Thursday, December 9, 2010

What is the Programming Phase of the Turf Care Center?

The short answer is that Architectural programming is everything you need to know before you plan, design and draw. The longer answer is that programming is a process that a planning specialist and architect lead a client through to identify and articulate what the projects objectives and constraints are now and in the future. This process will involve asking very important questions then listening. At the end of the process the planning specialist and architect will establish the project design objectives from the list of needs, wants, and priorities in written and numerical form. The result will be a detailed work plan that will guide the Planning and Design process. Good, detailed programming is imperative to a successful project.

The final deliverables of Architectural Programming are a Project Narrative, Program Statement, Adjacencies Diagram, and a Preliminary Budget. The Project Narrative is an overview of the entire project explaining the project scope and goals. It also contains descriptions of each department and functional spaces such as equipment storage, meeting rooms, administrative space, and repair shops. The Program Statement is an overall numerical summary of the project (spreadsheet) identifying all individual building and site requirements at a departmental level. This statement include the following minimum information: existing spaces, proposed new spaces, future expansion, and tabulation of all space requirements including circulation, wall, and mechanical space. The Adjacencies Diagram is a graphically depiction of the spacial relationship of all the program elements to one another. The Preliminary Budget is an opinion of probable cost based on simple square footage cost of similar projects. Using experience from similar past projects we will recommend space needs, in the case of a unique requirement we will specifically study special space needs and adjacencies.

Steps in the programming process

• Identify the basic elements and set up a structure for collecting information and making decisions.

   o Review existing organizational charts and employee lists

   o Identify all influencers and decision makers

   o Clarify how decision will be made
• Interview Key Personal

• Distribute a questionnaire to Staff

  o Collect, tabulate and analyze survey results

• Perform a detailed survey of the existing space

  o Identify structural and site elements

  o Identify wall construction

• Inventory existing furnishings, fixtures and equipment

  o Identify items for reuse, refurbishment and replacement

• Conduct building code analysis and meet with local code authorities.

• Produce Program Deliverables

  o Project Narrative

  o Program Statement

  o Adjacencies Diagram

  o Opinion of Probable Cost

This important first programming step is the foundation of any successful architectural plan and should not be short circuited to save, in most cases less than 1% of the entire construction budget. The time and cost involved in programming is critical to the very finest building and site development and planning.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


The tailspin of the years since November 2007 have been economically challenging for both for-profit and non-profit organizations in the U.S., and certainly this quandary extends to the golf industry in general and private clubs alike.

Traditionally, the first impulse among owners and managers facing eroding profitability is to cut services or staff, a somewhat dubious action when considering the long and short term consequences of these actions.

Without falling into a debate surrounding the feasibility of different business models used by the golf industry, especially given today’s distressed financial and demographic environments, there are realistic, mostly overlooked, measures that are available to mitigate revenue shortfalls.

Golf facilities, regardless of their type, essentially have two broad means that can be taken to improve profitability: 1) increase revenues, or 2) reduce costs. Increasing gross revenues when supply is high (open memberships and underutilized golf courses) is extremely difficult to accomplish. However, it may be debated that creative marketing and price manipulation can offer substantial potential to those willing to utilize it. The grim facts remain; if the overall consumer base is not growing; aggressive marketing will serve only to benefit the most creative at the expense of the less creative.

The alternative to raising revenues is to reduce costs. Amazingly, statistics show only a small number (below 10%) of organizations has ever undergone an independent, comprehensive analysis of their expenses, despite the fact that cost reduction usually is so impactful. In addition, depending on the profit margin of the organization, it would require at least three times the amount of revenue to produce the equivalent amount of bottom line benefit that cost reduction can generate – without a penny invested in marketing.

Although most organizations employ accountants, treasurers and/or CFOs, their typical policy is to look only at trends or possibly one-time only expenditures and to assume that the status quo should not be bothered.

It is not meant as a criticism to suggest that these professionals are usually missing the boat. The fact is that they simply cannot be expert in all of the categories of expenses found on any P&L statement. Let’s examine some of the line items that would be found on a club’s books: electric utility costs (including irrigation pump stations and golf cart recharging), internal-equipment maintenance (including that for heating and A/C, restaurant, golf course fleet and waste removal), water supply facility maintenance, IT, telecom and security systems and service contracts, advertising, office supplies, uniforms, bank fees, insurance (of all types), fertilizers and chemicals, human resources, travel, and the ever-popular financing expenses.

Consider the staff size that it would take to establish not only the appropriate “baseline” numbers for these items, but then to have the sophistication and capability to access alternative vendors for them or to re-negotiate existing contracts, if necessary. Fortune 500 companies have entire departments devoted just to this arena; smaller organizations can’t afford them.

It must be emphasized here that we are not speaking of small potatoes in the aggregate when assessing the excess spending in these categories. It would be hard to envision that most clubs of any size would not have variable expenses – i.e., excluding salaries and commodity related supplies – in the million dollar-plus ranges. It is no exaggeration to state that an expense audit would be expected to uncover potential savings, on average, of $200,000 to $300,000 (better than the average of 60 full dues paying members) at this level of expenditures and that, the greater the gross expenditures, the greater the cumulative savings benefit. Additionally, not only can the savings occur in the first year, they recur in the years to follow.

So why is it that more organizations don’t employ an outside consultant to evaluate their spending patterns? In part, it’s because owners and or managers don’t realize such services exist, in part because they first need a nudge from a trusted source before they’ll try something “new,” and in part it’s because they’re convinced their staffs can handle it. Although expense reduction is not the only answer, it is one of the answers, and one which can be accomplished with no financial risk or out of pocket cost to the organization as fees are usually based on a split of realized savings, and then only for a limited period.

Arguably the greatest business book to appear in the last quarter century is Jim Collins’ Good to Great, Why Some Companies Make the Leap . . . and Others Don’t. In preparation for the book the author and his research team identified and examined 11 publicly traded companies that significantly outperformed their competitors for a period of 15 or more years to find out what made them so successful. The findings were sometimes surprising, often at odds with conventional wisdom, but definitive in that they were based on empirical evidence, not business theory.

One of the findings is that all Good to Great companies had a culture of discipline. Quoting from the book:

“Much of the answer to the question of ‘good to great’ lies in the discipline to do whatever it takes to become the best within carefully selected arenas and then seek continual improvement in these. It’s really just that simple.”

If you truly want to strive and survive in this post recession world of golf management your team needs to assess the feasibility of reducing variable expenses. You fiduciary responsibility to your members and owners require it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What’s Your Style?

All the fancy management books note there are in all 6 basic managerial styles. I am not saying that there are any more or less correct styles of management.

You as a leader should find it advantageous to adopt the right style to fit the situation and the person. Consequently, what I am saying is that some styles are better suited to certain situations than others.

And also, if you keep to the same style no matter what the situation this can have adverse affects from your staff and their performance.

So, want to know what the 6 managerial styles are and what they mean?

Here’s my take on the 6 styles:


Manager who uses this is intent on obtaining immediate compliance from employees. Conversation is one way.

Very directive, He/she tightly controls situations and emphasizes negative rather than positive feedback.

The manager wants employees to do their work exactly as the manager wants it.


The manager's goal here is to provide vision and focused leadership. Emphasis is on long term thinking and a clearly stated direction.

Decisions are made by the manager but some employee input is sought to reality test decisions. This style also relies on the skillful use of influence to gain employee buy-in to decisions, a firm but fair approach.


Manager uses this to promote harmony, cooperation, and good feelings among employees.

Affiliative actions include accommodating family needs that conflict with work goals, quickly smoothing tensions between employees, or promoting social activities within the team.

The manager pursues being liked as a way to motivate people.

He/she puts people first and tasks second.


Manager focuses on building group consensus and commitment through group management of the decision-making process.

Requires a hands-off style and places a heavy emphasis on team participation. Employees are trusted to have the skills, knowledge and drive to come up with decisions to which everyone is committed.

Manager's role is only to fine-tune and approve the plan.


Manager uses this style to focus on accomplishing a great deal of top quality work him-or herself. Employees are thought capable of achieving their own goals with little supervision.

When performance is not up to standard, the manager will do it him- or herself.

Emphasis on "Doing it myself"


Directed towards professional growth of employees

Manager focuses on helping employees identify their strengths and weaknesses, improvement areas and set development plans that foster career goals.

Manager creates an environment that supports honest self- assessment and treats mistakes as learning opportunities in the development process.

You will always have a dominant style that you use more than any other. It's always really interesting to see the mix of how often you use the other styles as well.

Think about what styles you use the most often.

Are they effective?

Are you a one dimensional leader that uses the same style over and over again?

What could you do to develop you skills in the other managerial styles?

I'll leave them with you!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How to Be Better at Leadership and Golf Course Business

The approach to being better at golf business is one of my favorite topics. What are the key elements that contribute to a finely managed golf course? The profession of golf course management is a multifaceted one. Personalities, equipment fleets, labor, agronomics, financial management, just to name several. It’s a wonder anyone can be highly proficient at being a golf course superintendent considering all of the skills needed.

From my standpoint the golf course superintendent is a consummate business manager and leader, who is passionate about working hard and delivering the finest conditioned golf course that time and resources will allow. To sharpen your skills as a leader and business manager I offer several ideas for standing out as the golf course superintendent at the facility you manage. What follows are observations on leadership made by me that contribute to a successful golf management business managed by several successful superintendents I have known.

A Golf Course Superintendent Should Always Establish Good Examples of Being a Leader

It’s always a good practice not ask anything of employees that you will not do yourself. This is why the same people have worked for good superintendents for extended periods of time. One of the simple things a superintendent can do to show they are on the same page as the rest of the crew, is to show up for work on time and stay the course of the day. If working hours are 6 to 3, then put those hours in like everyone else.

Do Not Fall Prey to "It's Not My Job" Syndrome at Your Facility

If you desire to be a true leader, you need to lose the "it's not my job," mantra. This attitude will get you nowhere fast. Over the years, I worked among many general managers and golf professionals who shifted their responsibility to someone else. Lend a hand when you see someone from another department or a golfer that could use your help. However, do not let others at your course or club take advantage of you.

Own up to Your Mistakes - It is Always Better than a Cover-up

As a superintendent, be open and be the first one to say, "I goofed and I need to fix this immediately." Trying to cover-up a mistake or not admitting to a mistake takes far more energy to conceal than putting in place an immediate solution. No sleepless nights and believe me, you will get positive recognition for your honesty. The best superintendents are the ones who admit to error and corrects it without complaint.

Do Not Share Entrusted Company Business

If your general manager or owner entrusts you with private company business, keep it confidential. Be a better business manager and leader by demonstrating your ability to maintain your employer's trust. If your boss shares with you information he or she does not wish to be public, then respect that.

Leave Gossip Out of the Workplace

Gossip has no place in your working environment. I guarantee you will not make it as an effective leader or superintendent if you are a gossip. Gossip is harmful and turns people against each other, creating stress in the workplace. A good superintendent will sway fellow workers away from this useless behavior and instead promote positive dialogue among the employees.

A Team Leader is Not a Dictator

Do not let the idea of you being head superintendent, go to your head. You are still an employee like everyone else. You are a superintendent because your owners or memberships feel you can literally lead your crew and golf course in the right direction. You can be a better team leader by leaving your ego at the door.

Be a Good Listener

The worst trait I find in people is the inability to listen. If you want to be a better golf course superintendent, you have to polish your listening skills. Focus on what someone is trying to say to you and forget about what you will be doing this weekend or what you will have for dinner tonight. A good listener seems to be a dying breed these days.

Do Not Show Favoritism

Everyone involved in your business is an equal. If a couple of employees earn more money because they have been with the club for many years, do not show them favoritism over newer workers. As their superintendent, you’ll want them to feel they are an integral part of the course crew, also, be sure to let them know how appreciated they are for all their hard work.

Stay Calm and Collected

Be a better superintendent by staying calm and collected throughout the day. Learn to manage your stress level. A great way to get a handle on stress is a short walk on the golf course. There are many books available on this subject, so study up. A stressed out superintendent is not in control and in turn, emotionally unable to do a good job of heading up the rest of the crew.

Be a Leader in Making Decisions

You can be a better superintendent if you are able to reason and make decisions without floundering over what you have to accomplish on any given day. I know many superintendents that are sharp in the decision making process. These superintendents don’t hem and haw about what to do...they just make the call and get the job done. These outstanding superintendents never leave something up in the air while they ponder the problem for hours. Decision-making is a valued attribute in a first-rate golf course superintendent.

In my many years as a golf course superintendent and recent years as a golf course consultant, I have observed many different types of management styles, some great, some no so much. The basic commonalities of the above management traits are observations, made by me, of great golf course superintendents. Perhaps some of these tips will assist you in the difficult job of managing your business.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Short Survey

To participate in a golf course budget and financial survey click in this LINK.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What is Your GO TIME?

Ten Rules of Golf Business Preparation
Success in the golf course management world is not about who is the smartest; research shows that IQ is largely unrelated to status in the high powered corporate food chain. Success is not about who has the best education; consider this, only 14% of Fortune 500 companies are led by brainy Ivy Leaguers. And success is not about who has the best funding or resources; many successful businesses started in garages, dining rooms, and the back of cars. I am sure we have all witnessed golf greens at high budget golf course in less than perfect conditions.

It’s no surprise that prior to a world class golf event, advance teams from one of golf’s sanctioning bodies arrives at the club to pour over the many details that must be taken care sometimes years before the scheduled event.

In the day-to-day world of maintaining a golf course as well as other business endeavors, the single greatest influence on who achieves success is preparation. The more prepared you are to confront the many challenges of golf course management, the more successful you will be. As uncomfortable as this sounds the best prepared superintendents escaped the 2010 summer season with minor battle scars. Deferred maintenance practices and knee jerk mid-summer field decisions led to major turfgrass losses in many cases.

To attain any goal of success, you must engage in the needed preparation which involves: "Maintaining consistently high quality year-round efforts resulting in optimal preparation for maximum in-season success."

1906 Chicago Cubs, World Series Champions
The purpose of all of your preparations is to perform your best at Go Time which is: "Seasonal experiences that place you and your team under the most demanding conditions, faced with the most critical decisions, with the greatest rewards/risks on the line, in the most important management situation of your life" (think of Go Time as your Super Bowl, World Series or Stanley Cup all rolled up into one).

 Golf course management in some areas is a year-round proposition. Even in areas that experience mild winters a period of less stress occurs at a time of year that opens the door to prepare for the Go Time season. With this understanding, I want to present to you my basic Ten Rules of Preparation needed before Go Time:

Ten Rules of Golf Business Preparation

First Rule: Preparation is the foundation of all success. This preparation involves six important areas: 1) Essential information (e.g., goals; based on plans, surveys, strategies) ; 2) Task-specific knowledge and skills (e.g., soil and water tests, yearly budget plans, timed maintenance plans, well prepared core team); 3) Resources and tools (e.g., experts, equipment in top shape, network of colleagues); 4) Psychological and emotional capabilities (e.g., determination, confidence, resilience); 5) Interpersonal skills (e.g., leadership, empathy, assertiveness, communication, inspiration, decisiveness); 6) Physical health (e.g., illness free, rested, well nourished, reasonably fit).

Second Rule: Success comes from the days, weeks, and months of preparation leading up to the culmination of those seasonal efforts. Many golf course practitioners believe that it's what happens on a key days or weeks during the season that matters. But I believe that success is determined more by what you do in the days, weeks, and months leading up to the crucial days of the golf season in your part of the world. If you've put in the time and effort to develop yourself and your team in the six areas I described in the First Rule, then you will know that you have done everything you can to achieve your goals and you will perform your best on those important seasonal days.

Third Rule: Three essential qualities necessary for preparation and success are patience, persistence, and perseverance. Preparation takes time and you will experience many bumps along the road. Patience ensures that you realize that there are no shortcuts or easy roads to success. Persistence will get you to keep grinding away when you are tired and stressed from a long season. Perseverance will enable you to stay motivated and positive in the face of the inevitable obstacles and setbacks you will experience.

Fourth Rule: You must take responsibility for everything that can impact your preparation and performance. Success is not a simple goal; there are usually many components that must be considered and steps that must be taken. You cannot leave anything important to chance. To ensure that you are doing everything you can to achieve your goals; you must take responsibility for everything that might influence your efforts. Can you say with confidence that you have complete command over everything that might impact how you perform?

Fifth Rule: The purpose of preparation is to develop effective skills and habits. When you have identified those six key areas from the First Rule, you have a precise plan showing you what you need to do to achieve your goals. Education, training, experience, and teamwork that help you fully develop all of those areas that will ensure your complete preparation. These experiences will ingrain in you the essential skills you can then access when you arrive at Go Time.

Sixth Rule: Preparation requires a defined purpose, clear focus, and high energy every day. It's impossible to engage in quality preparation unless these three things are present. You must have a clear purpose that tells you precisely what you're working on. Without that purpose, you will make at best, haphazard progress toward your goals. When you identify your purpose every day, you ensure that you put directed effort into that purpose. You must have a clear focus on that purpose which involves consistently concentrating on the task at hand and avoiding distractions that will interfere with that focus. You must have high energy to achieve this preparation. All of your efforts will come to naught if you are not physically prepared (e.g., rested, relaxed, well nourished) to execute the purpose you have identified. When you have awareness and control of your energy, you enable your mind and body to direct all of its efforts toward your defined purpose.

Seventh Rule: However you perform in your day-to-day work is how you will perform at Go Time. When most people think of the best athletes (e.g., Peyton Manning, Albert Pujols, Michael Phelps), they often believe that what makes them great is their ability to rise to the occasion at Go Time. But what really makes them so successful is that what they do at Go Time is really no different than what they do every day in their off season training and pre-event routine. The same holds true in the golf course maintenance business. Your daily and seasonal work preparations and efforts should be filled with the same drive, intensity, and focus that you will need to tap into at Go Time.

Eighth Rule: Preparation is about the Grind. To be your best, you have to put a lot of time and effort into your preparations. I call this the Grind, which involves having to put hours upon hours of time into your work, well beyond the point that it is fun and engaging. If you let these immediate negative aspects of your work override your long-term goals of performing your best and achieving your goals, your motivation is going to suffer and you're not going to be as prepared as you can be and you won't perform at your highest level at Go Time. The number one reason for failure is when business people experience the Grind they get tired, frustrated, or bored, they either ease up or give up, all of which will hurt their preparations and ultimately the final product. What makes great superintendents great is that they understand it is what happens when they arrive at the Grind that separates them from everyone else. When they hit the Grind, they push harder.

Ninth Rule: Go Time Preparation comes from "one more thing, one more time." You can assume that golf businesses are working hard to become the best they can be, especially in this weak golf economy. Great achievers do, "One more thing, one more time." When you feel you have done enough, do just a little bit more. By doing one more thing, one more time, you are doing that little bit extra that will prepare you for Go Time and separate you from your competitors.

Tenth Rule: All preparation is directed toward preparing you and your team to perform your best at Go Time. Anyone can perform well in unimportant situations, under ideal weather conditions or when they are totally "on their game." What makes the great superintendents great is their ability to perform their best when it really counts. Go Time preparation will allow you to achieve Premium Conditions at Go Time, that late August Member/Guest after a brutal summer, that might be your equivalent of the Super Bowl, World Series, or Stanley Cup.

The Ten Rules above are a simple template of proven ways to become more prepared for the golf season. They all revolve around planning and preparation in the less busy golf season. Unplanned surprises and a fickle Mother Nature will always be a part of the golf maintenance business but they should never derail your best plan and keep you from delivering your maximum effort each day.

Consider this:

Confucius said, “A man who does not think and plan long ahead will find trouble right at his door.” Or, if you're not into Chinese philosophers how about Roger Maris, who said, “You win not by chance, but by preparation.” Rodger knew something about Go Time!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Here are some comments from the recent greens survey

Mark Luckhardt, Vice President, XGD Systems (Ontario, Canada) wrote:

Very interesting survey. First off, let me say that I am a big fan of USGA green construction. During green construction, speed is critical and a 12" rootzone of predominantly sand will allow a bulldozer to spread the mix without destroying the soil structure through compaction.

Building a soil green requires much more time to let the soil rootzone settle out and compact naturally through overhead irrigation and or precipitation events, and heavy equipment needs to be kept off of the soil based rootzone or compaction will occur. I believe the extra time it takes to build a pushup green is really the only reason you don't see more of it in this current era. The new green(s) need to be in play immediately and USGA construction fits the bill there.

Regarding your survey results showing a much higher percentage of sand based greens failing this past summer vs. soil greens, I find the results surprising. Obviously, a lot of variables contribute to green failure but I would have to say water and thatch management play a big role. With increasing pressure from golf clientele to avoid playing after aerification events, I feel superintendents are not being allowed to employ enough cultural practices to win the war against excessive thatch or organic material buildup in the top few inches of their rootzones, be it sand based or soil based.

Another question I ask is, are soil temperatures higher in sand greens than soil greens? One would think that with the extra pore space available in a sand root zone that would promote more air circulation and keep temps cooler. But, with excessive organic material in the top few inches is the opposite occurring in sand root zones? If oxygen is not circulating in to the lower rootzone, perhaps these high soil temps contributed to turf loss. Conversely, a soil based rootzone would seem to promote higher soil temps in general as well, but I am not convinced that is the case. Maybe, some research has already been done on this to validate or disclaim my opinions.

