Golf is a popular sport played by millions of people across the world. But have you ever thought about building a golf course?
A typical 18 hole golf course costs $800,000-$3,235,000 to build. But, it’s not only about the construction costs.
There are many things to consider when designing and building your golf course, such as how it’ll affect the local wildlife, the grass seed type, and the maintenance costs.
This guide highlights many factors you should consider when constructing a new golf course and will help start you off with your initial research.
*Disclaimer: The research in this article was correct as of July 2022. Wherever possible, we link our facts to the original sources.
Cost to Build a Golf Course by Type
There are many types of golf courses. Some have more than one playing area, some with good clubhouse facilities and others with hardly any. Also, some courses are specifically for learners, while others cater to championship players.
We compiled the following data from the book “Building a Practical Golf Facility” by Dr. Michael J. Hurdzan from the American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA). It’s a clear and concise book and is essential reading for anyone considering building a golf course.
We’ll stick with the most common golf course types found in the USA.
|Golf Course Type||Minimum Cost||Maximum Cost||Average Cost|
First, let’s define the course types, as they help to explain the difference in construction costs.
An 18-hole course is full-size and incorporates bodies of water, out-of-play areas, and hard structures. Typically, they measure from 150 to 200 acres.
A 9-hole course is a shortened version. Typically, it has a mix of Par-3, Par-4, and Par-5 holes, giving the players a variety of terrain.
An Executive golf course is a shortened version of a standard golf course. It contains nine or 18-holes and generally has a mixture of Par-3, Par-4, and Par-5 holes. However, the majority of Executive courses are Par-4.
Usually, they’re a quicker game than a standard course.
Typically, a Par-3 golf course is one of the following:
- Part of a multi-course facility as a short player option
- Part of a practice facility, often incorporated with a driving range or pitch and putt
- As a standalone short player option golf course
Cost per hole
The following table shows the cost to build a golf course per hole.
|Golf Course Type||Average Cost per Hole|
As we can see, the only course which stands out as costing less is Par-3. This might be because it’s often incorporated with other facilities and shares many costs.
Building a Golf Course: Cost Factors
Let’s look at the design factors of typical golf courses and see how they affect the costs.
Golfers play better when the ground isn’t too flat or too steep. A flat surface soon becomes boring.
In contrast, players can’t see what’s ahead and lose interest quickly on steep ground or with high hills. That’s why courses have low rolling slopes.
So, choose the land carefully, or be prepared to pay for landscaping to suit the convention.
But, slopes have other purposes. Flat land doesn’t drain well, increasing ground preparation costs before construction and maintenance afterward.
In contrast, steep ground can be challenging to climb, the green isn’t always visible, and it isn’t easy to estimate distances. This results in variable play patterns. Furthermore, steep land is difficult to maintain, with surface water eroding the ground into furrows.
Ideally, slope gradient should be 2%-10%, or 2-10 ft height difference per 100 ft linear distance.
Drainage properties depend on the soil type. A well-drained soil rich in organic matter with healthy vegetation makes a good golf course.
The best soils are sandy, closely followed by silty and clay soils. The worst soils are rocky with poor plant growth. If your land is the latter, it’s not impossible to modify the ground. But it’s expensive.
The drainage affects the cost. It’s common to use underground land drains to divert the water to a lake or soakaway. Alternatively, use man-made streams following the contours of the land. It depends on the ground type.
Rough and Finish Shaping
The shape of the land you have to work with defines how useful it is for golf. You can’t efficiently use land with sharp corners and zig-zag boundaries for play.
Therefore, plant trees to provide a rough area and protect neighborhood property. Remember, a fairway looks a certain way because they have specific widths and aren’t in a straight line. Instead, they’re gently curved.
The rough isn’t there to be a trap for the unsuspecting golfer. If that’s the purpose on your course, you’ll lose patrons very quickly.
Instead, the area provides a test of skill. An experienced player can avoid them or promptly return to the fairway, while not-so-experienced players learn how to.
