Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Five Essential Steps in Successful Turf Care Center Planning

By Michael Vogt, CGCS, CGIA

When is it obvious that existing facilities are deficient?

Several symptoms of an inadequate Turf Care Center:
• Front-line equipment parked outdoors
• Maintenance items beginning to overflow from storage areas
• Staff areas can no longer or never could accommodate training sessions or mid-day meal breaks
• Administration areas can no longer accommodate files, computers or daily routine tasks
• Expensive preventative equipment maintenance parts and accessories have no dedicated storage areas
• Chemical and fertilizer storage areas are becoming environmental concerns
• Each day your staff moves equipment out of the way to get to equipment needed for the daily job tasks

The above are just several examples of aging and inefficient Turf Care Centers. The issue of change begins with a solid Turf Care Center Master Plan.

When Should You Begin the Planning Process?
You should get the planning process moving forward as soon as one year to as much as five years before construction. Allow as much preplanning time as possible. With more planning time, more of the questions can be asked and problems solved before actual planning begins. The planning process with the planner and client can often take four to six months.

Step One: Green Committee or Owner Input
Plan a tour of the Turf Care Center with select Green Committee members or the golf course owner. Openly discuss the strengths and weakness of their current facility with an eye focused on safety, equipment storage problems and size of staff areas. These three topics will in part be the basis of an initial needs assessment. I am sure every superintendent would like to increase staff efficiencies at the Turf Care Center, with more time spent on the golf course. Equipment storage and employee safety, along with proper circulation and traffic flow, can dramatically increase production time for the maintenance staff.

At this stage of the process you do not need to have all of the answers, just a conceptual idea of what would be needed to help solve the major problems at your Turf Care Center. After the tour of the Turf Care Center an open discussion of needs and an initial visit by the Planning Consultant should be the primary first step. With an unbiased view of the

Turf Care Center, the Planning Consultant can assess particular needs based on the Golf Course Superintendent’s unique management challenges. The ultimate goals for the Turf Care Center can be expressed to the consultant.

The Turf Care Center Planning Consultant should be a team member of experienced and trained design professionals that can assess your ultimate goals and supply an architectural solution for the Turf Care Center.
Step Two: Assessment of Empirical Data
After the initial visit with the Planning Consultant, the task of gathering data on the unique golf maintenance issues the superintendent faces is compiled into a report on the Existing Conditions. This report normally uncovers many obstacles that are apparent as well as some items that are not. While the superintendent is the key management facilitator on golf course issues, building and facility issues may be specific and apparent to design professionals that specialize in Turf Care Centers. The issues that may seem insignificant at first can have dramatic ramifications later in the design stage. With the initial visit, the Turf Care Center Planning Consultant will take photographs and study traffic and work patterns of the golf maintenance team. With the investigative information gathered, the assembly of site data can be recorded for planning use.

Step Three: Development of the Turf Care Center Master Plan
With the Turf Care Center on-site visit complete, preliminary site plan and floor plans are developed for the Master Plan. The following issues are considered:
• Safety
• Security
• Labor savings
• Proper equipment storage
• Co-worker comfort
• Environmental impact
• New technology
• Appropriate square footage requirements

After the above topics are considered, the Turf Care Center Planning Consultant prepares the Master Plan with an Opinion of Probable Cost. A meeting with all parties is held to explain the plan.

After the Master Plan concepts are approved, a final conceptual site plan and floor plans are completed. These documents will be the basis of the final presentation to the club’s Board of Directors, or to the Owner if that’s the case.

Master Plan drawings are not construction drawings; they are conceptual but adhere to an accurate scale. The Master Plan is a tool to communicate and to give a focus and direction, so the Turf Care Center Master Plan can be given to the local architect or design-build contractor.

The goals of the Master Planning process are to:
• Understand the space relationship of buildings to site
• Communicate long range vision to owners and committees
• Structure a strategic, logical progression of improvements
• Communicate building needs to other design and building professionals
• Create reasonable budget figures for finance proposes
• Get project designed and built on time, and on budget

Step Four: Selecting the Final Design / Construction Team
With the Turf Care Center Master Plan approved it’s time to select the final design and construction team. The Master Plan will guide the local architect or design-build contractor through the final construction plans to prepare pricing. The Turf Care Center Planning Consultant will be of assistance in selecting qualified professionals to design and build the project.

The Turf Care Center and the building components associated with it are very unique. The use of the Turf Care Center Planning Consultant provides the necessary expertise to plan correctly. The superintendent’s participation is paramount during the planning and design stages of the process. The club’s architect or design - build contractor should be responsible for monitoring workers, reviewing progress and issuing payment requests based on progress of the project. Although the golf course superintendent may be familiar with construction, the many components involved in construction management are a full time position. The superintendent should act as the owners / members representative, but should not be the project manager.

Step Five: Construction and Occupancy
With the heavy lifting of construction, document preparation and contractor bidding completed, the construction process can be started. Zoning and local planning officials should have checked off on the project, and environmental issues should have been resolved. A construction team should have its critical path on construction, inclusive of the time schedule. Once a building permit has been secured the project can start. Whether using the design - build option or a more traditional architect and construction contractor, items of monitoring are:
• Insurance certificates
• Weekly construction site meetings
• Change orders
• Accident reports
• Meeting minutes
• Costs and payment requests
• Departures from budget
• Local building inspections
• Disruption of golf course maintenance

Five areas of advice that should be considered a successful project are:
• Try to avoid using members for the project itself.
• Have a club member who has relevant construction experience oversee (or be on the committee of) the project.
• Always hire professional planners, architects and construction firms with relevant experience.
• Budget adequate funds to complete the project with adequate contingency.
• Do not allow the golf course superintendent to manage the Turf Care Center building project. The superintendent has a golf course to maintain and doubling up his / her responsibilities will cause problems.

When the construction is complete, occupancy of the building can take place. With well thought and executed Turf Care Center Master Planning, the guesswork and many of the inherent problems with construction and renovation can be averted. The decisions made in the early stages of planning are critical to the ultimate success of the project. A team specializing in Turf Care Center Planning brings in a wealth of knowledge from many prior experiences and solid design concepts.

Monday, September 28, 2009

You’re Point of View

By Michael Vogt, CGCS

When Patti La Belle sang "I tidied up my point of view--I got a new attitude," she probably wasn't thinking private club golfer "new attitude". But we ought to think about it.

My posts often mentioned the importance of maintaining a line of communication with the membership. The club memberships’ “attitude" of you, your staff and the golf course in general are important topics for the golf course superintendent to keep abreast of. In approaching the subject of golf course conditioning from the perspective of the club’s golfers, emphasizing what they want or need should be common knowledge to any golf course superintendent. It's more than a matter of playing with height-of-cut or planting flowers around the clubhouse or even major projects. In all business it’s paramount to deliver the best of products and services based on clients desires. The membership’s wants and desires are not necessarily what you imagine are correct. It's good business to recognize what the customer wants.

Back to your point of view

It’s easy to think you know what’s best for the club based on your point of view, by putting yourself in the golfer’s place and supplying the kind of conditions that you perceive are appropriate. Even the well connected superintendent may be missing the message on conditioning and projects needed or wanted by the membership. Are these messages communicated to you by the vocal minority, or select members of a club committee, or perhaps by an otherwise well intended manager or golf professional?

Consider a survey; a complete golf survey can add direction and complete or accomplish tasks that you may not even consider.

When conducting a survey don't make your message all about "me" or "us". If you're trying to uncover what your membership wants, emphasize what's in it for them. We must understand we are in the business of satisfaction. Our unique McMahon Group surveys always point out that Very Satisfied Members are more likely to have a loyal and a close connection with their club. These members also use their clubs more often and spend appreciably more and tend to bring guests more often. The management staff’s goal is a Very Satisfied Member.

