Visibility In Practice

Sep 27, 2023


In one of my recent social media posts, I showed you how I do a grading and visibility study by hand. You can view it here:

Grading Timelapse

You might be wondering, "How do I know the target I want to see is visible down the fairway from any given point on the tee complexes we've designed?"

In this blog post, I explore visibility in the context of Golf Course Design. The following is a follow-up to the above exercise. I have also created a video for this blog post here:

Please note: Included below is a step-by-step tutorial for the process. AutoCAD Civil 3D has several ways to customize workspaces and workflow. Therefore, if you have any issues finding tools or commands, please google or use any of the many AutoDesk forums available on the internet.

Understanding Profile or Section Drawings

There are a few different ways to test visibility, and one of them would be to create a drawing by hand or in AutoCAD, called a Profile or Section Drawing.

In Landscape Architecture, a Profile or Section Drawing is a visual representation that provides a vertical cross-sectional view of a specific area or feature within the design. This Drawing typically shows the elevation changes and various design elements such as plants, hardscape features, and other relevant details. Profile or Section Drawings are essential for conveying how different elements interact with the terrain to help designers and stakeholders better understand the vertical relationships of the design. They are often used with plan views and elevation drawings to communicate the overall design intent.

Profile or Section Drawings are always an excellent way to check things as you go, whether you're designing by hand or with a computer.

Checking Elevation Assignments (Civil 3D)

Before delving deeper into the visibility analysis, it's essential to ensure that each polyline in your AutoCAD drawing has the correct elevation assigned to it. There are two ways to do this:

Review Properties: You can select each polyline and review its properties (type "Properties" in the Command Line) to check and verify the assigned elevation.

Edit Polyline Elevations Tool: The Edit Polyline Elevations tool is a quicker and more efficient method. This tool, found under the Modify > Design tab, allows you to select each polyline and view its assigned elevation within the Command Line. You can also make necessary elevation adjustments here if you find errors.

Creating the Surface (Civil 3D)

The next step involves generating a surface in AutoCAD Civil 3D's Toolspace. Navigate to the Toolspace control panel, highlight Surface, right-click, and select Create Surface. Name your Surface and confirm the contour intervals meet your preferences. Your Surface is now generated and listed under Surfaces in the Toolspace Control Panel.

Adding Contour Data (Civil 3D)

To create a Terrain Model, you need to add contour data to the Surface. 

  1. Expand the Surface's list using the (+) sign next to the Surface name.
  2.  Go to Definition, and expand again. 
  3. Then highlight Contours
  4. Right-click and select Add
  5. Accept the default settings and hit OK
  6. Select the polylines you want to add to the Surface. 
  7. Once you Select the Polylines, we can press Enter or Right-click (depending on our settings in Civil 3D). 

The Terrain Model is now generated.

For fun, let's use the Orbit tool to see the terrain model from different angles. 

  1. Navigate to the View tab and select Orbit
  2. If we Left-click and hold while moving the mouse, we can view the model from different angles.

You can see how the Surface uses the contours to build a reasonably accurate representation of how the golf hole is draped onto the land.

We can even position ourselves above and behind the back tee, looking back down the golf hole to gain a better indication of the character and strategy it presents.

Visibility Check (Civil 3D)

However, to check the visibility of various design features, we need to view the golf hole from the human perspective. This is tough to achieve with any level of accuracy using the Orbit tool. So if we Right-click and hit Exit, we can return to the View tab and select the Top view again to reestablish our 2D Plan View.

With the Terrain Model in place, it's time to analyze visibility. While the Orbit tool provides 3D views, we need to assess visibility from the perspective of a golfer standing on the tee. This is where the Visibility Check tool comes into play.

  1. Under the Analyze tab select Visibility Check.
  2. Select Point to Point.
  3. Choose the Surface you just created.
  4. Specify the height of the subject or eye. For a golfer, a height of 5.5 Feet (1.67 Meters) is a good average for assessing visibility. Press Enter.
  5. Place the subject in a position from where you want to analyze their perspective and Left-click on the location.
  6. It then asks us for the height of our target, which will be ground level or 0. Then press Enter. Note: If you only want to see the tops of vegetation, adjust the height accordingly.
  7. Finally, it asks us for the location of the Target. When you are satisfied with the location, Left-click. We can click multiple times to assess various targets. When finished, press Enter.

