6 things to learn when building a golf course in the middle of the city

6 things to learn when building a golf course in the middle of the city


Desi Isaacson

July 31, 2021

An overhead view of Overton Park in Memphis, Tenn.

Desi Isaacson

Editor’s note: GOLF employee and architecture buff Desi Isaacson interned at King-Collins Golf redesigning Overton Park, a nine-hole muni in Memphis, Tennessee. How are golf courses actually built? What movements are being made behind the scenes? Here in Dirt Diaries, we pull the curtain back on how design choices come to life.

Previous installments: How to Install Drainage Pipes | What is a grave pit? | The ingenious device that helps position greens | When building golf courses, there are some changes that need to be made in an instant | The 9 steps to completing a new green


Overton Park Golf Course is unique for many reasons. If you look at an aerial map, you may not know exactly where the golf course is in the first place. After you’ve played the first two holes, it’s a hike through the forest to get to 3 and 4 and then you have to cross another street for 5, 6 and 7, another street until 8 and one last street until 9.

Around all of this there are either hiking trails, dog parks, open picnic fields or busy roads. Overton Park is a booming place filled with pedestrian and vehicular traffic. There’s plenty of room for golf, but the logistics of building it underneath all of that can be a challenge. Every step we took was careful. Here are some of the things I learned along the way.

Moving equipment

Maybe that’s obvious, but I never thought that metal tracked bulldozers and excavators were too heavy to drive over roads without damaging them. This isn’t a problem on a course like Sweetens Cove or Landmand, where everything is a piece of land, but our incoherent course in the middle of the park meant we had to constantly move equipment across roads and around obstacles.

To get a bulldozer across the street we had to grab large tires and place them one at a time across the street. We didn’t have enough to get all the way over, so it becomes a relay system where as soon as the bulldozer has crossed a tire, we drive it forward until it is all the way across. We try to do this asap but there is often a line of cars waiting for us to finish.

There is a busy street called Poplar along one edge of the course. We often had to drive heavy equipment on poplar trees to be loaded onto trucks that could move them to other parts of the route. It was a constant struggle for our group of interns to figure out who had to go where, haul all the tires to the crossing point and get them across the street. I never thought that heavy equipment with rubber tracks would be so much fun for me.

Bring equipment from A to B? Not an easy task.

Desi Isaacson

clean up

Whether bulldozer or excavator with metal or rubber tracks, they always left a trail of dirt and mud on the road. This is a big no-go for us. It’s important to keep the dirt on the golf course (that’s one of the reasons we put so much silt fence in). Regardless of whether it is the main street, a small street in the park or just a pedestrian zone, we had to tidy up behind the machines every time we moved. Sometimes it was quick. Not so much at other times.

If our mud fence didn’t hold up and mud got onto the street, it was a big problem. A winter storm missed a few spots and covered a road for 100 meters with mud. It took us hours of shoveling, blowing, and sweeping until it looked manageable.

As the boss always says, “When you wreak havoc, do you know what to do? Clean it up.”

Desi Isaacson

To be observed

There were always random people looking over our shoulders while we worked long 10 hour days. But it worked both ways. The park was great for people-watching, with its cute dogs and silly children, the latter we sometimes left sitting on our equipment. I loved those moments. They made our project feel like part of the community, something we do with and for Memphis.

Goodbye trees

I am all for trees. I love trees. They give us oxygen and are beautiful and we should stop cutting down forests, but you know what trees can be bad for? Golf. We had to paint several to improve the golf course and often people weren’t happy about it. Several others had to come down because arborists said they were dead and dangerous. Felling trees was laborious; We wouldn’t just do it for fun. The course winds around a protected jungle, but some people thought every tree in the park was protected. The truth is, there are limits and we have never touched a sheltered tree.

One morning, while we were cutting a magnolia tree on the 5th fairway, a woman came up to us and said, “You don’t cut that beautiful magnolia tree?” A few minutes later another woman came by. She disagreed. “Take that f-uh down! It catches my tee shot every time. “

Tree felling had to be carried out in certain places.

Desi Isaacson

Stay clear

With so many people running around, we kept running around putting up signs indicating closed or dangerous areas. When equipment came back or came near roads, we had to be very careful that everyone was far away and safe. Sometimes they didn’t pay attention when we chain saw trees without knowing they might fall at any moment, or doing other things that they should stay away from. (Airpods made this even more difficult!)

The non-golfers

Surprise, but (gasp!) Not everyone loves golf, and we’ve heard of it at times. But we built an affordable, public, community course that was free for kids and cheap for everyone else. Perhaps in a perfect world those who are not interested in the game will try. The redesigned Overton Park would be a great place to start.

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