In one of the series I got asked the following question by Yannick, “How does that fit in with making golf affordable, when you consider the extra maintenance of the steep faces and the extra irrigation heads this requires?” This was followed up by Henry with, “YP brings up a good point, except that bunker maintenance can be limited by the # of bunkers employed on a course. As for the cost of maintaining short grass vs. rough - is there a substantial difference."
I’ll answer this by telling you how I would build a good low cost public facility. First off I would not move any earth except for greens, tees and bunkers to keep the costs to a minimum – regardless of site. I would also simplify the bunkering down to deeper pot style bunkers done with steep sod banks (no sand faces). I would use collecting slopes of short grass to feed the ball into these bunkers to make them play bigger. I would limit myself to around 30 bunkers using impact of the Road Hole bunker as inspiration. My feeling has always been less bunkering better placed makes a better golf course.
I would look for undulation in the landing areas to add difficulty and reduce the need for bunkering. I will still keep the width in the fairways and likely consider dwarf bluegrass to keep maintenance costs down. I would still surround much of the greens with short grass for playability, interest and difficulty but consider using bent grass to get the playing conditions needed. The greens would be slightly smaller and elevated like Pinehurst #2 - although less rolling of course. They would mostly slope sharply forward but occasionally they will slope moderately away in the other three directions when appropriate.
The course would max out under 7,000 yards – excessive distance is a budget killer for construction, through to maintenance and finally to the speed of play. We build far too many tees and would limit myself to only three sets of tees - like what was done at Ballantrae. In the right situation I would drop cart paths entirely, or at least limit them to green to tee. Areas that are not in play would be seeded to fescue and I would limit the watering system down to double row and allow external areas to brown out during the drier years. Essentially pull away some of the bells and whistles that can be done without on a mid-tier public course.
I would also limit the amount of water as much as possible and not build any artificial features to the course. The model becomes Donald Ross from green sites through to simple solid strategies.
Not every idea in the series is appropriate for every situation – although I think most will find some place within my work.