We're going to place the subject towards the back half of the back Tee because we know from our experience that this location is generally one that may have some visibility challenges depending on the terrain and what is located directly in front of us. In this case, the hole is mostly downhill, so much so that some of our features downslope may start blocking the landing areas and barranca, which are critical elements for strategy on this short, risk-reward par-4. 

The Strategy

If you can picture a player standing on the tee, they have a decision to make. Play it safe by laying up short to have a longer shot into the green, OR go for it by trying to carry the barranca to gain an advantage in the form of a shorter pitch into the green. Without seeing these features from the tee, the player's decision-making ability, along with the design intent and character of the hole, is greatly diminished. And that is not what we want.

The Visibility Path (Civil 3D)

You'll notice green and red segments as you pull the visibility line. Green indicates visibility along the path, while red signifies areas that will be obstructed. The white dot indicates where visibility ends and the obstruction begins.

This analysis allows you to make informed decisions about optimizing visibility for strategic features on the golf course.

The Philosophy

If we use one of the forward tees as an example target and finish the line (as outlined above), you can see one section of the line is red, and the other is green, with a white dot somewhere in between (image above). 

This tells us that everything on the tee surface is visible until you reach the front-right bank starting down the slope. The front of the back tee blocks visibility to the next tee forward, with our white dot indicating where the obstruction is. 

Why did this happen? Our back Tee's elongated, rectangular nature extends far enough into our view corridor that it begins to block features immediately beyond and below the tee complex. That is why on a hilly site with steep terrain, I generally opt for more tee complexes that are smaller in size and stepped into the hillside. This not only minimizes the disturbance area, but helps to ensure visibility down the corridor of the golf hole. Alternatively, I could split the back tee into two and elevate the backmost tee more to allow viewing over the more forward tee. Elongated, runway-style tees generally cause visibility issues on hilly sites. 

This challenge is also persistent on driving ranges with a significant downhill slope extending away from the golfer. Obstruction is generally due to the larger size inherent to driving range tees. Because the range tee is essentially a large platform that extends out in front of the golfers, it is easy to start blocking visibility to target greens positioned 50, 75, or 100 yards or meters out. Unless of course, players are hitting from the very front of the tee.

However, we are not concerned about seeing the forward tees on this hole. We want to ensure the barranca and landing areas are visible so players can decide strategically whether to challenge the barranca or lay-up. Without proper visibility of these important features, the design intent of the golf hole may be compromised.  

Analyzing Visibility (Civil 3D)

Back to our visibility line. As we pull the target arrow down the hill, You can see how these features read as being visible or not based on whether the line and arrowhead flashes red or green.

However, the Visibility Check lines' limitation is that they only analyze between two points in a straight line. If we want to check the breadth of our view corridor, we must draw a few more lines using the same method and parameters above, and select any other targets we want to test for.

Everything looks good down the right side. However, to the left, we lose some visibility due to the hillside. That is okay because we are trying to avoid disturbing more of the existing landscape than necessary while achieving our objective. Besides, a little mystery can be good! It's a balance.

But what about this bunker beyond the barranca? If I were a golfer, I'd want to see it from the tee before making my decision. 

And it looks like we will. So we've done our job well!

As you conduct the visibility check, you may discover areas that need adjustment. If the goal is to provide golfers with a complete view of critical design elements, testing the visibility throughout your process will save time, money, and resources.


And there you have it. As a Golf Course Architect, I'm satisfied with the visibility we've achieved in our example. However, we can always make adjustments in the field if necessary, but this helps indicate how close we are to achieving our design objectives.

It might make sense to do Profile or Section Drawings by hand as we go, depending on which design phase we're in. But using the Visibility Check tool is handy when you know you are close, trying to save paper and time, or simply have more of a comfort level using AutoCAD Civil 3D.

Incorporating visibility testing into your Golf Course Design workflow can significantly enhance the quality and effectiveness of your projects. While manual Profile or Section Drawings have their place, utilizing tools like AutoCAD Civil 3D's Visibility Check tool can save you time and offer reasonably accurate feedback for quality control. By carefully considering the human/golfer perspective and making necessary adjustments, you can ensure that your designs meet your strategic and aesthetic goals to provide golfers with an engaging and memorable experience on the course. So, whether you're a fan of traditional hand drawing or prefer the efficiency of AutoCAD Civil 3D, remember that visibility is a vital aspect of Golf Course and Landscape Architecture.