Friday, May 22, 2009

Golf Course Irrigation Water

Michael D. Vogt, CGCS, CGIA
McMahon Group, Inc.

Turfgrass has a dramatic impact on life in the United States. According to the Irrigation Association, “There are over 50 million acres of turfgrass in the United States with an estimated annual value of $40 billon. The annual value of turfgrass is greater than the value of America's corn and soybean crops combined.” With the onset of the devastating drought and government imposed restrictions on water use in the southeast United States last year the golf industry is asking the question of, “How long will the water last?”

The topic of water and its relationship to golf is so inseparable that the United States Golf Association has spent 18 million dollars in university grants to develop new turf varieties that use less water and still provide suitable playing surfaces for the game.

Golf course irrigation is estimated to use more than 476 billion gallons of water annually in the
United States. Water consumption is highest in the southwest, with a reported average use of 88 million gallons annually per course. The Irrigation Association reports that of all fresh water used in the United States for the purpose of irrigation, 79.6 percent is in agriculture, 2.9 percent is in landscape, and golf courses consume 1.5 percent. The remaining 16 percent is consumed by humans, animals, or industry.

These figures can be misleading as to the significant role of water used in golf course irrigation. Many golf courses located in urban areas use potable water supplies for irrigation. This water is highly treated and very expensive. The reduction of use of these potable water sources can provide great cost savings as well as benefits the local population.

Recent news headlines have been highlighting drought conditions throughout the United States. Andrew K. Smith, external affairs director for the Irrigation Association said about localized drought conditions throughout the southeast United States, “They weren’t ready up front. When you have to deal with these things after the fact, you have a problem.” Georgia’s Governor, Sonny Perdue declared a state of emergency October 20th, for the northern third of the state of Georgia and asked President Bush to declare it a major disaster area. Not only has Georgia struggled with the drought crisis, neighboring states that depend on water from Georgia’s Lake Lanier have felt the severe stain form months of below normal rainfall. More than a quarter of the Southeast United States is covered by an "exceptional" drought — the National Weather Service's worst drought category. The Atlanta area, with a population of 5 million, is smack in the middle of the affected region, which encompasses most of Tennessee, Alabama and the northern half of Georgia, as well as parts of North and South Carolina, Kentucky and Virginia.
The following is the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America’s position statement on water use:

“Golf course superintendents are responsible stewards of water resources. GCSAA supports collaboration with all levels of government to address water use and quality issues and for golf course superintendents to be involved in the construction of productive public policy related to water issues. GCSAA supports the use of reclaimed, effluent or other non-potable water for golf course irrigation when the water quality is suitable for plant growth and there are no public health implications. GCSAA does not support mandated use of reclaimed water when the water quality or water quantity is not adequate, when use is not cost effective or when the golf course superintendent does not play a key role in the decision-making process for the development of effluent water standards. GCSAA supports water conservation and the utilization of irrigation/water use BMPs.”

What the GCSAA is effectively saying hear is; that the association supports the role of the superintendent as a steward of the environment and as good environmental stewards the superintendents should prescribe to water conservation and the best management practices associated with water conservation.

Water sources for turfgrass irrigation have already come under-fire from activist groups and even local and state governments. Watering bans have had impacts on lawns, landscapes, and golf courses where just years ago were thought to have ample sources of good quality water for a variety of recreational and aesthetic uses. The fact of the matter is that food, drinking water, and sanitation will always be the most important use for the most valuable resource, good quality water.

In an effort to begin saving and measuring amounts of valuable water resources on golf courses a study was preformed by the Center for Irrigation Technology (CIT). The CIT studied 5 separate 18-hole private golf courses, with irrigation systems ranging in age from 10 – 17 years old. Distribution Uniformity (DU) was measured at each golf course, it was determined that a change in sprinkler nozzles would increase efficiency on all 5 test cases. To measure DU, a test was preformed, that is a placement of graduated containers in a measured grid on an irrigated area. The amount of water caught in each container is measured. The calculation requires ranking the containers values from highest to lowest, with the value of the lowest 25% divided by the overall average of the graduated containers. The calculation is expressed as DULQ which indicates the calculation is based on the low quarter or the lowest 25% of the containers. A DU of 100% would indicate perfect uniformity (not achievable in the field).

According to the Irrigation Association’s Certified Golf Irrigation Auditor manual, rotary sprinkler DU is listed in 3 categories, with 80% considered excellent (achievable), 70% good (expected), and 55% or less considered poor. It stands to reason that the lower the DU the longer the irrigation head or heads have to run to achieve uniformity at the worst area or coverage. All of these test golf courses retro-fit new nozzles into the sprinkler heads on the golf course.

These are the comments by the golf course superintendents after the sprinkler nozzle retro-fit:

“Dry spots and wet spots are much less numerous”
“We are able to run sprinkler heads longer without puddling”
“Turf areas had many donuts throughout the course. The new nozzles evenly distributed the water, reducing and eliminating this issue on my golf course.”
“After installing the new nozzles I was able to reduce the ET (evapotranspiration) demand 5% lower than the previous year.”
“Significantly improved coverage”
“Less water around head, less disruption of head position with mud and mess.”
“Better performance in higher elevation pressure sensitive areas”
“Well worth the investment.”
“It has reduced our hand-watering requirements, perhaps saving around $8,000 per year.”
“Absolutely would recommend the (nozzle) change given a similar situation.”

Not all superintendents were able to document a net savings in water and energy, but all 5 superintendents did see improvements in turfgrass quality and better water distribution. According to the CIT study the basic lessons learned are:

· It is very important to know the distribution uniformity of your existing irrigation system.

· If improvement is warranted (based on the irrigation audit), then evaluate the numerous options available. These options include, but are not limited to, pressure changes, sprinkler changes, spacing changes, and/or nozzle changes.

· It is highly recommended that the superintendent seek out professional consultation in selecting the correct replacement nozzles, as simply replacing nozzles may not achieve the desired results.

As responsible users of our water resources we are in a position to be proactive. Taking steps now to evaluate your golf course’s irrigation system will reinforce your commitment to wise use of this finite natural resource. A golf irrigation audit will often uncover inefficiencies that can be corrected with simple maintenance practices. For example; a sprinkler nozzle is a simple and low cost remedy to distribution inefficiencies. If a superintendent acquired irrigation audit results leading to nozzle replacement and sprinkler head alignment as a leading factor in distribution problems the cost per head would be about $10.00 plus $8.00 labor. Assuming the golf course has 800 sprinkler heads, which equates to a retro-fit cost of $14,400. Adjusting for the increased efficiencies in distribution a golf course will often save irrigation run time and eliminate costly repairs associated with over-watering wet spots. Appling enough water to dry areas to keep turf green and healthy often leads to over-watering adjacent turf areas causing waterlogged conditions. Increases in turf playability and turf health can be difficult to measure, but be assured your regular player will notice that the puddles in the landing area of number 13 fairway have disappeared, he doesn’t necessarily know why, he just likes the extra roll, and now the ball sits-up to accept his perfectly executed shot.

