventories and our employees are more organized, and our mechanics have a better area to service the equipment.”
In addition to its turf-camouflaged roof, Merion took steps to consolidate all of its new maintenance facilities in a location beyond its main parking lot, along the 18th fairway of its East Course, where it will be out of the way of most traffic—an especially important consideration with the U.S. Open coming to Merion’s tight layout.
“The previous facility [also on the current site] was a block building, but then we had other parts of the department spread out all over the place,” recalls Shaffer. “We had a building by the driving range, and we never had a good place to mix chemicals. The space was inadequate for our employees, and my office was in the clubhouse.”
Another important location-related consideration is handling deliveries. The new maintenance facility at Eldorado CC is located just off Fairway Drive, Indian Wells’ main street, and right inside the club’s gates, making it more convenient for deliveries. But there can be tradeoffs with such a setup—the shop is now about 15 minutes from the farthest part of the golf course. “We do a lot of planning ahead of time,” Ellis notes.
One of the biggest benefits to be gained from new course maintenance facilities, many superintendents report, is how they put teeth into being able to say, and show, how a club is sincere about creating an inviting, comfortable, work-friendly environment. This is especially important for the demanding duties of course and grounds departments—and has clearly made a difference for the staff at Town & Country Club.
“It’s incredible—there’s been a 100 percent turnaround,” says Larson of his crew’s improved morale now that they have a new facility to call their home away from home. “People love coming [to work] here—and turf students want to come here, too.”
Eldorado CC’s new facility has also had a measurable positive effect. “Productivity has gone up, not only because of the boost to morale, but also because everything is better organized,” says Ellis. “Our ability to attract more quality employees has also gone up.”
Systems In Place
Once a new maintenance facility has been put into operation, the acid test of how well it’s been planned and designed is how smoothly the movement is of equipment in and out of the storage areas—not only day to day, but throughout all seasons of the year.
The keys to achieving this, superintendents say, is to allow for adequate storage areas that can house as much equipment as possible indoors, and then to also arrange that space efficiently, according to how equipment is needed for various work flows and patterns.
“Systematic maintenance” was the main concern for Ellis when planning the design of Eldorado CC’s new building. “When the crew comes in the building, they blow off the equipment, fuel it, clean it, and drop it off to the mechanic to service it,” he explains. “The building’s layout follows the natural progression of how jobs are done.”
Larson agrees that the flow of the building should be the most important consideration. Defining that flow, he adds, should include “how you start your day, get your instructions, and get your machines,” to emphasize an efficient pattern that logically follows the way tasks are performed.
Garden City’s MacPhail recommends hiring a professional who has experience in golf course maintenance facility design. “There’s no right or wrong way to do it,” he says. “It’s a matter of what fits your operations.”
Powers of Persuasion
Spending $1 million to $3 million for a capital project that many members may first view as something that won’t have a direct effect on the value or enjoyment of their membership can be a tough sell for superintendents in need of upgraded maintenance facilities. Many times, an open invitation to members and Boards to visit outdated and inefficient facilities can be the most effective sales pitch.
“We took the Board to our old shop, so they could see what we were working out of, and what we would have to do to comply with city codes,” Larson says. By viewing how the club’s course and grounds department was driving back and forth between two maintenance areas, he reports, members quickly got a firsthand view, and grasp, of the need to consolidate and streamline operations.
MacPhail concurs. “Once the members were aware of the facilities we were working out of, it was an easier sell,” he says. “Initially, it wasn’t tangible to them, because they didn’t use it or even see it.”
While getting the membership involved is essential to get a project started, Larson says superintendents should stay front-and-center throughout the process. “Sell, sell, sell,” he says. “Be the go-to person, instead of the general manager. Keep it in the newsletters. Talk it up.”
Ellis agrees. Key questions that superintendents must be prepared to answer, he says, include “Why do you need it?” and “What’s the benefit to the club?”
“Members will give you the resources you need, if you can justify it,” he says.
Even with approved funds in hand, though, Ellis also stresses the importance of talking to peers, visiting other facilities, consulting experts in the field, and doing online research before embarking on a maintenance-area construction project.
“Make sure you do your homework,” he stresses. “It’s harder to ask your members for things once the project has been completed.
Building It Right
A golf course consultant with a private club consulting firm suggests a number of amenities that superintendents should consider when designing a new golf course maintenance facility. They include: