Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Only the Finest Prepared Golf Course Budget is Defendable

By Michael Vogt, CGCS

Does the bullet proof, no cut, anti-slash budget exist? No, probably not. However, you can be proactive and build the golf maintenance budget from the bottom – up. The steps are simple but can be time intensive. A reason the golf course maintenance budget often is targeted for reduction is that golf course maintenance may be viewed as a total expense department rather than a revenue generator. The reality is; the golf course operating budget maintains the club's greatest asset, the golf course. Conditioning and playability of the golf course is directly related to and significantly influences revenue and total club value. Dramatically reducing the golf course operating budget over an extended period of time only should be implemented following many careful considerations. The quality, conditioning, aesthetics and playability of the golf course are tied directly to revenue generation for all departments of the club.

Discover the Desires of the Membership
Begin your budget formulation system by polling the membership. A comprehensive survey of the golfing membership will serve as a guide for the clubs goals. Subsequent yearly surveys will reinforce progress, assure the need for important procedures and measure the programs and procedures that are effective. Survey information is a powerful source for continued, measurable improvement. The survey information will be a cornerstone to the clubs “Maintenance Standards”.

Labor and Standards
Labor, being the largest single line item is the first area at risk of being reduced. To justify and defend these expenses develop a list of “Maintenance Standards”, set standards BEFORE allocations of funding. Standards protect the golf course from any one member or any group of members from becoming a self appointed authority on the golf course maintenance regime. The Golf Maintenance Standards spell out what is to be expected pertaining to golf course maintenance. Be as specific as possible detailing every operation from daily greens mowing to aerification practices.

Routine Tasks: (Mowing, Hole-Cup rotation, Sand Bunker Maintenance, etc)

1. Study all tasks your team performs daily
2. Time those tasks over several days to get an average “Cycle Time”
3. Apply those hours to a spreadsheet or grid to account for “hours” needed to make the course ready for play.

Non-Routine Tasks: (Topdressing, Aerification, Seeding, Sodding, etc)

1. Special equipment needed to make-ready before the task begins
2. Special supplies needed
3. Actual time to perform task
4. Clean-up
5. Post project equipment care

Apply those hours to a spreadsheet to account for “hours”

These tasks are grouped into what’s called a “Decision Packages”. If resources are to be curtailed, explaining the consequences of postponing or not performing these tasks are much easier if you can describe what each operation costs to perform, how much time will be saved, and what the ultimate outcome will be, pros and cons.

Hours translate into dollars, if it takes three men three hours to hand rake bunkers six day per week that operation translates to 54 hours. If you decide to “cut” to three men, three hours and just four days per week you would save 18 hours per week. In an eight month season that’s a total of 576 hours per season.

Arbitrary, across the board cuts without focus applies unfair decisions on the Superintendent, often resulting in unintended consequences, and membership disappointments.

What to Cut
With information in-hand all systems can be presented before the management (GM, Committee or Board) for appropriate study. Routine operations, special programs, long range plans should all be evaluated through a “Decision Package” system. All operations should be considered for effectiveness on the total operation and impact on membership value. Long range impact should also be identified, for example, what would be the consequences if the procedure was not preformed for one year, two years, etc. Only until these “Decision Packages” are presented can club leaders decide on what and where to curtail resources.

Pay Me Now or Pay Me Latter
Cutting fat is okay, cut muscle and bone, not-so-much. The meaning, don’t skimp on important practices:

Soil tests
Water tests
Safety supplies
Equipment preventative maintenance
Pump station maintenance
Member communication programs
Self education programs
Careful hiring practices
Team rewards
Good recordkeeping

These above items are not huge dollar amounts but seemingly simple missteps can be catastrophic. The cost to repair and / or make-right in the future may be too great to neglect or ignore most of these above items.

The Zero-Based Budget
I have used the Zero-Based Budget and found that construction of a budget from the bottom-up each year based on goals, membership surveys and accomplishments to conform to standards is the best way to manage the courses resources. The Zero-Based format is easily defendable and can be understood by general managers, committees and board members. In explanations to decision makers a Zero-Based Budget makes sense and is view as a friendly, and responsible forecast method in these trying economic times. The Zero-Based system starts fresh each budget period, from zero, each procedure and program is evaluated on its successes, ultimate goals and merits each year.

I can illustrate how to assemble an operational forecast based on solid facts and empirical data. No fluff, no hidden numbers, just the absolute best case budget for course maintenance.

The Whole System
· Start with the "Golf Satisfaction Survey", it’s the member’s club, find out what the members want
· Build a set of “Maintenance Standards”; the standards will guide your financial plan, processes and programs
· Create the financial plan that translates your membership desires and maintenance standards in a numerical expression of your operational maintenance plan
· Commit to use resources wisely and manage your business properly
· Set-up a designated time each month to discuss budget variances with the appropriate designate (GM, manager, committee, board)
· Adjust priorities at seasons end and begin again.

This system protects all concerned and the clubs number one asset, the golf course. It measures success, and the system is designed for continued improvement. As with any budget forecast conditions can change and the plan may need to be altered, no different than any other forecast.

At the end of the day everyone interested in the clubs success is in the same boat. Membership value, exceptional service, cost constraints, hiring and retaining a highly productive work-force all will add to the success of your club. The tools are available, the need is critical and the smartest managers will prevail.

Superintendent Designed System
Golf Course Satisfaction Survey, Guideline for Golf Course Standards and Zero-Based Budgeting System has been refined and redesigned by me to take the guesswork and complexities out of membership satisfaction and budgeting for golf course maintenance. As a McMahon Group staff member and system designer I can bring your golf operation up-to-speed before budget time. Call me at (800) 365-2498. Your yearly savings will more than pay for the program, guaranteed.

Michael is head of McMahon Group's Golf Division. He consults with private clubs on Turf Care Center Master Plans, Existing Conditions Reports, Golf Course Asset Reserve Studies, Golf Irrigation System Audits/Studies and Zero Based Budgeting.

Mike has 28 years of golf course construction and maintenance experience, serving 26 years as a Golf Course Superintendent. He also served as a General Manager at a private club in Illinois.

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