Death of a career

I recently received a call that shows a marked insensitivity to the "you attitude":

A superintendent worked diligently to accomplish many goals for a club. Renovations, increased quality of turf conditions, a more stable, highly trained maintenance staff, all things seemed to be moving in the right direction.

One thing the superintendent mentioned was that he had communication problems with select members of the committee and several long time members. These problems began to increase and without intervention became a battle of personalities. As time went on members began to think the superintendent was not responsive the needs of the membership as a whole. This superintendent was highly skilled at all things agronomic and had a great grasp of fine tournament golf conditions. Golf course condition had never been better but after several years the superintendent was ask to resign.

If a survey was administered, I feel it would have pointed out what the membership wanted and needed. The survey would have either repositioned the club’s long range plan or confirmed the superintendent was on the right track. Left to rumors and innuendo the membership increasingly began to suppose the superintendent had his own agenda for the club.

Ask yourself, “What can I, the superintendent do for YOU the member?” Without a golf course survey to map out a direction you most likely will never arrive at the final destination. Flowers at the entrance to the ladies locker room may be a concern you have overlooked.

Furthermore, a survey reinforces your commitment to membership satisfaction. A membership that feels they contribute to the successes of the club is more engaged and more satisfied. Remember, Very Satisfied Members are your ultimate goal.

The knee jerk

How many times have you been asked to remedy a situation or problem that all of the sudden became number one on your list of priorities? With the tendency to solve these problems quickly an inordinate amount of resources need to be allocated to this emergency issue at hand. These knee jerk problems neither may nor seem important to you but perhaps someone thinks they are. Would a comprehensive membership survey point to these number one issues before they become immediate must respond situations?

The big project sell

As a former golf course superintendent I can look back on my career and site several different opportunities that should have begun with a club survey to either strengthen my position or plans for the golf course’s future. One example was a new irrigation system; it took four years to sell a new irrigation system to the club membership. After most club members realized the old quick couplers could never deliver the quality of turf that nearby country clubs offered a new system was slated for the following year. A well drafted survey could have shorted the curve on approval, I am certain of it!

Sand bunkers, cart paths, golf course restrooms, irrigation systems, drainage and turf care centers are all big ticket items that are difficult to “sell” to memberships. These aforementioned items are the most sited when a golf survey is completed. If golf superintendents need a resource to help acquire needed capital to keep the golf course in excellent condition and accomplish Very Satisfied Members a survey is just the tool to expose a need and solution exists.

The club’s participation in a golf course survey might just surprise you. Most clubs that conduct a golf course survey are so amazed at the participation rate the club elects to conduct surveys at regular intervals to engage members on their most important asset, the golf course.

The process

• Find the issues, (focus groups)
• Ask the right questions
• Be Specific
• Be statically accurate
• Keep it simple
• Ask several “Open Ended Questions”
• Use a combination of Paper and Online formats for highest returns
• Share the results as soon as possible
• Make changes based on results

Remember, the entire staff’s goal is a "You Attitude" or a Very Satisfied Member.

If you need more information on the survey process email me at .

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Self-Evaluation Checklist for Golf Course Chemical / Fuel Storage and Safety

By Michael Vogt, CGCS

Below is an honest and good evaluation tool to assess your golf maintenance facility’s chemical mix, load and storage capabilities. Fuel storage issues are also addressed in this evaluation tool.

You can download by clicking on the scribd icon at the top left of the page and download or print the checklist. If you care just to read the checklist, click on the page icon on the top right and increase size to suit your needs.

Maintenance Facility Checklist PDF

Friday, September 4, 2009

Private Club Strategic Planning

By Michael D. Vogt, CGCS

Charles F. Kettering, American inventor and the holder of over 300 U.S. patents once said, “My interest is in the future because I am going to spend the rest of my life there.”

At the foundation of most Private Club Strategic Plans there rests a simple question, “Where do we want our club to be in five years, and what must we do, and when must we do it, to get there?”