Savings in energy and water alone will often justify the expenses, for example:

· The average U.S. golf course uses 51,000,000 gallons of water annually (157 Acre Feet).

· Let’s assume an acre foot of water (325,851 Gallons) cost $360 to deliver, (U.S. average energy and water cost) $56,520, per year.

· By increasing golf course watering efficiencies by 13% (the average yield of a nozzle retro-fit and head adjustment) a slightly greater than a 2 year payback can be realized, that does not take into consideration the improved playing conditions and repair of traffic ruts, soil compaction, and reduced turf density on over-watered areas.

Another Case study examines the irrigation system in a more graphical way, a golf course superintendent’s irrigation system, after retro-fit and head alignment, increased Distribution Uniformity from 60% to 70%. The turfgrass plants require 15.6 inches of water per year. Because of inefficiencies, the superintendent needed to apply 20.59 inches to be able to supply that turf with the poorest uniformity the needed 15.6 inches of water. If irrigation system uniformity can be increased only by 10% the superintendent will only have to apply 19 inches of water per year. It requires 27,154 gallons of water to cover one acre with one inch

If this golf course must purchase water for irrigation, here is an example of water purchase savings. Let’s assume that water is billed per unit, with a unit consisting of 1000 gallons. Divide 4.2 million gallons by 1000, the product is 4,236 units. At $1.40 per unit, a 10% increase in efficiency would yield a yearly savings of $5930.40.

The savings does not stop at water alone, if the pump station operates at 1000 gallons per minute, not pumping 4.24 million gallons of water would translate to a yearly hourly savings of 70 hours. With pump station average life expectancy of 15 years, that’s a savings of 1050 hours, that savings is near 132 days of pump station operation. The average 18-hole golf course in the north-east and mid-west areas of the United States, this savings can equate to one free year of pump station operation!

The cost savings alone should be justification enough to audit your golf course irrigation system, but there is the most important reason, it’s the right thing to do. By being a wise consumer of water, you as a responsible manager of our resources telegraph a message to government and community that golf cares about our valuable resources. If golf as an industry and a community professes to be stewards of the environment, our stewardship should begin by wisely using our limited resources to the best of our ability.

Golf course superintendents are some of the best water management professionals in the “Green Industry”. Be assured that in the no-to-distant future golf courses will be regulated with some type of water budget. The following is a checklist of Best Management Practices (BMP) for irrigation system use and maintenance:

· Irrigate to a depth just below active rooting.

· Observe irrigation system pump station for pressure and flow, compare with design parameters.

· Sloped areas and compacted soils will need to be irrigated in short, frequent intervals.

· Periodically test the irrigation system to make sure it is producing an acceptable level of uniformity (DU).

· Use ET modeling to establish baseline irrigation programs.

· Have frequent system checks for sprinkler head rotation, leaks, level head-to-surface adjustment and arc adjustment.

· Have a written plan or protocol for limited water use or water restrictions in your area.

Carry a soil probe to examine soil moisture at root depth.

· Know how much water you use!

At McMahon Group we now offer this valuable golf course irrigation audit by an Irrigation Association trained and certified auditor. We, at McMahon Group do not have any affiliation with golf irrigation products or companies that supply golf irrigation. We audit your irrigation system from an unbiased position and recommend money saving and better playing conditions without regard to irrigation companies.

For more information on how a golf course irrigation audit can improve turf conditions and save valuable water resources and operational expense call or e mail, Michael Vogt, CGCS, CGIA, at McMahon Group.

Irrigation audits are valuable tools to fine tune your golf course irrigation system and demonstrate that your management efforts are aimed at conservation and environmental responsibility.

Protecting the Golf Course: Funding It's Future

Michael D. Vogt, CGCS, CGIA, McMahon Group, Inc.

When assembling a long-range plan for properly funding capital projects on the golf course, a club manager, superintendent, and green committee should know when the funds will be required. A sound plan must provide the appropriate amount of funds to meet the needs of each golf course component, feature, or piece of equipment. A stable contribution to a fund that supports capital replacement will guard against the diminishing of the long-term and short-term assets for the golf course. A funding plan should not very wildly from year to year; it is recommended that funding a capital replacement plan be done on a monthly allocated basis to avoid large sudden expenditures that upset a club’s normal cash flow. A reserve study for golf asset replacement is good business and makes good sense.

A Golf Reserve Study consists of two parts, one: Physical Analysis (visual inspection by a course maintenance expert) that result in a comprehensive inventory of design / equipment elements and a prioritized schedule of future replacement costs; and two: The Financial Analysis that recommends a minimum and stable level of funding into a reserve account over the next 15 to 20 years, so your club has the money for capital projects when it is needed. The well executed Golf Reserve Study becomes the basis of your long-range financial plan to provide continuity and dependability for maintaining a high quality course for years to come.
The Process is to accumulate the raw data needed to evaluate your unique golf course operation. Generally, an inventory of all golf assets is developed with appropriate age and condition information, ranging from all golf facilities, buildings, irrigation systems, down to all maintenance equipment. The inventory and condition data is digested into useful tables identifying dates of purchase / construction and original costs.

A Golf Reserve Study is formulated in an easy to use understandable narrative about property conditions, recommended cost saving methods and normal times of replacements. The reserve study is specifically tailored to your club’s goals and objectives and becomes the centerpiece of your long-range golf strategic plan.

The Golf Reserve Study clearly identifies long-term assets and near term replacements, adequate and actual funding for future repairs and replacements, normal routine maintenance, life cycle capital replacements, etc. On-site visual inspection and historical analysis of each property / equipment component determines theoretical useful lives and accurately measures remaining useful lives. A narrative explains the best practice method for:

1. Capital repairs
2. Partial or phased replacement
3. Complete replacement

The goal is to save money and help you with a realistic plan for future capital spending to maintain a consistent, stable financial capital improvement plan, and to assure a good capital improvement environment for years to come.

Two Funding Methods
Cash Flow Funding Verses Component Funding

To protect the appearance, value, playability, and safety of a golf course property, it is essential that the management have a financial plan that provides funding for the projected replacements. In years past, many public and private golf courses typically left the capital funding of assets to the best judgment of management, with private clubs funding capital projects from special assessments or initiation fees, in the public sector, taxpayers voted on bond issues from the municipality, and privately owned golf courses normally made due until funds could be allocated from revenue or in some cases institutional lending. Management of golf businesses in an effort to short-circuit these knee - jerk reactions to capital replacement needs, began funding a special account for asset replacement. In conformance with American Institute of Certified Public Accountant guidelines, Replacement Reserve Analysis evaluates the current funding of Replacement Reserves by two generally accepted accounting methods: the Cash Flow Method and the Component Method. In effect, this look into the future smoothed the highs and lows of asset replacement and made for a better maintained business model and renewed worn assets saving valuable cost of funds and increasing the quality of the product.

