Putting The Cart Before The Horse

Oct 25, 2023


Proper sequencing is at the heart of any golf course project, as with any successful development endeavor to ensure sustainability, resilience, and cost-efficiency. In this blog post, we will explore the significance of project sequencing and how it plays a pivotal role in maintaining budgets, phasing, and overall success in golf course construction and renovation.

The Importance of Project Sequencing

I've recently had numerous conversations with potential clients who have undertaken the replacement of their golf course infrastructure, specifically their irrigation system, only to realize the need to address other deferred maintenance later on, like greens or bunker remodeling, tee leveling, turf reduction, partial reconfiguration, safety mitigation and more. Unfortunately, these facilities that have put the proverbial cart before the horse must either work around or pay again for retrofitting their new irrigation system later.

For example, a complete replacement irrigation system typically amounts to approximately $34.5K (or more) per irrigated/maintained acre. The price is changing as we speak! For easy math, if a course has 100 acres (40.5 HA) of irrigated/maintained turf, the projected expense for a new system would reach $3.45 million. However, by planning and discovering that you can reduce the irrigated/maintained acreage to 70-85 acres (15-30%), you could save anywhere between $500K to $1 million in this scenario. Proactive, well-sequenced planning proves to be a significant cost-saving measure.

Make it Rain Money

Our example above closely resembles a recent project I was involved with. The municipality replaced its irrigation system in full without approving the budget for other items well past their useful lifecycle. This led to a limited scope of work and hundreds of thousands of dollars in added costs due to the need to partially retrofit the irrigation system when additional improvements were approved two years later. 

The key takeaway is that investing substantial money in an irrigation system without carefully considering other related golf course components can be incredibly costly.

Burning Money

Sequence Planning for Cost Savings

Proper planning in golf course construction is essential for avoiding these unnecessary expenses. Here's how thoughtful sequencing can lead to significant cost savings:

One of the most significant cost-saving opportunities is reducing the maintained/irrigated turf areas throughout the course. Savings are realized both in the installation and on-going maintenance. When you think about it, identifying opportunities to reduce turf by 15-30% saves water. Still, the size and cost of your irrigation system will also be smaller (i.e., fewer heads, fewer pipes, etc.). Now, the Superintendent (thank them every day!) can reallocate the saved time and resources (i.e., labor, diesel, time, etc.) to other projects that need attention elsewhere.

Irrigated Turf Grass on Golf Course in the Desert
Reduced Irrigated Turf Grass on Golf Course in the Desert
Potential Reduction in Irrigated/Maintained Turf

The same is true for other areas of deferred maintenance, including Greens, Tees, Bunkers, Fairways, Drainage, Cart Paths, Landscape, and Tree Management. Identifying and addressing issues that overlap with the irrigation system is critical. By not doing so, we might be ignoring something that is a ticking time bomb. 

I always try to emphasize to my clients that the Preliminary and Master Planning phases of a project generally make up the smallest percentage of consultant's fees but provide the best value. Typically, 7.5-15%, according to the European Institute of Golf Course Architects (EIGCA). The early design phases provide the framework, setting the tone for the rest of the project.

Understanding the Critical Path for any project is a good strategy. The Critical Path helps identify and prioritize the various interrelated or interdependent tasks forming the logical path forward. If delayed or not executed in order, the sequence of tasks would result in project delays or cost overruns. The Critical Path Method (CPM) is a technique widely used in the project management industry.

How to Find the Critical Path

First, list all the project components and tasks using your site inventory, analysis, programming, and project brief with clearly stated goals and objectives. After capturing your scope of work in a Master Plan or Design Development Drawings, you can create a basic relationship diagram to draw your conclusions as they relate to all the dependencies for the different activities and components of the scope of work. The diagram illustrates how the phasing of activities affects your desired budget and timeline. After visualizing the results, estimate the completion times, factoring in weather, scheduled events or intentional delays, and the typical growing season. Patterns will reveal themselves, and the Critical Path will become apparent. 

Critical Path Analysis Template
Example from templatelab.com
Basic Relationship Diagram
Example from templatelab.com
Critical Path Tracker
Example from templatelab.com

 The benefits of thoughtful and deliberate planning are realized through optimized project timelines, better task-dependencies management, and effective resource allocation. The approach allows us to set realistic timeframes, improve future planning, and prevent bottlenecks in the project execution


In conclusion, early and efficient planning is crucial for avoiding unnecessary expenses. Sequencing of work, understanding the value of consultant fees, and employing logical project management tools like CPM can lead to cost-effective and timely completion, ensuring a successful project. At the end of the day, it never pays to put the cart before the horse.

Never Put the Cart Before the Horse Popular Mechanics, April 1907, p. 425
Popular Mechanics, April 1907, p. 425