Greens take more work to get right than a fairway. They must have enough flat areas to hold the ball when it lands.
Therefore, architects spend a long time in the office calculating the acceptable slopes for greens, and surveyors spend even longer fine-tuning the gradient on-site.
Greens must be smooth without unexpected pitfalls, even if you have depressions and mounds in other parts of the course.
Tee Box Construction
Tee boxes are the start position for each hole. They must face the correct direction and have enough room for several players to assemble with golf carts and caddies.
Sometimes, for good visibility, tee boxes are elevated. Then, they need steps and ramps to make them accessible.
Bunkers take a lot of work to prepare and get right. They must face the correct direction to provide an efficient obstacle without being too difficult.
Compact the sand so balls don’t become buried, and use vegetation barriers to prevent grass from growing to the surface.
Grassing and Seed Prep
After completing the sub-base, replace the removed topsoil about six inches deep before preparing the seedbed and grassing. The object is to have consistent grass type across the entire area, but most courses use a blend of seeds.
A good seed bed costs money, but your members will appreciate it, and you’ll find it saves money in maintenance.
You should match the grass type growing on various parts of the course to:
- Its use
- Ground drainage
- The correct amounts of sun and shade
Take soil samples from different locations to provide a composite sample test. Greens should have subsamples based on topography and direction. Then, they’re combined into one sample for a test.
Fairways and other large areas should have samples based on topography, previous use, vegetation cover, soil color, and other apparent differences. Take samples and test separately with patches of poor draining or rocky soil.
As well as soil samples, take vegetation samples, usually grass collected from mowing.
Lab testing determines if the soil requires additives to improve drainage and consistency. And whether the grass seed is suitable for the location or needs feeding and watering.
Cart Paths and Bridge Construction
As a golf course owner, healthy grass gives you a healthy profit. So, confine traffic to defined routes and away from the fairway and green.
Paths and bridges prevent wet ground damage and eroding the top surface in dry conditions. But to be hardwearing and practical, they must be built in a specific way.
Golf Course Industry, an online magazine for golf course professionals, suggests that steel reinforced concrete is the answer for paths as reinforcing increases the material’s tensile strength and minimizes hairline cracks due to shrinkage.
Many courses use fiber-mesh reinforcement, which isn’t strong enough when using paths for heavy maintenance vehicles. Instead, the concrete should use steel reinforcing mesh, built using a solid sub-base and expansion joints to reduce movement.
Build bridges using civil engineering guidelines and standards. Therefore, solid foundations on both ends of the bridge support the weight and prevent subsidence in soft or wet soil.
Likewise, bridges shouldn’t be steep or too long and must have supports at intervals consistent with the construction material and span.
Design bridges using wood, concrete, or steel, considering the material’s limitations, and must have a qualified structural engineer’s input.
Without an irrigation system, we wouldn’t have a fully functioning golf course. Well-played and enjoyable golf relies on consistently healthy grass.
During the rainy season, golf course owners rely on good drainage to prevent the ground from turning into a bog. In contrast, grass in dry seasons needs water like every living thing. Therefore, we irrigate.
But, be aware that a typical 150-acre golf course uses about 200 million gallons of water annually. So, using recycled or desalinated water will save money.
The British and International Golf Greenkeepers Association (BIGGA) newsletter suggests using any unpolluted water source. Therefore, use the public utility supply, a private well, borehole or spring, streams or lakes on the course, or a combination of these.
Next, you need a network of pumps, pipes, nozzles, and sprinkler heads. Many courses use manual control. But, it’s now more common to rely on computerized switching based on automatic moisture sensors in the ground. Do this, use less water, and save money.
Install the pipe network in the ground during construction. Otherwise, parts of the course will be out of action. Also, design the pumphouse and its location based on the course size and the gradients involved.
Finally, you must concentrate the water on the parts that need it. Therefore, the greens and tee boxes usually take priority.