The question is a great one. The answer will have all the attributes of a sound objective. Asking, “Where do we want our club to be in five years?” entices us to paint a picture of what we want to achieve. We can call this picture our “Vision” or “Vision Statement”; in either case it creates a goal worthy of our attention.

Since these achievements don’t happen by accident, “What must we do, and when must we do it, to get there?” outlines our footsteps towards a rudimentary project plan. Since we know what we want to achieve, we now define the “what” and the “when” of our “To Do” list for the next few years.

Most strategic planners would agree that this question lies at the core of the planning process. It is certainly the most common approach, and while oftentimes the objectives we choose are overly simplistic, even ambiguous i.e., “We want to be the leader in private club golf and social membership in our local metro area”; they provide something to work towards.

And that’s the underlining issue. Unless the next problem is addressed by some hidden assumption, this type of planning cannot succeed other than by luck, no matter how much effort is put into that club’s long range project plan.

Here’s the problematic obstacle, we cannot answer the question, “Where do we want our club to be in five years?”, unless we first answer a bigger and more complex question, “Where will the World be in five years?”

The National Golf Foundation recently recommended that, “The development of a strategic plan is a must. Too many clubs operate without one.” “The strategic plan should include a financial forecast that takes into account realistic member attraction and retention goals, a schedule of capital improvements, projected initiation and dues levels and more.” [1]

In a recent McMahon Group survey when comparing spending on golf course capital, not including equipment, 45% of 226 clubs surveyed responded that the club spent between $50,000 and $200,000 annually.[2] However, clubs reported only 42% have a formal written strategic plan in place. Likewise, 41% of clubs report a current mission statement, where only 1% of those same clubs had a vision statement. [3] There exists a disconnect between plans, visions and dollars.

Fabricating a Strategic Plan is like running to catch a football; you don’t go to where it is now, but to where it will be, when the football finally arrives at its indented target.

Have we stated the obvious? Of course we did. Yet most Strategic Plans make no attempt to determine where the World will be, they plan as if the World stands still in time, when in reality it is sprinting off in some unknown direction under the influence of politics, robust and poor economies, demographic trends, diminishing resources, new opportunities, aging populations, shifting alliances and a thousand other trivial and monumental forces.

If we do try to target the future, we plan for it based upon our understanding of the past. Club memberships have been unchanged for the last seven years, so we will plan for zero growth in the coming years.

New developments, or Future Unknowns, can erase all credibility from this type of reasoning. A classic example is the development of digital photography and the ease of production via computer. Now photographs are shared and manipulated over the Internet, this technology eroded the relevance of all consumer film cameras and historical sales figures for the film and camera industry.

However, our real problem remains, that is answering the question, “Where will the World be in five years?” this is the challenge… as Yogi Berra, the great philosopher and baseball player said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” Even if we choose to ignore them, there are developments we know will affect us in the future.

Here are a few worthy of consideration:The Collapse of Constraints: (Moore’s Law[4])
Computer and telecommunication technology is going to get more powerful, faster, cheaper, more reliable, more accessible, and smaller, operate cooler, better, more convenient and user friendly. In the past 15 years we have witnessed this trend in golf course irrigation control systems to a great extent.

The Implications?
What technologies would you like to implement in your organization today, but can’t because of some limitation? Chances are that within the next five years, the natural advance of technology will collapse some of those constraints. Then what?

Here are some reminders from our recent past, imminent future, their impact and possible implications:

Club Manager → General Manager → COO?
Lifestyle Shift → Declining Golf Participation → Changing Club Business Model?
Golf Course Management →Improved Science → Better Course Conditions → Water?
Ageing Private Clubs → Strategic Plans →Facility Updates and Improvements?
Educated/Professional Club Staff → Higher Salaries → Pay Equals Performance?
Golf Equipment Technology → Longer Yardage Golf Courses → Over-Priced Golf?

