How Much Does It Cost to Build a Golf Course

How Much Does It Cost to Build a Golf Course?

For golf enthusiasts who dream of owning their own course, the costs involved can often come as an unpleasant surprise. Building even a basic 18-hole course requires millions of dollars when you factor in land acquisition, design, earthwork, drainage, turf, irrigation, equipment, amenities and ongoing maintenance.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll break down the major costs associated with building a regulation golf course from the ground up. Whether you’re looking to build a small local course or an elite, championship-caliber layout, understanding the budgetary factors at play is an essential first step in turning your golf vision into reality.

Land Acquisition Costs

Arguably the most significant upfront investment in golf course development is the purchase of the land itself. Prime real estate suitable for golf course construction is scarce and expensive. The minimum acreage required for an 18-hole course is approximately 150 acres. At average land prices, the base price for the raw land alone can range from $500,000 to several million dollars.

The ideal property for building a golf course requires adequate drainage, a variety of interesting terrain and elevation changes to allow for intriguing hole designs, limited presence of streams or wetlands that require permits and mitigation, and enough space to accommodate wide playing corridors as well as support facilities such as a clubhouse and parking lot. Finding and securing a site that checks all of these boxes is not easy.

If you have a specific location or piece of land in mind, be prepared to pay a premium. In some cases, developers choose to acquire a larger master parcel and then sell off subdivisions for residential or commercial development to offset the high cost of the golf course acreage.

Design and Architecture Fees

Once suitable land has been acquired, the next major expense is hiring a professional golf course architect to design and layout the course. This is not an area where you should cut costs or try to handle it yourself as an inexperienced developer.

An experienced golf course architect provides invaluable expertise on everything from routing, drainage and turfgrass selection to optimizing playability, shot values and strategic interest. Architects will also handle regulatory approvals and permitting.

For 18-hole, championship-level designs, golf course architect fees typically range from $50,000 on the low end to well over $200,000 on the high end. Your input will help maximize land use, minimize earthmoving and avoid costly construction or drainage problems down the road. For more basic designs, you may be able to find local architects who offer competitive rates.

Land Development and Site Preparation

Before construction can begin, the land must be evaluated and prepared to accommodate the future course layout. This includes activities such as:

  • Drainage assessment and design.
  • Clearing existing vegetation.
  • Grading and earthwork to shape fairways, greens, bunkers and hazards.
  • Cutting and filling to achieve proper elevations.
  • Construction of lakes, ponds or streams, if included.
  • Installation of storm water management systems.
  • Erosion control and stabilization.
  • Cart path routing.

On a flat site with minimal existing trees/features, site preparation requirements will be fairly straightforward. But costs escalate quickly if the site has low-lying areas that require drainage fill, extensive slopes that require grading, or dense forests that require clearing and grubbing. It is advisable to hire an experienced civil engineering firm to handle this process.

For a standard 18-hole course, the total cost of land development and site preparation can easily exceed $500,000 and reach into the $1 million-plus range, depending on existing topographic challenges and design ambitions. Be sure to budget accordingly.

Irrigation and Water Supply Systems

In order for turfgrass to thrive, the course must be irrigated. This consists of a complex underground piping system to distribute water to all areas of the course, remote valves and heads to target specific areas such as greens and fairways, a central pump station and a water supply source.

For an 18-hole course, the irrigation system footprint can exceed 25 miles of piping. Installation costs typically run about $25,000 per hole. Computer hardware for central irrigation control can cost tens of thousands more. Depending on the location, wells for on-site water supply may also be required. In total, the cost of building the irrigation system and supply infrastructure is close to $1 million.

Drainage Systems and Features

While some drainage occurs naturally through the soil, most golf courses incorporate supplemental subsurface drainage systems to ensure adequate infiltration and to prevent standing water on fairways or greens after heavy rains. Common drainage techniques include catch basins, French drains, slotted pipe networks and layers of gravel.

Drainage installation costs depend on existing soil conditions and groundwater levels, but $30,000 to $40,000 per hole is typical for underground drainage. Bunkers and hazards may also require additional drainage elements. The playability of the course can be seriously compromised if drainage issues are not addressed.