Cash Flow Method calculates Minimum Annual Funding of Replacement Reserves that will fund Project Replacements identified in the Replacement Reserve Inventory from a common pool of Replacement Reserves and prevent replacement Reserves from dropping below a Minimum Recommended Balance.

In this method, Minimum Annual Funding remains the same between peaks in cumulative expenditures called Peak Years. This is the preferred funding method for most asset reserve studies. This newer Cash Flow Funding Method provides adequate reserves without the requirement of carrying a large unused balance, thus reducing the annual contributions to the reserve fund. Under the Cash Flow Funding Method, the reserve fund is established as an aggregate pool of funds with no individual line item budgets. Funds set aside to adequately cover all reserve expenditures included in this pool are funded so the reserve pool never drops below zero.

Component Method is a time tested and very conservative funding model developed by Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in the early 1980’s. The Component Method treats each projected replacement in the Replacement Inventory as a separate account and deposits are made to each individual account, where funds are held for exclusive use by that item.
The Component Method overtime reveals some hidden drawbacks. Suppose an irrigation system for example is ten years old and was allocated no funding in the past. Based on a useful life of 30 years and a cost to replace of $1,000,000.00 we have missed 10 years of funding at $33,333.00. To catch – up the business would need to fund the irrigation system $50,000.00 per year to establish funds before our target date to replace. This accelerated funding has a result of becoming financially burdensome and in most cases will not be funded in full. This funding scenario will be especially pronounced at older clubs and golf courses that have not had a reserve funding plan in place.


At golf and country clubs today, the need for long-range golf course planning is paramount to each club’s success. While day-to-day golf course maintenance management is vital, the truly wise clubs have forward thinkers and have a plan for continuous improvement to the golf course and its associated buildings and equipment.

About the Author

Michael D. Vogt, CGCS, CGIA, is a Golf Facilities Consultant with McMahon Group. McMahon Group is a full-service private club consultancy serving golf and country clubs worldwide. Mr. Vogt can be reached at 800-365-2498 or visit .

Golf Maintenance Design Criteria

By Michael Vogt, CGCS, CGIA


During the past decade as the number of golf courses has continued to increase the number of golf rounds played have remained about the same. These new golf courses, public and private, all are capable of providing a quality golf experience. As a result of increase in the availability of golf, the challenge to existing golf course operators, and private clubs, is to continue to deliver a high quality golf experience and to effectively manage costs associated with the golf course. Delivering a quality golf experience ensures that a golf operation retains its loyal group of customers and supports the golf course’s goal of maintaining a positive revenue stream.

At the McMahon Group as we continue to work with different types of golf course operations we have seen the contribution that a well designed golf maintenance facility can make to the quality of a golf course. For private golf and country clubs golf is the number one reason an individual will decide to join a club. For a daily fee or municipal golf course the most important product is the condition of the course and practice facilities. Often players will discuss the speed of the greens, the condition of the fairways, bunkers and rough. During these discussions one golf course is often compared to another and that is typically where the decision to return to a golf course is made.

For the operator, loyal customers translate into an increase in rounds played, more golf shop sales, an increase in food and beverage sales, in short more revenue. However many times operators of golf courses (private country clubs, daily fee and municipal) do not consider the condition of the golf course as a competitive necessity and therefore do not engage in the necessary planning of the facilities that support the condition of the golf course, specifically the golf maintenance facility or turf care center.

Based on recent survey results private country clubs as well as daily fee operators can be expected to spend $35,000 to $78,000 per hole in golf maintenance dollars (these figures vary based on the region of the country). Typically these figures include payroll, supplies, employee taxes and benefits. In addition, daily fee, municipal and private clubs alike have made significant investments in maintenance equipment. For example, many clubs currently have well over one million dollars inventoried in equipment and related golf maintenance items needed for the smooth operation of the golf course and surrounding grounds. Regardless of the dollar amount a significant investment is made in the equipment and the facility that maintains the golf course and the adjacent property.

The Planning Process

A. A decision must be made

As with all organizations whether they are private country clubs, daily fee or municipal operators, the first priority is the golf course. The second priority is typically those areas that are highly noticeable to a club’s membership or the public, such as the clubhouse or other recreational facilities. The golf maintenance facility is often overlooked. The most important step in this process is the first. The leadership must reach consensus that something needs to be done.

A method that many country clubs, daily fee golf courses and municipal operations can employ is the use of a Strategic/Business Plan. This type of plan would accomplish the following; identification of the issues and clarification of the goals. The plan establishes a time line as to when the issue should be studied and a recommendation of a solution is proposed. Finally a person or group is assigned ownership of the task. The benefit is when a club or business creates a written record it is usually followed and most issues can be addressed before they become major problems.

B. Formation of a committee to analyze the issue.

The task of analyzing and studying the golf course’s maintenance facility is normally assigned either to the club’s Planning Committee, the Green Committee or an ad hoc Golf Planning Committee. Typically the task of reviewing the maintenance facility occurs in conjunction with a golf course improvement project. Ideally this committee is composed of past and present members of the Green Committee and the Board of Directors, who, in total represent every segment of the club’s membership. For technical expertise the committee may also include the club’s professional staff, specifically the golf course superintendent. Additionally, the committee should also include the appropriate specialists such as a golf course architect, and an environmental specialist. For those committees who are assigned the task of analyzing just the golf maintenance facility the participants within this group will change.

Once assembled the committee’s initial tasks are to study the condition of the existing maintenance facility and its infrastructure to determine the full scope of work needed in a master plan of improvements. From here an improvement plan for the maintenance facility can be developed with the issues prioritized. During the development of the plan the committee begins to develop probable cost estimates. These figures are reasonable costs of construction plus any contingency amounts. For example, cost overruns, and an estimate of the financial impact to the golf operation, etc.

One of this committee’s responsibilities is to communicate with the membership and other parties that are interested in the development of this project. In a private club environment space should be dedicated within the club’s newsletter for the Chairman of the Planning Committee or another officer of the club to provide periodic updates regarding the progress of the project.

For municipal and daily fee golf operations the manager/owner is the primary decision-maker regarding the project, consequently consensus is more easily achieved. Within this stream lined environment it is helpful to have experienced individuals available to assist with the development of the plan.

C. Developing a Financing Plan

In the private club environment developing financial options is the most critical success factor in cultivating membership support and approval for capital projects. Typically the most preferred methods of funding a capital improvement are: 1) a monthly capital dues increase 2) a non- refundable assessment 3) a refundable assessment and 4) cash flow from operations. Each funding method provides the club and membership with advantages and disadvantages. What follows is a summary of these financing methods.