An off topic question we might ask ourselves, “Which solutions implemented a decade ago, are the wrong solutions considering current technology?” (One answer - Web TV, even Bill Gates gets it wrong sometimes)

The Passage of Time (Demographics)We’re getting older… all of us, soon the elderly will outnumber the young.

The Implications?
No secret here, as we get older we change in predictable ways. How do you differ from your parents? Imagine their buying habits and lifestyle rolled out today as the norm. Imagine the bulk of marketing targeted at something other than teenage tastes, how does that affect your business… more importantly, the business of your members.

New Markets; New Competitors (The Third World is no Longer Third)
China, India, Russia, Middle East, all new global players with emerging resources and technology.
The Implications?
According to some statistics, United States of America makes up 5% of the world population and consumes 30% of the world resources. Imagine a new nation (or two), with the buying power, consumption, resources and production capability of 5 or 10 USAs. Therefore; can you imagine the future where these new super-power nations do NOT affect your business? Are the United States of America and specifically the private club business insulated from world change?

Resources, such as power, raw materials, oil, technology, value of currency and even water will become limited in supply when other countries compete for markets and resources. Efficient end users will be in a position to succeed, this much we know. The “GREEN” movement by all measures is not a 21st century fad; it’s a long term societal fact!

Declining Memberships and Club Participation
Disposable income has an effect on private clubs. After all monthly monetary obligations are met the member or perspective member allots time and resources for recreation based on their feeling of security with regards to disposable income. Even in bleak economies people look for the best value, this is where continued club improvement, vision and a strong strategic will pay dividends.
The chart above illustrates America’s disposable income as a percentage of total income. Generally speaking, private golf enjoys a robust business in years that disposable income increases as a percent. The past 25 years have experienced several quarters that have shown at or near 0% disposable income. We have learned a rebound always follows a decline in disposable income. Planning for the rebound will position clubs to be at their most competitive when disposable income is available. Banks are offering very low-cost money to invest in facility renovation and upgrades with interest rates at 25 year lows.

These are just several of the many developments you might choose to incorporate into your club’s strategic plan. Which ones do you factor into your planning? That depends on how far you choose to cast your attention. What could provide a threat or opportunity to your business? Or are you convinced that tomorrow is just today, plus another day?

How exactly do you factor in these future forces? There are no easy answers, yet there are lots of different approaches, tools and methodologies; from, ‘What If’ sessions to more involved Visionary Brainstorming (Club Board and/or Management Retreats). The goal is not to do the impossible, we cannot predict with great accuracy what tomorrow will bring, but we can get a sense of what tomorrow might have in store for us and put together a Long Range Strategic Plan which will perform well against a handful of likely future possibilities. Private clubs today need to have a tool box for construction of the vision and strategic plan.

The tools needed are:

Current Existing Conditions Report
Without the existing condition of the property and components it is very difficult to formulate any type of plan for improvement or replacement.

Asset Reserve Study
As the club’s assets require replacement the plan can take into account a refurbishment and replacement strategy and funding to accomplish these goals.

Survey the Membership
Examples of topics that require answers can be. What is the purpose of the club today and in the future? Do members agree with the existing vision statements? What are member priorities with respect to potential facility improvements in the long and short term? Are members willing to support potential improvements from a financial standpoint?

The ultimate value of any survey is not just a quantity of collected information. The real value is the understanding of the survey results. A survey company that specializes in clubs has the accumulated data from many past club surveys. A large database of information helps to interpret the specific data into meaningful club membership desires and future direction of club goals.

The Proper Information
Now that the club has accumulated the current conditions, the expected life of the clubs components, quality and quantity of all assets and the wishes of the membership, the club now possess the tool box for assembling the vision and long range strategic plan.

“Where will the World be in five years?” We certainly know that the business model for private clubs will not remain the same. The recent growth of private clubs worldwide in countries never before imagined has grown by incredible proportions. By studying these examples we can certainly learn valuable lessons on future trends to assist our clubs to be forward-thinking and proactive to change.

