How to make a model of a golf hole in 5 steps


ollinwell's excellent 13th provided the perfect subject matter for this article. It's a beautiful hole and is a great test of golf, but it also plays dramatically downhill from tee to green and, importantly, cuts through a mature forest. Trees, in short, can be a bit of a nightmare, but I'll cover that challenge in some detail later.

  1. Digital Elevation Data
  2. Aerial Imagery
  3. Light and Shadow
  4. Physical Model Preparation
  5. Trees

Step 1: Digital Elevation Data

Digital Elevation Models, or DEMs, can be acquired in several different ways, but in this example, I've used data and imagery gathered via a drone survey. Get in touch if you need a golf course survey.

The data is first cleaned and prepared, removing unwanted surface objects like trees, foliage and structures, leaving only bare earth. Here are a few ways of viewing that remaining data:

Elevation Intensity
Contour Lines

I then turn this raw data into a model mesh, which can be viewed and manipulated in 3D software.

Wireframe and shaded view of 'water tight' model mesh

Step 2: Aerial Imagery

As well as the spatial data, the drone captures very high resolution photographs of the site. These photos are geo-referenced, meaning they line up exactly with the digital terrain data.

The density of the master drone image is roughly 2.5cm per pixel

Obviously the photograph contains the trees – I need to get rid of those, replacing them with the equivalent of rough grasses. I also need to enhance the tees, fairway, fringe and green, and generally try to improve the overall appearance of the image.

Key features outlined and enhanced. Colours and contrast boosted

Although I've removed the trees, I need to know where they were, so that I can add them to the 3D model later, in the correct places.

My tree map. Worth noting that the oak tree at the back of the green has now been removed by the club

Step 3: Light and Shadow

Once I've prepared my textures (the images that are projected onto the surface of the terrain mesh), I can start to add some more drama and depth to the model, using digital lighting.

Trees removed from image and replaced with placeholder 3D tree models

Using my tree map, with its red guides, I insert 3D model trees, which act as shadow-casting objects. I then remove the 3D trees, but keep their shadows. The resulting model state can be exported, or 'baked', as a single image.

Shadows and enhanced undulations, but no trees
Light and shadow baked into model's surface image

I love traditional cityscape or landscape model installations, but most of the ones I've seen need a custom lighting rig to be assembled on site in order to generate shadows and enhanced contours – this can be very expensive – so I've tried to incorporate shadows into my models, meaning they can be displayed anywhere, without the need for a costly lighting setup.

Step 4: Physical Modelling

3D printing has its limitations. Right now, only a handful of substances can be used for full colour 3D printing, and even fewer of these are really affordable. Another crucial limitation is in the printing of complex tree objects. Simplified, low-complexity trees are fine, but anything with spindly-looking branches and leaves, and other fine details, will fall apart in the print process, or shortly after that. There's a range of other reasons why trees present major problems to model makers, but I won't go there right now!

Before 3D printing, I add very small 'pin hole' guides to the model surface using the 3D software, showing where the tree trunks intersected with the ground. These act as pilot holes for my drill – I was very reluctant to start drilling into the model, but it was important that the holes were exactly the right size to house the mini tree modes.

Some VERY VERY careful drilling required!

Step 5: Trees

The mini trees need some preparation before being added to the main model. Importantly, one side of each each tree needs to look like it's in shadow.

Black spray paint applied to one side of every tree

After a small amount of nip and tuck with a sharp knife, the trees are ready to be glued in place.

Wine: essential
The Finished Product
Dimensions roughly 27cm x 21cm

If you'd like to know more about how I can help you create something special, please do GET IN TOUCH

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