1. Monthly Capital Dues Increase: Using this alternative the club uses a capital dues increase to finance a loan. The advantage of this funding method is most members prefer a low monthly payment in lieu of a large one-time payment. A member is excused from future payments if he or she leaves the club. The disadvantage of this financing method is a loan will put a club in debt, and future member resignations could threaten a club’s finances.

To illustrate how a loan program is applied, a club borrows $1,000,000 to pay for a capital improvement. The loan interest rate is 6% fixed over a term of 10 years equating to an annual 13.33% principal and interest repayment cost. Monthly the club would be required to make a payment of $11,108 to support the loan. If a club had 400 members, each would be required to pay $27.77 per month. If a loan option is considered, a provision should be obtained to allow the loan to be repaid ahead of schedule.

2. Non-Refundable Assessments: Using this method the total project cost is divided equally among all golfing members and immediately paid. The advantage of this method is the project is immediately paid for. The disadvantage is it is the most unpopular method of securing funds with a membership due to the high initial cost, and it forces the current membership to pay most of the cost.

3. Refundable Assessment: The upfront assessment can be made more marketable to a membership if the club provides a refundable feature that becomes effective if a member leaves the club. It is recommended that the refundable amount be depreciated over the life of the project. For example, if a member were assessed $5,000 to fund a capital project, a depreciation schedule of 10% per year for 10 years might be used, therefore if a member left after five years the assessment balance he or she would be refunded would equal 50% of the original assessment amount ($2,500). Experience has shown the depreciation feature has little impact on gaining member approval for the project, but it will support the future financial profile of your club.

4. Cash flow from operations: At times private country clubs as well as daily fee and municipal operations will set aside a portion of their revenue in a “Capital Reserve Fund” which has been created for improvement projects. For a private clubs initiation fees or funds generated from a monthly capital fee is normally the source of this revenue. For the other types of operators a percentage of greens fee revenue may be set aside to fund capital projects. Ideally operating surpluses would be used to finance golf projects.

The important point is for the owner/operators to carefully monitor their cash flow from operations. The primary revenue source for municipal golf operations is tax revenue. As with private club’s it is important for a municipal operation to clearly explain the benefits to the taxpayers of the community.

The Use of a Consultant

At times it may be necessary to locate and use a third party to review the existing facility, provide recommendations, and prepare communications for a project related to the Golf Maintenance Facility. At the McMahon Group we offer two services to the golf course superintendent. One, which we visit your golf course maintenance facility, review the site and floor plans of the facility, conduct a needs analysis, review the golf course maintenance schedule and staffing levels then compare the facility itself to the strategic goals of the club/golf course. Along with this analysis a report will be generated to include an architectural solution as well as an opinion of probable cost, an outline of specifications and how to proceed with improvements. This process will identify the facilities shortcomings and propose a solution. The second service is less expensive but still requires a site visit. This product will review your golf course, staffing, golf maintenance facility site and building floor plans, conduct a needs analysis and provide a recommendation based on a review of the site and floor plans of the maintenance facility.

Golf Maintenance Facility Design and Sizing Criteria

Golf maintenance facility design should attempt to accomplish three primary objectives. The first objective is to provide a safe environment for the employees of the club and golf course. Second, to allow for optimal efficiency by the maintenance staff and third, the maintenance area should be designed in such a way that the risks to the immediate environment are reduced. Improper handling and disposal methods at a golf maintenance facility can create serious environmental problems and potentially expose members and owners to legal liabilities.

The golf maintenance area is where pesticides are handled, equipment and fuel are stored and where general equipment maintenance is conducted. It is essential that this facility is well conceived and organized; otherwise a club could be living with a maintenance facility that is wasteful, fails to address the needs of the golf operation and could expose the club to legal liabilities, which could include penalties and fines. What follows are the general sizing guidelines for golf maintenance facilities.

Determining the Facility Site:

A few planning issues to be considered when selecting a site for the golf course maintenance facility. For new and existing golf courses identification of the site is important to the design and efficiency of the facility. While some courses will attempt to centrally locate a maintenance facility within the course (see figure 1) other clubs do not have this option. Consequently the location of the maintenance facility is on the border of the club’s property sometimes next to a residential area. Regardless of the location the site should have enough space where good traffic circulation is ensured. When deciding on a location several key questions should be answered, such as:

- Does the proposed site provide enough space for a building(s) of the size you want? If the total space requirement of your facility is 12,000 square feet, a site that supports 8,000 square feet is unacceptable.
- Are there utilities nearby?
- Is there space on the site for fuel storage and dispensing?
- Are natural water sources (ponds and streams) nearby?
- Is there sufficient space for chemical, fertilizer storage, and equipment wash areas?
- Is there sufficient space on the site that allows for the primary structure, ancillary buildings and the delivery of golf course supplies, storage bins and waste gathering areas?
- Is there enough space on the site to provide employee parking?
- Ideally this facility provides a loading dock that is compatible for a forklift.
- What are the anticipated reactions from your neighbors?

In addition to the questions noted above, it is equally important to know if the site that is being considered is on a floodplain and is suitable for construction. At times this critical piece of information is overlooked and causes problems when the time comes to secure building permits. Other issues to consider: Is the area concealed from the golf course? This is usually a consideration when the quality aspects of the golf operation are reviewed. Whether or not the initial site analysis is favorable it is always advisable to have a secondary location in mind in case an unforeseen circumstance eliminates the first choice.

For maintenance facilities that care for more than 18-holes it is recommended that the floor space for each of the key areas be increased by 50%, with the exception of the administrative office spaces. For example a maintenance facility may have 8,000 square feet of space to store the club’s equipment. If this facility were required to maintain a total of 36-holes an additional 4,000 square feet should be secured for additional storage.

Building and Site Requirements:
In general a few planning guidelines should be considered when designing and building a golf maintenance facility. A total of 10,000 – 13,000 square feet should be allocated for the main structure. Within the primary structure administrative space, primary equipment storage, the mechanics area including a lift, parts storage, a grinding room, and possibly an irrigation storage room would be included. The chemical and fertilizer storage building(s) should be separate from the main building, construction materials of these buildings should be chosen based on local and federal codes designated for these uses. During the planning process and reviewing the operation of the site it is critical that all government requirements are verified (federal and local environmental guidelines, OSHA, etc) to ensure code compliance. Other planning characteristics include:

- The outside area should be paved (highway code) to support the delivery of equipment and supplies by large trucks and a paved area allows for the easier pick up of waste materials.
- Fuel Storage areas should be above ground (compliant with the EPA and OSHA).
- Outdoor covered storage bins for sand and soil.
- A greenhouse if it is feasible for your operation.
- Waste and dumpster areas. Consider excavating and paving a bay that puts the top of the dumpster at ground level.

