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Old 07-03-2013, 11:14 AM
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Question Designing Your First Course: Mistakes Made and Lessons Learned

I'm interested in hearing course designers share some of the mistakes that they made in their first design (or first several designs, for the slow learners out there ), the lessons learned from these mistakes, and the steps needed to avoid making the same mistakes on future designs.

How does this learning process differ (if at all) between installing a public course and private course?

To clarify, I'm looking for broad generalizations in regards to design elements, common pitfalls to avoid, et al. backed up by specific examples from people who have designed one or more courses.

I am NOT looking for the opinions of people who have not designed a course, so please keep that kind of chatter to a minimum.

Thanks in advance for sharing your time and thoughts. I figured this could be a good discussion for those interested in trying their hand at course design or those who have installed a course or two already, but are looking to "up" their knowledge.
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Old 07-03-2013, 12:10 PM
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Here's from the co-designer of one private course:

We had the freedom to go slow, and not design all the holes at once. And the freedom to change things to improve them, or fix mistakes.

One of our mistakes has been to fall for something that looks cool. It looks like an awesome tee location, maybe an great basket location, or an alley of trees to shoot through. When done and played, though, it's just a bunch of 3s. Cool-looking hole, but all 3s.

We learned to design holes backwards, especially multi-throw, higher-par holes. You back up from the basket to the point that you say, "This is where I want to approach the basket from. Hence, this is where I want the preceding throw to land, if thrown well." And work on backwards, until you find a tee.

Other mistakes: Trees grow. Especially small trees. And they don't just grow taller, they grow wider. What seemed like a nice challenging gap becomes super-tight, or a constant maintenance issue.

Creeks make nice hazards, especially when shallow enough to easily cross. Then you find that on days with heavy rain, suddenly you can't get to the other wide without wading through a swollen gusher.

Watch for overhand routes. Especially if you're a thumber-hater like myself. More generally, watch for routes that you didn't anticipate, that defeat the design of the hole. These are easiest found by standing at the basket and looking back towards the tee, looking for gaps in the trees.

Look at "natural fairways" in both directions. Sometimes you fall in love with a route so much that you never notice that the same fairway, in the opposite direction, is even better. (We have a hole that we flipped several times before settling in its current, best direction).

*

Well, those are some of our mistakes and lessons learned that come to mind at the moment. Before we embarked on the design, I read a lot of stuff from John Houck, which came in very handy.

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Old 07-03-2013, 12:28 PM
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One more, though easily corrected:

Our course is pretty challenging, including lots of O.B., and several places with mandatory drop zones for O.B. A couple of times we made drop zones that were too challenging, especially on windy days, so that players could blow up their round on a single hole. Not good.

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Though I have not done both, it's obvious that one of the biggest differences between designing for a public course and a private course, is that changes are much more easily made on the private course.
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Old 07-03-2013, 12:41 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DavidSauls View Post
Here's from the co-designer of one private course:

We had the freedom to go slow, and not design all the holes at once. And the freedom to change things to improve them, or fix mistakes.

One of our mistakes has been to fall for something that looks cool. It looks like an awesome tee location, maybe an great basket location, or an alley of trees to shoot through. When done and played, though, it's just a bunch of 3s. Cool-looking hole, but all 3s.

We learned to design holes backwards, especially multi-throw, higher-par holes. You back up from the basket to the point that you say, "This is where I want to approach the basket from. Hence, this is where I want the preceding throw to land, if thrown well." And work on backwards, until you find a tee.

Other mistakes: Trees grow. Especially small trees. And they don't just grow taller, they grow wider. What seemed like a nice challenging gap becomes super-tight, or a constant maintenance issue.

Creeks make nice hazards, especially when shallow enough to easily cross. Then you find that on days with heavy rain, suddenly you can't get to the other wide without wading through a swollen gusher.

Watch for overhand routes. Especially if you're a thumber-hater like myself. More generally, watch for routes that you didn't anticipate, that defeat the design of the hole. These are easiest found by standing at the basket and looking back towards the tee, looking for gaps in the trees.

Look at "natural fairways" in both directions. Sometimes you fall in love with a route so much that you never notice that the same fairway, in the opposite direction, is even better. (We have a hole that we flipped several times before settling in its current, best direction).

*

Well, those are some of our mistakes and lessons learned that come to mind at the moment. Before we embarked on the design, I read a lot of stuff from John Houck, which came in very handy.
Outstanding post, and exactly what I was looking for.

The "looking at holes backwards" is great advice, and something I hadn't really thought of too much. We're running into a bit of difficulty with tee placement on a heavily-wooded, multi-throw, 700+' hole. I will put this advice to the test tomorrow and report back in a couple of days.

I definitely have run into the whole "cool looking but otherwise bland hole" situation. Luckily it's also a private course where there's time to playtest, tweak, re-playtest, and tweak some more. A couple of tee locations have been pushed back or set at a slightly different angle in an attempt to avoid cool-looking but less-than-stellar holes.

And of course all your points on rising water levels and future tree growth/maintenance are spot on as well.
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Old 07-03-2013, 12:59 PM
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Thanks. Another lesson is to not cut down a tree until you're sure.

Numerous times we've looked at a tree and decided, It probably needs to come out....but let's wait. In some cases, we waited a year or two. In some cases, after a while we decided the hole was better with the tree, and were glad we didn't cut it down in the original installation. We've kept two trees, trying to decide which one to cut down, and ended up keeping both.

Only a few times have we removed a tree and regretted it---because we've been cautious with the chainsaw in the first place.
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Old 07-03-2013, 01:33 PM
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The main thing that has helped us is being able to slowly develop the course. We add a few holes here and there, but mainly get the ones we have playable first. A number of them have had to be reconfigured.

The two biggest things we've run into are:

Players taking weird lines we never even thought as possibilities. And players taking these a lot. And most players that take them ending up in places we don't want them to. We're talking way out in the rough, or way OB or something like that. We had to move a couple of tees to stop some of those lines.

We also failed to take wind into account on one hole. The big power lines run across the fairway, and there is a big swash cut through the trees. The wind running down these power lines is crazy, and made the hole extremely difficult being that there was almost always wind running down it, especially with the OB's we have. We found a new place for the tee that shortened the hole, and it plays a lot better now.

We rearranged a few holes to keep people from throwing off the property, or at the very least to minimize it. Our neighbors never go to the back of their property, but they're also kinda insane, so we really don't want people hopping that fence much.

The main advice I have is develop the course slowly, and give yourself a good chance the work out the issues with your layout before you make it too permanent.
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Old 07-03-2013, 01:37 PM
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As far as maintenance, we have a few holes that need insane amount of mowing. We also have one tunnel shot that has to be trimmed most every month (at least during spring/summer). We didn't anticipate the amount of work involved on those.
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Old 07-03-2013, 01:46 PM
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well, juke i think you should stay away from anything that Mike says!!!!
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Old 07-03-2013, 01:58 PM
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I am not a seasoned designer, but have designed one course (early on when I first started paying attention to course design) and I have made several proposals since.

Two things I learned from "oh wow holy cow" moments are:
Do not under-estimate how far and high top throwers can throw
Do not under-estimate how poorly many players throw (discs land in places you might not imagine)

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Old 07-03-2013, 02:00 PM
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Don't put concerte tees and signs in until the course has had some play. Most courses are in such a rush to get the course in so a tournament can be held that they are then stuck with a bad or unsafe hole.

Let the course get some play, see how it works and flows and then make changes, if needed. If you then like the course, put your tees and signs in. Great way to get a good course and save some moeny.

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