Turf and Vegetation

Arguably the most important component of the golf course, quality turf is also a major expense. There are several specialized types of turf used in different areas of the course:

  • Greens: Ultra-precise, low-cut bentgrass or Bermuda greens cost $8-$12 per square foot installed. With 18 greens averaging 6,000 square feet each, the total can quickly exceed $1 million.
  • Tees and Fairways: Cool-season grasses such as bluegrass and ryegrass or warm-season bermuda and zoysia will run $2-$4 per square foot installed. Budget at least $500,000.
  • Roughs: Cheaper grasses such as fescue can be used at $1-2 per square foot; budget at least $200,000.

In addition to the base turf, landscaping elements such as naturalized native areas, trees, plants and shrubs should be incorporated. Allow $50,000+ for substantial landscaping. Overseeding, sod repair and turf maintenance will be ongoing post-opening maintenance costs.

Course Design and Feature Construction

One of the more equipment- and labor-intensive aspects of golf course construction is building the playing surfaces and features according to the architect’s design. This includes:

  • Precision laser grading of tees and greens.
  • Installing specialized USGA green construction mixes and materials.
  • Shaping and contouring bunkers and incorporating drainage.
  • Contouring waste and similar areas around tees and greens.
  • Construction of fairway undulations, mounds and swales.

Hourly billing rates for specialized golf course construction equipment operators and designers generally range from $50 to $150 per hour. The course architect should be heavily involved in the shaping process to ensure proper playability. In total, expect to spend at least $500,000-$750,000 or more for this precision golf course shaping and construction work.

Cart Paths

Golf cart paths are a necessary routing infrastructure on any course. They provide efficient player circulation while keeping carts away from sensitive turf areas. Using concrete or asphalt, you can expect to pay $20-$30 per linear foot for cart path installation. With more than 10 miles of cart paths required for 18 holes, costs often exceed $500,000.

Essential Amenities and Facilities

While not essential, amenities such as a clubhouse, pro shop, locker rooms, restaurant and other facilities greatly enhance the golf experience and marketability of the course. However, they also add significantly to the cost of a project.

A high-end clubhouse alone can cost $5 million or more to build, taking into account the large square footage, commercial kitchen facilities, interior finishes and more. Other on-course buildings or shelters, such as comfort stations or a maintenance building, add to the cost.

For a top-tier private course, construction costs for the full suite of facilities and amenities often reach into the $10 million range. Public or more basic courses may budget as little as $1-2 million for minimal amenities. The level of amenities directly affects the total cost, so set expectations early in the design process.

Maintenance Facilities and Equipment

A substantial maintenance operation is essential to keep the course maintained and playable year-round. This includes:

  • A dedicated maintenance building for equipment storage, shop space and employee areas. Allow $75,000-150,000.
  • All-terrain vehicles for grounds staff. $50,000 per unit.
  • Mowing fleet (greens mowers, fairway units, rough mowers). $250,000+ for quality equipment.
  • Sprayers, aerators, turf maintenance equipment. $100,000+
  • Course construction and earthwork equipment, if owned outright.
  • Fuel and parts storage. Safety signage.
  • Tools, shop equipment, personal safety equipment.

Build this operating budget accordingly based on maintenance team size, equipment procurement (purchase vs. lease), maintenance building needs, and ownership vs. third-party arrangements.

Ongoing maintenance costs

The expense doesn’t stop once construction is complete – in fact, that’s when the real expense begins. In order to maintain the playability of the course and provide a quality playing experience, proper year-round maintenance is essential. Tasks such as:

  • Mowing, trimming, and grooming greens, tees, fairways, and roughs
  • Aerating, verticutting and topdressing greens
  • Overseeding, fertilizing, and soil conditioning programs
  • Irrigation operation and repair
  • Daily course setup and breakdown
  • Equipment maintenance and upkeep
  • Pest and weed control
  • Bunker maintenance and renovation

To cover these recurring operating costs, courses spend more than $500,000 annually. High-end clubs with premium amenities can exceed $1 million in annual maintenance costs. Staffing, product and equipment needs add up quickly. Budgeting for long-term maintenance is key.

Additional Operating Expenses

Beyond turf and grounds, golf courses incur additional recurring overhead costs associated with day-to-day operations:

  • Golf operations staffing and administration.
  • Golf cart fleet purchase and maintenance.
  • Clubhouse maintenance and utilities.
  • Accounting, legal and insurance fees.
  • Marketing and promotional programs.
  • Staff training and development.
  • Course improvements or renovations.
  • Taxes, licenses, regulatory fees.
  • Safety and Security Contingencies.