The Primary Maintenance Facility Structure: If site conditions permits it is recommended that this structure range from 10,000 to 13,000 square feet and include the following characteristics

- Administrative Space
- Equipment Storage
- Mechanics Repair Areas and Parts Storage
- Compressor/Grinding/Sanding and Painting Rooms
- Other Considerations

Administrative Space: This area handles the communication of the daily work priorities. Ideally the location of this space should be as far away from the equipment storage area as possible. Maintenance logs, invoices and other essential records must be maintained daily, and a quiet workspace ensures accuracy. Storage should be provided for the maintenance department’s records and supplies. A fireproof cabinet should be used to store MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets), plant protectant spray application records, back-up irrigation programs and inventory documents; these documents along with others should be duplicated and stored off site.

Climate control is a requirement of this area as well. Computers are used for record keeping and the update of the superintendent’s maintenance procedures. Very often the computers located in the area are dedicated to run a golf course’s irrigation system. Climate control will help your computers operate efficiently. If your club’s maintenance and invoice records are stored on a computer in this area the superintendent should consider having this information “backed up” on a daily basis. Depending upon how your golf course’s computer system a 3rd party provider should be considered as a resource to back up important records. Other key characteristics of this area include:

- Typically 1,500 to 2,500 square feet is allocated to administrative/break room areas, record storage etc. Depending upon the size of the maintenance staff.
- Private office space for the superintendent, assistant superintendent, horticulturist, irrigation technician and the club’s mechanic and a conference room area, if feasible.
- A break room/conference room.
- Men’s’ and women’s locker room areas equipped with ½ lockers.
- A guest restroom for club members or other visitors.
- A drying/mudroom to hang and store damp overalls, etc.

The goal of the administrative area is to provide and efficient workspace that promotes communication of the daily golf course requirements.

Equipment Storage: For most golf course maintenance facilities the McMahon Group has recommended 6,000 – 8,500 square feet to be allocated to the storage of maintenance equipment. A few key characteristics are as follows:

- Floor areas of the storage area should be marked so each piece of equipment has a designated space.
- The storage area should provide a small / secure equipment storage area for handheld equipment such as trimmers, chain saws, etc.
- This area should be designed for optimum circulation so the equipment can be driven through (eliminate the need to back up into a space).

Mechanics Repair Area / Parts Storage: Aside from the primary equipment storage area the mechanics repair shop is the second largest space within the maintenance facility’s primary structure. On average most equipment repair areas are 1,500 – 2,000 square feet and are connected to the equipment storage area and the parts storage room. Within the repair area space should be designated for equipment that is scheduled for repair. Ideally the mechanic’s repair area is equipped with a hydraulic lift that positions the equipment for quick and timely repairs and adjustments. Attachments are available for many lifts so that the golf course smaller equipment may be lifted during repair.

Parts storage in most golf maintenance facilities average approximately 200 - 250 square feet in size and should be used to store the most frequently used repair items. Some club’s will secure this area with a locked door so that the mechanics and the superintendent are the only personnel that have access. Regardless of access this room should have a direct entry into the equipment repair area so that the technicians working on the equipment do not have to waste time retrieving parts. Other considerations may include:

- An identified area for equipment in repair
- An overhead rail system (if feasible).
- For northern climates this area should be supplied with forced air heating with thermostat control.

Compressor Rooms: For southern climates a separate compressor building is acceptable but a compressor should be located inside the primary structure in northern climates. Additionally, the noise from a compressor can be distracting to the players on the course and to the local neighborhood. If feasible it is recommended that a separate compressor room be provided within the equipment storage area or main repair shop with ventilation and sound insulation.

Grinding Room: Similar to the parts storage room the grinding room in the main structure of the maintenance facility should be located adjacent to the mechanic’s repair area. Grinding rooms range in size from 200 to 300 square feet and should support rotary, reel and bed knife grinding. An adequate ventilation system should be available, one that controls the filings that are created when grinding is performed.

Other Considerations: Depending upon the size of the golf maintenance facility’s primary structure other rooms may be introduced. Some of the plans that have been reviewed show that many operations have added the following:

- Irrigation storage rooms
- Oil and lubrication storage rooms
- Equipment tool set up rooms.

Good planning will determine what features the primary golf maintenance facility will include. It is important to the maintenance needs of the superintendent be accurately accounted for during this process.

Chemical and Fertilizer Storage Facilities

Chemical Storage: One of the most important features of a golf maintenance facility is the chemical storage building. Normally it is recommended that a maintenance facility use a separate structure that meets local environmental and safety requirements. The most obvious benefit of a separate facility is employee safety. If the golf course’s chemicals are not stored properly they could end up in high traffic areas where the original container could be ruptured, resulting in a spill. The second benefit of a chemical storage facility is the ability to properly contain a spill and minimize your club’s exposure to the immediate environment. Finally a dedicated space promotes an accurate inventory, reducing waste, theft and the duplication of your businesses orders. Other key characteristics include:

- Ideally this structure is located at least 50 feet away from other structures on the site to allow for emergency access and 500 feet away from natural water sources.
- Chemical storage areas should average 400 – 500 square feet. More space is required if a mix load area is incorporated in the design.
- All steel or sealed masonry construction (non-combustible materials).
- Shelving should be chromed, coated or painted metal or plastic.
- All light switches should be located on the outside of the building and control the ventilation system so all systems are activated prior to entry.
- If feasible an electric garage door opener so the building may be opened with entry.
- Fire/smoke, security alarm with a dedicated line to the fire department or security company.
- Exhaust fans and an emergency shower / eye wash stations are mandatory.

When the installation of a new chemical storage facility is necessary the use of a pre-fabricated structure should be given consideration. One of the advantages of a pre-fabricated structure is the assortment of sizes that are available for the maintenance facility site. Reviewing a manufacturer’s web site shows that a pre-fabricated structures range in size from 62 cubic feet to 2,300 cubic feet and all have the necessary safety features. Other benefits include that all of the necessary building, fire and electrical codes are met and these structures are compliant with environmental legislation. The use of this turnkey approach would offer your golf operation an efficient alternative in meeting you chemical storage needs.

Fertilizer Storage Facilities: Fertilizer storage areas are equally important and many of the principles outlined above apply as well. An important feature of the fertilizer storage area is a racking system that has a high weight capacity (18-ton) and is capable of being loaded with a forklift (reducing manual labor). Other key characteristics are as follows:

- Fertilizer storage area should average 1,500 square feet and feature a high weight racking system that can be loaded using a forklift.
- Seamless flooring made of metal or concrete that is non-skid and treated with chemically resistant paint.
- Exhaust fans and emergency wash areas are mandatory.
- Ensure OSHA and Federal and Local EPA compliance.