The United States Golf Association (USGA) provides a resource center dealing with water use and irrigation.
Lakes and Water Features
Lakes and other water features such as rapids, waterfalls, and fountains, are essential in your golf course. Not only is it a widespread hazard for inexperienced golfers, but it is also an integral part of the irrigation system.
By careful planning of land drains, surface water can be directed from the course towards lakes, where it’s stored and recycled through the irrigation pipes.
Also, they’re handy when using public water from rivers and reservoirs is impractical or unpopular during drought conditions.
In addition to these benefits, the USGA resource center advises that their living ecosystems provide habitats for many different animals and plants.
Qualified architects must design these water features using civil engineering methods, ground permeability, and evaporation data.
The article “Golf Course Construction: Grow-In Philosophies” by Terry Buchen describes the best ways to grow-in a new golf course.
The grass grow-in period after initial seeding is probably the most critical time when grassing a golf course. This period lasts about three weeks, during which the newly planted turf needs up to ten times the fertilizer than an established course.
Also, you should apply high concentrations of preventative fungicide. This crucial period needs the grass to grow quickly to reduce soil erosion, which happens before roots become established.
Probably, the watering regime is most critical during grow-in. After the first watering, the ground shouldn’t ever dry out and should be watered morning and evening.
An excellent way to prevent erosion and stop the soil from dehydrating is to lightly mulch with hay or straw, preventing evaporation.
Look online, and you’ll overflow with offers for software and training courses to help design a golf course.
Possibly, these are okay if you are constructing one for your backyard. But, when investing hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars into a business venture, you should only use a qualified architect.
The American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA) is a professional association for golf course architects in the USA. Choose a member, and select a trained and experienced architect and an expert in the field.
Constructing a golf course is a major civil engineering project requiring local, state, and federal government permits, each tier having its own list.
Typical permits include:
- Earthmoving permits – land disturbance.
- Environmental permits – wetland regulations.
- Building permits – Irrigation pump house, club premises, washrooms.
- Electrical permits – Irrigation pumps, lighting, and power supply.
- Plumbing permits – irrigation system installation, potable water supply.
- Miscellaneous – Road crossing permit, business registration.
Contact your local and state government for a comprehensive list of applicable regulations, building codes, and licenses.
Golf courses rely on customers using their facility and must have a full-time maintenance crew to cope with any issue.
The following table shows estimated maintenance costs per annum.
|Golf Course Type||Minimum Maintenance Cost/Year||Maximum Maintenance Cost/Year||Average Cost/Year|
Frequently Asked Questions
Many people ask additional questions. Here is a selection of the most popular.
What is the average acreage of a golf course?
The average acreage of your golf course depends on how much land you have available, the type of course, and its location.
A typical 18-hole golf course uses 100-200 acres, which includes a clubhouse, car park, practice greens, and driving range. Smaller courses can range from 100-110 acres.
The location has an effect too. Golf courses in resorts use 170-200 acres, while smaller urban golf courses are 110-120 acres.
How long does it take to build a golf course?
Getting all permits and documentation in the USA takes 12-24 months.
Then, once the legal stuff is in order, building the course can take 12-18 months, depending on variables such as weather, workforce, and equipment. Finally, it takes 3-10 months for the grass to grow-in before the business opens.
Therefore, at best, it can take just over 2-years and at worst, just over 4-years.
Is owning a golf course profitable?
According to Links magazine, there’s plenty of money to be made from golf courses if you work with someone who:
- Knows the area.
- Understands the competition.
- Knows the practicalities of running a golf course and how much it costs.
- And knows how to make money.
If you research correctly and do the due diligence, you have every chance of making money.
Building and owning a golf course is probably every enthusiast’s dream. But, it’s not enough to dream. You must know how a golf course works in practice, how much it costs to buy and maintain, and how to run a business.
Instead of dreaming, find out the facts about building a course local to you that’s within your budget. Then, after the project, you can enjoy playing a round or two and socializing on the 19th hole.