Armen Suny, Owner of SunyGolf (Arizona) wrote:


Interesting results of your survey.

You and I both have good observational skills and have seen that USGA greens are far from bullet-proof. I continue to struggle with the thought that a false water table is good for growing anything except for rice. Excuse me, my nomenclature is not politically correct, I meant perched water table.

I would be hesitant to add more than a trace of clay dust to a USGA green because I would suspect that if you added just a little bit of soil that it would become difficult to overcome gravity and get the greens to release their water. You might have to fill up the entire profile with water to get gravity to overcome the tension created by the addition of soil.

On the other hand, I would have absolutely no problem adding soil to a mix that is placed on ripped or sandy subsoil with or without drainage. If it was in an area of high rainfall, I'd add more drainage. Compost or at least good compost is a great component in any mix. It adds life and good microbes to the mix and generally minimizes the amount of weird patch diseases.

Bob Lohmann, Golf Course Architect, Owner Lohmann Golf Designs (Illinois) wrote:

Hey Mike,

I have been traveling a bunch lately and haven't had a chance to study your survey. I think a lot of the good and bad things that happen to green are more to do with how they are managed than what they are built out of. The best management techniques include adequate sun, good air circulation, and proper surface drainage. It takes a smart and aggressive supt. to recognize this and do everything in his or her power to have these present on all the greens. When these are not present or if the weather is uncooperative, it takes a good supt. to adapt their management techniques to keep the grass alive and not worry about tournament conditions. Just because a green is built to the recommendations of the USGA or similar methods, the supt. can't forget to respect "Mother Nature" and needs to adjust the techniques and inform the players that expectations should be slightly lowered in tough weather times.

It is not an easy job and we should all respect the keeper of the greens when conditions like we have had this past spring and summer are causing havoc with the golf courses.

Hopefully we can continue this discussion later after I have had a chance to study your survey.

Brad Anderson, Superintendent of Birmingham Country Club (Michigan) wrote:


I wonder how many of those clubs that suffered loss of grass on USGA greens actually built those greens to spec? And there is also the issue of cultural practices - how many of those USGA greens that suffered loss have had a proper cultural program through the years? Obviously all of that would be very difficult to determine for certain.

Ben Rink, Superintendent of Champaign Country Club (Illinois) wrote:

It is difficult to pinpoint the "cause" of the decline other than it was too hot, too wet, or too dry. All summer I felt like if I even looked at the turf sideways it would just roll over and die. I pulled off nearly all cultural practices (old pushup greens) and just rode it out until we had a break. At this point I am happy I did because my greens are the best turf on the course! I think that, as Bruce pointed out, since the damage has been so widespread and talked about (WSJ article and such) that most of us superintendents are dealing with club leaders that are aware that damage isn't isolated to their course. Almost a "get out of jail free card." The telling story will be the recovery efforts. I have found that my empathetic membership is slowly turning into an impatient membership now that the weather has moderated. Communication between us and them has never been more important!

David Downing, President, Signature Golf Group (South Carolina) wrote:


I would suggest some more questions after the question about losses…if you suffered 15% or more what do you feel was the primary cause(s):

Greens Construction
Winter Damage
Poor Drainage
Too much Drainage
No air movement
Lack of resources

At this point the survey just shows some losses….people need solutions!! Need to know the whys to avoid them in the future!!

Bruce Williams, Director of Business Development, ValleyCrest Golf, (California) wrote:

Nice job on the survey Mike.

I believe it is valuable for the leadership of golf courses nationwide to know the extent of the damage this year. It surely was not isolated and supts work harder in years like this although the results may not show it. 120 days of pure screaming hell for many golf course supts across the country.

What do you think?

Monday, August 30, 2010

First Weeks Results from Greens Survey


After 337 responses these are the preliminary results on just one cross tabulation. I post this information after just six days but have yet to put a report together to explain some of the results. I will leave this survey active until September 3rd at 12:00 Noon.

This short survey is compliments of me, I guarantee the results have not been tampered with and there are no duplicates surveys allowed. The five questions have been designed by me with no conceived bias to any entity or methods of golf course management. A complete analysis of the survey will be forthcoming.