Mix Load Area/Storage Combination Facility: A golf turf care center mix load area is used to fill the sprayers that are used on a golf course and grounds. The principle goal of this area is to provide an environment that promotes efficient mixing of the club’s plant protectant chemicals and water-soluble fertilizers while maximizing safety and minimizing environmental risk. Some maintenance facilities have created a combination facility where chemical and fertilizers are close to the mix load area. A few of the features of a mix load area are as follows:

- Ideally a minimum 600 square feet and connected to the chemical storage facility.
- The building itself is all steel or masonry walls and made of non-combustible materials.
- This structure should have 3 bays, one drive through bay as rinsate/mix load pad, one to store products, and one to store spray equipment.
- The door height of the entrance should be large enough where the club’s equipment can be parked for filling.
- Two available water sources, potable water for eyewash and safety shower and non-potable irrigation water (unless effluent) to fill the sprayers.
- Equip with exhaust fans with the volume capacity that can exceed 6 air changes per hour.
- Electric to code with wires in sealed conduit between inner and outer walls.
- Concrete filled steel pipe to protect corners of the building and entryways.
- Air gap quick cam hose hook ups.

Note: This floor plan should have provided forklift access to the fertilizer storage area. Depending on your golf operation ability to receive supplies quickly a larger fertilizer storage facility may not be necessary.

Equipment Cleaning: The Clean Air and Water Act is very specific about what can and cannot be passed as effluent from the wash down from a maintenance facility’s equipment cleaning area. Ideally when a golf course or private club is renovating or building a new facility the wash down area should strive to meet three objectives. The first is 100% containment of the oils, greases, solvents, fuels and any other contaminants found on the equipment. Second, it must be compliant with state and federal environmental protection agencies and third it must be affordable and within the overall budget of the capital project.

- Create a blowing station that has the ability to remove materials from the equipment prior to washing.
- Typically a wash pad is 750 square feet (30 X 25) this allows two machines to be washed at one time.
- Water recycling systems that are compliant with state and federal EPA requirements.

Environmental Concerns & Resources:

A golf course superintendent has many resources available to him/her when an environmental issue presents itself. Perhaps the easiest resource to use is the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America’s homepage. The GCSAA web site provides policy updates on a regular basis that are easily found. The association’s home page can be found at In addition to environmental updates this site is an excellent source of ideas and other information.

The federal government’s Environmental Protection Agency’s web site has plenty of information regarding the sale, storage and use of pesticides. Specifically these topics are covered in the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). After these products are used on golf courses the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act governs the disposal or recycling of the remaining material. For detailed information the web site is:

Interestingly the Federal EPA does not have regulations regarding the sale and use of fertilizers. Those requirements are defined at the state level. With regard to water and rinse containment federal legislation was drafted in 1994 and has yet to be adopted. The Container and Containment rule covers the majority of the issues regarding the handling of refillable and non-refillable containers, the structure of the container and labeling however this proposal does not cover pesticide rinsate.

While the Federal Government has yet to establish regulations regarding pesticide rinsate many states have, it is best to review these requirements at the local level. Several states have published detailed guidelines reviewing the handling of chemicals, rinsate and other environmental issues facing golf maintenance departments, for example the State of Florida Department of Environmental Protection has develop an entire manual entitled “Best Practices for Golf Course Maintenance Departments” while this document was originally drafted in 1995, and currently out of print, it contains information and practical advice that are relevant for today’s golf courses. A copy can be obtained by visiting

During the planning and construction phase of the maintenance facility it is best to review the environmental and zoning requirements with local resources.

Many times a golf course’s maintenance facility is constrained by the physical size of the building site, where the entire complex is located, or by the funding capacity of the operations (club or daily fee alike). When considering the installation of a new facility or a renovation of an existing facility it is important that the best general practices be observed. Specifically the following:

- Ensure that the safety needs of the staff are met.
- The facility is organized to minimize the cost of labor and supplies
- Chemicals and fertilizers should have a defined storage place that can contain a spill.
- That the maintenance facility complements the strategic needs of your golf course (i.e., the best quality daily fee course in the metropolitan area).
- Compliant with all Federal and State EPA and OSHA guidelines.
- Compliant with all local zoning guidelines.

For the physical facility it is best to see if your plans address the following areas:

- Overall site circulation
- Staff and fleet parking
- Outdoor storage bins for topdressing sand, bunker sand, mulch and other materials.
- Green waste disposal and recycling
- Chemical storage and mixing areas
- Fertilizer storage
- Fuel storage
- Equipment wash and rinse containment
- Equipment storage and circulation
- Equipment maintenance, including a lift and parts storage
- Administrative offices, staff locker and break room.

Sources used in the development of this publication:

USGA Green Section Record
Golf Course Management Magazine
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Midwest Association of Golf Course Superintendents
Illinois Department of Agriculture
Carbtrol Corporation, Bridgeport, CT
Audubon International, Selkirk, NY
Midwest Plan Services, Ames, IA

Special thanks to:

Daniel Dinelli, Superintendent North Shore Country Club, Glenview, IL
Paul Vermeulen, PGA of America
Allen Zelco, Superintendent, Missouri Bluffs Golf Club, St. Charles, MO
Rob Ritchie, CGCS, Persimmon Woods Golf Club, Weldon Springs, MO
J. Scott Warner, CGCS, Superintendent, Lincolnshire Fields Country Club, Champaign, IL
Bay Hill Lodge & Country Club, Orlando, FL



Maintenance Facility Overview:
Michael Vogt, CGCS of the McMahon Group and the Golf Course Superintendent of Sample Country Club, met to review the Club’s current golf and grounds maintenance facility. Golf Digest Magazine currently ranks the Sample Country Club’s golf course as one of America’s top 100 Greatest Golf Courses. The golf course maintenance budget for the year is projected to be XXX for the upcoming years, or approximately XXX per hole. The Sample Country Club is located on 200 acres in the Midwest United States.

Key Characteristics of the Golf Operation:
Total Acreage:
- 24 acres of fairways
- 4.2 acres of tees
- 4.25 acres of greens
75 total bunkers, a total of 80,000 square feet.
Average Green Size:
8,900 square feet, as compared to a typical course where the greens are approximately 5,000 to 6,000 square feet.
Practice Facilities:
13,000 square feet practice green.

2 chipping greens

2 short game practice greens

3 target greens on the driving range with a total square footage of 18 – 20,000 square feet.

5,000 square feet of tee space on two tiers that support the primary practice facility.
Rounds Played
Approximately 22,000
Primary Maintenance Schedule:
- Greens are mowed 7 days per week weather permitting with 6 green mowers and 2 collar mowers.
- Aeration occurs twice per year (spring and fall)

Top dressing is performed twice a month. A typical golf course may perform this task once a month. This contributes to a smooth fast putting surface.