Over time, it is wise to build in contingencies for improvements or renovations so that the course does not become obsolete. Operating margins dictate how much can be reinvested each year.

Ownership and Organization

Golf courses come in many organizational structures, depending on ownership and whether they are public or private. Municipal courses, owned by local governments, seek to provide affordable golf through taxpayer support of operations and improvements. Privately owned public courses rely solely on golf revenue and must operate efficiently.

At the high end, private country clubs and golf associations fund operations through significant initiation fees, membership dues and guest fees, while limiting outside play. The financial plan is significantly impacted by the ownership model.

Before breaking ground, determine the appropriate ownership structure based on your vision, market demand and financial capabilities. Will it be private or public? What level of exclusivity is desired? Are there investors or partners involved? Sustainability depends on choosing the right operating model.

Project Management and Consulting

In any major construction project, experienced project management is essential to coordinate all contractors, vendors, and consultants and to ensure seamless execution. Disputes between stakeholders, unforeseen delays, or shoddy workmanship can quickly escalate costs if not properly managed. Dedicated project managers are worth their weight in gold.

Specialized consultants can also advise on activities such as permitting, environmental regulations, traffic studies, economic feasibility, and financial planning. Their expertise, while costly up front, pays dividends throughout the project and in the long run.


With total price tags ranging from $3 million on the low end to $15 million-plus for resort or high-end designs, securing financing is a major hurdle. Construction loans, commercial loans, private equity investors and other sources can provide capital to fund various stages of the project.

Ideally, financing should be identified early so that development can begin without cash flow constraints. Pro-forma projections of costs, revenues, ROI timelines, and financial risk give investors confidence in funding requests.

If necessary, consider phasing construction to spread upfront costs over several years. Building only 9 holes initially can provide cash flow to fund the remaining 9 holes. Spreading major costs over time eases financing pressures.

Final Takeaways

Building a regulation 18-hole golf course requires significant capital, careful planning and patience to see a return on investment. While exact costs will vary based on site conditions, design ambitions, and local labor and material rates, the total bill will reach into the millions of dollars in all but the most minimal scenarios.

By understanding the core costs at each stage, developers can enter the process with eyes wide open. Securing project funding, controlling costs, and focusing on long-term sustainability maximizes the likelihood of success. With the proper vision and perseverance, building a golf course can ultimately be an extremely rewarding investment over decades of enjoyable play.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the average total cost to build a regulation 18-hole golf course?

The average total cost ranges from $3 million on the low end to $15 million on the high end. Most full-size courses fall between $5 million and $10 million, including land, construction, facilities and initial maintenance budgets.

What are the annual maintenance costs for the average golf course?

Annual maintenance costs typically range from $500,000 to over $1 million. This includes staffing, regular mowing, turfing, irrigation, maintaining equipment and making improvements. High-end private clubs often spend in excess of $1 million per year.

How much does it cost to build a basic 9-hole course?

A basic 9-hole course can cost between $1.5 million and $3 million to build, assuming reasonable land acquisition costs. This assumes a simpler design and minimal amenities. Maintenance costs will also be lower.

What are some ways to reduce the cost of building a golf course?

Strategies such as using existing flat terrain rather than major grading, installing inexpensive turf varieties, purchasing used maintenance equipment, leasing modular buildings and opening in phases can all help reduce construction and start-up costs.

How much profit can a golf course make on average?

Many courses generate $500,000 to $1 million or more in annual profits after expenses. High-end clubs with more revenue streams and higher fee structures can expect to generate $2 million or more annually when finished.

What is the payback period for a new golf course?

With proper planning and execution, a typical golf course can be profitable within 3-7 years of opening. After that, the business should be generating sustainable profits from operations and membership dues or daily fees.

Does it make financial sense to build a golf course in most cases?

Building a successful golf course requires adequate capital, reasonable land acquisition, reasonable construction costs and a strategic long-term view. With discipline, the investment can make sense in markets with sufficient demand.

How important is an experienced golf course architect?

Hiring an experienced golf course architect is highly recommended to optimize the layout, minimize costs and provide technical acumen. This upfront investment pays dividends throughout the design, entitlement, construction and maintenance phases.

What ownership models are available for golf courses?

Common structures include privately owned public courses, municipal courses owned by local government, nonprofit or charitable courses, and exclusive private membership country clubs.