Considering the amount of responses the survey has a confidence level of 95%, and an accuracy of + or – of less than 5%.

Thank you to all participants.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Manageable Greens

In most cases private club golfers should be treated to well populated, firm, fast greens. When these conditions stray from densely turfed, firm, fast greens superintendents themselves are partially responsible and until they develop a cultural and agronomic program they’ll never give the golfer these desired playing surfaces.The majority of superintendents consistently provide optimum playing conditions on greens surfaces throughout the year, the year of 2010 may be an exception rather than the rule.

It has been proven since the inception that modified sand based greens and the USGA specification greens can not function properly with thatch accumulations of greater than 2% in the upper three inches of the rootzone. The superintendent’s duty is to mitigate these excess accumulations of thatch and organic material. This is accomplished by a carefully planned program to cultivate, remove and dilute the thatch and organic layer and restore the original design characteristics and the air and water movement specifications to the rootzone.

The program for thatch and organic matter management with sand based greens

Late Winter – Early Spring

This program deals mainly with fall cultivation; however success is due to a season-long management program. The ideal program begins in late winter to early spring with a greens aerification using 5/8-inch tines. Cores are removed; then straight sand topdressing matching the original mix is added to fill the aerification holes. At this time you may also add a laboratory recommended soil amendment to be added to or with the sand. Dictated by on soil tests, a program may call for additions of slow release mineral or organic fertilizer or other minerals needed by the rootzone to supply the turf with balanced recommended nutrients. This early-season heavy cultivation allows the greens to weather the stresses of June, July and August.

 Aerification Hole Filled with Sand

Throughout the Seasons

Once greens are healed from the initial work, you should begin a season-long verti-cutting and topdressing program at approximate three-week intervals, you should vigorously verticut in two directions then follow up with a light topdressing, applying the material in two or three directions with a spinner type spreader. Depending on rate of application, the top dressing is either brushed in or lightly watered. Greens should then be rolled mowed using backup units or just rolled; the golfer should experience virtually no disruption to the putting surface. Depending on weather, you should strive to maintain an aggressive verticutting/topdressing schedule during the spring and early summer. During the height of the summer, adjust this program as necessary and perhaps substitute with HyroJect applications because of weather extremes.

Late Summer

When late August arrives, you should begin the fall cultivation program. On the Monday and Tuesday before the Labor Day weekend, all greens are serviced with DryJect or HyroJect. These machines fracture the rootzone using water at high pressure. The DryJect creates an opening in the turf and then the machine injects a topdressing material into the hole. Light topdressing when using the HyroJect is recommended since sand is not injected with is brand of aerification machine. Since water is used in the process the greens should be allowed to dry. They are then brushed, mowed and opened for play. The advantage of using the DryJect is that a green of 5,000 to 6,000 square feet can be aerified, sand injected, cleaned and mowed in approximately 1/1/2 to 1 3/4 hours, Minimum disruption occurs with this process and greens are very playable after rolling and mowing.

Contracting these aerification processes out to a specialized contacting company make for a fast process. The companies generally use three or four machines. You would provide the topdressing material; with the addition of one laborer with each machine, your crew would also be responsible for the final cleanup and mowing. Two full days should be dedicated to this process.

It should be noted that DryJect and HyroJect is not a true aerification process, since no cores are removed and no organic matter management is achieved. The main objective in this initial step is to relieve some compaction, generate new root growth at the aerification site, develop a better gas exchange, help in water infiltration and incorporate fresh topdressing material into the green profile.

Toro HyroJect

With reasonable growing conditions, the greens show no evidence of the DryJect or HyroJect service seven to 10 days after the procedure.

During this time it is also the ideal time to incorporate seed into the green surface as needed. There are many methods that can be used to accomplish this procedure. The Graden or deep Verti-Cutting will work well to prepare a seedbed. Bentgrass seed should be place no deeper than ½ inch with ¼ being the minimum. The seed should be placed with a drop-spreader and lightly dragged into grooves created by the slicing process. The recommended seeding rate for bentgrass seed is ¼ pound per 1000 ft². The seeded areas should be kept moist for at least ten to fourteen days to hasten germination.

Mid - Fall

Mid-October begins step two in this process. This consists of heavily dethatching all greens using a Graden dethatching unit from Australia. This unit can penetrate a turf surface to a depth of 1 1/2 inches. You should set spacing of the blades at 1 inch. Using the thicker 9/64- inch blade, the dethatching operation can impact slightly better than 14% of a greens surface area. An option available is to use a 5/64-inch blade, which then impacts nearly 8% of the surface. The intent is to aggressively manage the organic material profile in the mix so the thicker blade is the one that should be used.