The approach areas to the greens are mowed 3 times per week using a tri-plex mower.
Tees & Fairways:
Mowed 3 times per week. Typically 3 men mow the fairways in the morning and this takes a total time of 4 to 6 hours.
The rough is cut 1 to 2 times per week, along with the bunker side grass, depending upon the rainfall and grass growth.
Bunkers are hand raked every day and machine raked after a heavy rain.

Strategic Goals of the Golf Course:
The Sample Country Club has hosted national championships. The condition of the course is very important to the membership of the Club as the course receives national exposure on a periodic basis. As noted above members and their guests play approximately 22,000 rounds of golf per year. According to the National Golf Foundations “Operating & Financial Performance Profiles of 18-Hole Private Golf Facilities” the number of rounds is significantly lower than the median for the region, 26,500 rounds.

The Club’s golf maintenance budget of XXX is significantly higher than the average of XXX (based on a marketplace analysis conducted by the McMahon Group). In conclusion, the Sample Country Club’s goal is to provide its members with the best condition course that is possible and is easily accessible to member play.

Personnel and Staffing:
The staff at the Sample Country Club includes the (1) superintendent, 1 part-time secretary, 2 assistant superintendents, 1 irrigation technician, 1 horticulturalist and 2 mechanics. The club has a total of 22 employees that are responsible for turf care and maintenance.

Maintenance Facility Current Characteristics:

Facility / Characteristics
Square Feet Est.
Percent Allocation of Space
Acreage of Site

Approximately 1.7 acres
Total Number of Golf Holes
18 holes of regulation golf

Site Issues:
The facility is located on a road that is perpendicular to the road that features the Club’s main entrance. The location of the maintenance facility is located on the lowest point of the club property. The maintenance facility is protected from “heavy rains” by a large storm washbasin that channels the majority of storm run off away from the facility. In order for the facility to be flooded a large amount of rain would have to fall rapidly and/or the washbasin would have to be blocked with organic material (brush, branches, etc).

The current asphalt surface is suitable for deliveries and the movement of the Club’s maintenance equipment. A few minor areas were noted as in need of repair but in general the area was to be found in good condition.

Primary Facility Analysis:

Administrative and Employee Areas: The superintendent’s office was found to be in excellent condition with sufficient space to meet with the Club’s Green Committee and other visitors. In addition to the Superintendent’s private office workspace has been provided for the Club’s assistant superintendents. They are stationed in a 400 square foot office that is equipped with 3 workstations all of which have a view of the maintenance site.

Daily work priorities and assignments are posted on large “white” boards that reside within the employee break room and are located next to the time clock. The Club is currently using manpower/time management software that requires an employee to enter the hours spent on a specific task. This has helped the Club understand the allocation of payroll dollars on the golf course.

The Club has a large break room (600 square feet) located next to the men’s and a women’s locker rooms. A drying room/mud room is available for hanging of overalls and damp clothes. The addition of this room has helped reduce locker room odor. The maintenance facility has restroom facilities for visitors as well, located away from the employee areas.

Equipment Storage: In total the Club has 7,200 square feet of space dedicated (among 2 buildings) to the storage of the Club’s equipment. Each piece of the Club’s equipment has been assigned a designated storage space and the layout of the facility allows the Club to flow the machinery through, eliminating the need to back equipment into its space. This area was found to be appropriate in terms of storage the Club’s equipment (see inventory) and layout.

Mechanics Shop and Supporting Areas:

1. Parts Storage: The Club’s parts are stored in an area that is adjacent to the equipment repair area. The inventory of parts is well organized and accessible to the staff.

2. Grinding Room: The grinding room is convenient to the hydraulic equipment lift and is well ventilated to control the shavings that are generated during routine maintenance.

3. Sanding and Painting Room: Currently the Club does not have a sanding and painting room. Theses functions are performed on the Club’s parking lot.

Fertilizer Storage: The Club has an adequate fertilizer storage area that features a high weight racking system that is forklift accessible. This storage area shares an enclosed barn that also allows for indoor storages of the Club’s topsoil and other planting material.

Soil/Sand/Planting material covered storage: The Club uses a large structure that stores the planting materials and the Club’s fertilizer. The structure is adequate in that trucks and small vehicles may be backed up for loading.

Fuel Storage: The Club’s fuel storage tank is underground and is thought to be in good condition. Should the Club consider the removal of the existing tank and replacement with an above ground tank the location should be carefully studied.

Pesticide Storage: The Club has purchased a pre-fabricated structure and it is located next to the area that is used by the irrigation technician. This structure is located sufficiently far away from any natural water sources. The only concern is that the structure is located just close enough to the irrigation technician’s area where it might be difficult to access in time of an emergency.

Pesticide/Fertilizer Mix – Load Area: Currently the Club does not have a defined area for the mixing and loading of water-soluble pesticides and fertilizers. The equipment is flushed after every third application of pesticides. It is unknown if the maintenance area has a non-potable source of water to fill the equipment.

Blowing station: At the present time the Club designated “blowing station” where impediments may be removed from the Club’s equipment prior to washing.

Wash-off rinsate water containment: The Club does not have a specific area where the equipment is washed after use.

Waste Dumpster Areas: Currently the Club has one dumpster. Any trees, branches etc. are typically mulched and used on certain areas of the golf course, for example to the right of the 12th fairway.


1. Covered Storage: While comparing the equipment inventory to the available square footage indicates that sufficient storage is available at the Club, it should be noted that much of the equipment remains outside during the winter months. The Club should consider the addition of covered areas where at least this equipment is protected from the elements.

2. Mix – Load Area: Presently the Club does not have a formal area for the mixing and loading of water-soluble fertilizers and pesticides. Future improvement should incorporate this feature within the plan.

3. Equipment Blowing Station: Presently the Club does not have a formal that allows materials to be removed for the Club’s equipment prior to washing. Future improvement should incorporate this feature within the plan.

4. Equipment Rinsate water containment: Presently the Club does not have a designated equipment rinse area that provides water containment. Future improvement should incorporate this feature within the plan.

Golf Course Management by Zero-Based Budgeting

By Michael D. Vogt, CGCS, CGIA

The need to control golf course maintenance expenses in this economy is becoming more important than ever. Building a budget component-by-component, dollar-by-dollar is the goal. The best way to study costs is to develop the zero-based budget, and thereby justify each cost center. This approach is far better than the traditional approach of doing inflation adjusted budgets with percentage increases year after year. The end result is a justifiable course budget based on real costs for the actual year.

The first step for addressing the golf course budget is a written standard for quality goals and the establishment of golf course maintenance standards. These standards should be concise at describing the how, why and who so that the zero-based budget can be built.

Golf Course Standards
Standards are written guidelines for golf course maintenance minimums and goals. These standards should be carefully drafted by the golf course superintendent with major input from the green / grounds committee.