“What must we do and when must we do it to get there?” The question is still a daunting one even equipped with the tools and membership consensus and desires. The future will reward those that make efforts to prognosticate based on gathering and digesting of high quality information and future needs. We can not all be blessed with the talents of Nostradamus but equipped with the proper tools we can travel into the future with a well crafted vision and plan.

No matter how we factor them in, the sooner we do it the better. Visions, Vision Statements, Long Range Strategic Plans are ethereal, living, evolving ideologies by virtue of these attributes; these visionary statements and strategic plans must be updated on regular basis. As the quote at the start suggested, we’re going to live in the future; we might as well plan and look forward to it.

Michael Vogt, CGCS, CGIA, is a Golf Course Consultant for McMahon Group. He can be contacted at 800-365-2498 or .

[1] National Golf Foundation, The Future of Private Golf Clubs in America, By Joseph Beditz Ph. D. and James Kass, 2008[2] McMahon Group, Inc., 2008 Private Club Industry Survey, Sports and Recreation Operations
[3] McMahon Group, Inc., 2008 Strategic Planning Private Club Marketing Survey[4] Moore's law describes a long-term trend in the history of computing hardware. Since the invention of the integrated circuit in 1958, the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit has increased exponentially, doubling approximately every two years. The trend was first observed by Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore in a 1965 paper. Moore's law describes this driving force of technological and social change in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
[5] National Economic Trends, December, 2008, The Federal Reserve Bank, Saint Louis, Missouri[6] National Economic Trends, December, 2008, The Federal Reserve Bank, Saint Louis, Missouri

Real Stimulus in Your Community

By Michael Vogt, CGCS

How about after National Healthcare, Cap and Trade, Cash for Clunkers, First Time Home Buyers Incentives, Energy Tax Credits, and other stimulus and redistribution of (wealth) tax dollars, we the people get behind a government program like:

Green-Backs for Golf, Millions for Members, Credits for Clubs or my favorite, the acronym; B.U.C.K.S:

Un-Taxed Cash

The B.U.C.K.S program will be more of a success and much easier to administer than Medicare, Medicaid or Cash for Clunkers. I would envision the program to go something like this. All private club members will receive an initiation and dues credit for three years. A dollar-for-dollar credit against their federal taxes to stimulate the golf and country club business, we all know what impact golf has on the local economies. The tax code is large and clunky anyway, congress doesn’t mind adding a few more pages to the IRS code (they do it every year).
By the way, if you go to the US Government Printing Office ( ), you can order a complete set of Title 26 of the US Code of Federal Regulations (that's the part written by the IRS), all twenty volumes of it, at the bargain price of $974, shipping included.
According to the US Government Printing Office, it's 13,458 pages in total. The full text of Title 26 of the United States Code (the part written by Congress--available for an additional $179) is a mere 3,387 printed pages, bringing the adjusted gross page count to 16,845, but I digress.
Clubs employ hundreds of thousands of people nationwide, purchase goods and services to support golf courses, restaurants, buildings and above all conduct business on the highest of levels while engaging in the wonderful sport of golf. Like minded members get together and solve problems on topics that have meaning on the local community level.
Club members are normally the top wage earners in the community, taxes levied on the top 5% of wager earners in the U.S. accounts for 57% of the nation’s income; they deserve a break!
As an example; there are 4398 private clubs in the United States[1], if each club spends an average of $1,800,000 per year on operations [2]and an additional $1,000,000 in capital per year that’s a staggering $12,314,400,000.00. When this money is spent in the local community it is presumed that the dollar changes hands 9 times; that’s $110,829,600,000.00 national impact on local communities thanks to private club memberships. This program will have less of an impact on the taxpayer, more of an impact on local communities.

What do you think about the new B.U.C.K.S. program?

[1] National Golf Foundation, Golf Facilities in the U.S. 2009
[2] National Golf Foundation, Operating & Financial Performance Profiles of 18-Hole Golf Facilities in the U.S., 2006 Edition