The Zero - Based Budget
Starting with all line items being zero, the budget exercise begins. Labor, based on predicted activities, should constitute the beginning of the process. The standards and cycle-times should yield an hourly total for routine maintenance. Labor dollar amounts should be relatively simple to assign to job tasks. For instance, mowing greens would not require a high wage earner to accomplish, while applying fertilizers and chemicals to green surfaces should require a more experienced, higher wage earner.

The wild card in any golf maintenance labor budget is weather and its related impact on dollars needed to provide standards that are acceptable to the membership. During the golf season, weather and its unique impact on golf course maintenance should be monitored to keep labor expenditures to a minimum. The superintendent must communicate with regular frequency to the predetermined authority on additions / deletions to the allotted funds in each budget category. Hot, humid weather can increase fungicide application rates and frequencies, or drought can increase power and water use. The superintendent with training and expertise must make decisions on course requirements; he / she must also be a good communicator when it comes to justifying budget variances.

Building a golf maintenance budget from zero must take into account the individual line item areas such as fertilizers and chemicals. These commodities are needed to safeguard turf from disease, insect damage, weeds and to control growth and enhance playability.
They usually amount to 8% - 15% of a total budget. Increases in prices have steadily made an impact on the cost to deliver fine turf. An application program with specific dates, rates and cost per square foot can easily be forecasted with the use of modern spreadsheet programs. Basically, programs to spray herbicides, fungicides, fertilizers and other chemicals can be forecasted. Pricing these products is generally performed through competitive bidding. Be aware that generic turf chemicals have become a formidable product offering in recent years, and only your superintendent will know which generic substitute will produce the desired results.

Equipment maintenance and repair are also large additional expenditures included in the golf maintenance budget (usually 3% - 7%). An examination of repair records should take place to arrive at anticipated repair costs or whether equipment replacement is necessary.

Building-up each line item in the budget based on experience and quality goals is necessary for establishing a zero-based budget. This way, each cost item is understood and justified.

Advantages of Zero-Based Budgeting:
Provides efficient allocation of resources based on needs and standards.
Challenges superintendent to find cost-effective ways to improve standards and operations.
Eliminates inflated budgets.
Increases staff motivation by good involvement in goals and in monitoring actual time expenditures, thus providing greater initiative and responsibility for all persons involved.
Improves communications and coordination with management, committees and the board.
Identifies and introduces new ways to do things.
Historical Incremental Budgeting (The Old Way)

Incremental course budgeting uses a budget or actual expenditures from the previous annual period. Incremental amounts are added to the old budget to arrive at the new budget. This approach is not recommended as it fails to take into account changing economic or operational circumstances. Moreover, it encourages “spending up to the present budget” to ensure reasonable allocations are available for the next budgetary period. It leads to a “spend it or lose it” mentality; i.e. the government’s approach to spending.

Comparison of Expenses – Zero-Based vs. Incremental Budgeting
Across the country, many superintendents have had or will be having their budgets frozen or reduced due to the economy. Many clubs also compare course operations, size and budgets with other nearby clubs.

Important issues for any club are golfers and their expectations for fine course maintenance. Sometimes to satisfy those expectations, maintenance costs can get out of control. Is it time to scale back on items such as bunker maintenance (a variable expense), as it fast becomes equal to greens maintenance costs? Is out-of-play area maintenance critical to the overall golf experience? Is a vast array of annual flowers superior to perennial plantings? The key is to document and communicate quality expectations with the need to achieve a healthy financial situation during these difficult economic times. Everything done on the course cost money, and thus, priorities need to be set.

There are few really reliable methods for comparing golf course maintenance budgets from course-to-course. The variables associated with comparing different course operations are:

· Managed sizes of turf on greens, tees and fairways.
· Geographic location of the course.
· The number of sand bunkers and bunker design.
· Number of annual rounds of golf played.
· Water and soil quality.
· The quality standards (goals) set for course conditioning.

Some comparisons that may be useful in certain circumstances are:

· Total maintenance cost per acre.
· Total maintenance costs per hole.
· Labor hours per week.
· Labor hours per golf hole.
· Maintenance dollars per golf round.

In 2007 a major golf association in the Northeast studied the maintenance expenses of more than 66 private clubs in the New York / New Jersey area.
[1] Of the clubs surveyed in three distinct regions, an 11% differential was observed in average maintenance budgets during the past year. In another 2007 set of country club statistics of major country clubs in the Saint Louis metropolitan area, the variation in golf course maintenance costs was just over 12% throughout the year of the study[2].

As we have continued to follow golf course maintenance expenses, the trend in maintenance costs has generally increased well in excess of the increases in the Consumer Price Index.

There could be further pressures on course maintenance expenses due to volatility in oil prices. The up and down fluctuation in oil prices will not only affect what is normally only a 3% -5% inflationary impact in the typical budget, but it can also vary the cost of most fertilizers and chemicals that are derived from petrochemicals and the associated delivery costs.

Controlling Cost
Over the years, a superintendent’s need for increasing budgets was necessary to keep pace with the members’ ever increasing demands for a better and better golf course. How does this effect budgeting?

One example is equipment purchases. Let’s take a walking greens mower. A 22” mower in 1988 was $2,500.00. Today it costs over $6,500.00. The inflation rate within the last 20 years was 82.44%
[3], and this would put today’s inflation adjusted cost for that greens mower at only $4,561.00. Yet today’s mower at $6,500.00 has inflated in cost by an additional 32.5%. Today’s mower will not produce a significant decrease in mowing height or an increase in quality of cut.

What can a Country or Golf Club do to control costs?

· Staff and committees need to become more knowledgeable about basic course maintenance practices; and,

· Staff and committees should ask for maintenance alternatives. Generally more than one method or piece of equipment is available for achieving specific tasks.

The primary point of this article is to call attention to the fact that the actual assembly of course maintenance costs can be improved with savings being generated simply by building up a zero-based annual budget. Every cost is justified, and this assures for better management of labor, equipment and material purchases.

If clubs do not take the initiative to require the zero-based budget, they will be forced to make unrealistic, across the board budget cuts in sharply declining economies. The zero-based budget makes sense for any economy, but even more so today when cost controls
and budget cuts are the order-of-the-day. Isn’t it time your club begins to protect its most important asset with a justifiable budgeting process?

About the Author

Michael D. Vogt, CGCS, CGIA, is a Golf Course Maintenance and Irrigation System Specialist with the McMahon Group, a private club consulting group. Michael developed his Zero-Based Budgeting techniques based on his 26 years as golf course superintendent and as General Manager.
[1] Cooperative Golf Club Survey, Metropolitan Golf Association Foundation, 2007
[2] Country Club Stats, RubinBrown, LLP, 2007
[3] Consumer Price Index, Bureau of Labor Statistics, November, 2008