Graden Vertical Mower

An average green can be dethatched in less than an hour depending on its size. Cleanup takes longer since a considerable amount of material is generated. It’s best to use blowers to clean the surface. Once the green is cleaned, topdress it with sufficient material to fill these newly created grooves. The material is brushed or blown in, greens all mowed with back up units and you will again ready for play. An average size maintenance staff of six should complete nine holes of dethatching, cleanup and topdressing in a normal eight-hour workday.

Though not a traditional aerification, the heavy dethatching, can be is as effective as coring with less putting disruption, Using 1-inch tines on a spacing pattern of 1 inch by 2 inches will impact slightly more than 15% of the surface area, so deep dethatching work is comparable to pulling cores. The positive outcome to this operation is less putting disruption and more content golfers.

Depending on weather, healing takes from 10 days to two weeks. During that time a light spoon feeding of liquid fertilizer will be applied to aid in the recovery process.

It is paramount that organic material management is practiced throughout the year. A constant effort to keep organic matter in the 1 to 2 percent range is critical to plant health as well as playability. Organic matter percentage is measured by taking undisturbed core samples and sending them off to a lab for analysis not an inexpensive process, but one that needs to be performed if you wish to track the level and success of your management program.

Early - Winter

By early November a decision must be made whether to put the Graden on greens for dethatching in a second direction or to aerate using 1/4-inch tines. These 1/4-inch tines on a 2-inch by-2-inch spacing only impact slight more than 2% of the surface area, so the question becomes, is the impact significant enough to justify the effort? Usually we just go back with Gradens equipped with 5/64--inch blades. This operation impacts about 8% of the surface area. With two fall dethatching procedures combined, you will have impacted nearly 22 percent of the green surface area. Because firm greens and a removal of organic matter are the goals, this double dethatching should works well for most USGA or sand modified greens rootzones.

Mid - Winter

By December most play will be considerably low. At that time it would be advisable to apply snow mold materials for winter protection. A final heavy top dressing is then applied to all greens (between ⅛ and ¼ inch). After topdressing brush all greens so a uniform covering is achieved.

This late-season topdressing allows for winter protection, since snow cover may or may not be a normal occurrence in you part of the world. Also, after a few early-season mowings, the greens, although not yet quick, are quite smooth and true.

As important as golfer satisfaction is, the agronomic needs of the plant should also be considered. Because most of us manage USGA greens or sand modified rootzones, our major intent is to manage the organic matter portion in the rootzone (upper 3 inches). Compaction is a consideration, but not the major factor in how the program was developed. If you can achieve balance in fertilization, watering, cutting height and pest management programs then aggressively manage the organic matter in the top three inches, I feel confident your greens will perform much better.

I also feel comfortable that this approach to greens cultivation and organic matter management will be effective on older-style push-up greens. Most of these greens have been modified by years of topdressing so the profile is in many ways similar to that of a sand modified rootzone green.

Aerification a golf course is a balancing act between making strong agronomic improvements vs. politics and playability. As technology evolves, newer and different equipment will come to the marketplace, changing our approach to many facets of our profession. The modern superintendent will examine these changes to determine what portions best fit his or her programs. This constant experimentation and innovation give golfers the wonderful turf conditions they now enjoy. Continued experimentation and innovation will move our craft and the game of golf forward.

The strength of this program lies in its season-long approach. All of these operations, equipment and procedures play important roles in this cultivation philosophy. In severe thatch and organic matter percentages these programs may not substitute for deep core aeration, but I have found them to be very effective tools in an effort to produce top quality turf. They are less disruptive to play and a machine such as the Graden does remove a great amount of thatch. An integration of various approaches utilizing different machines makes this program successful.

In discussions with many superintendents, I often hear that attempting to balance the needs of the plant versus the needs of the golfer difficult work. The answer is that it cannot work easily. There will always be some golfer discomfort any time disruptive management practices are undertaken on a green. Only through continued member education will the process become more harmonious. The superintendent’s efforts should always be aimed at meeting the needs on both sides of the equation and, hopefully, getting all parties on the same page of the book.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Take the Greens Survey

In an effort to gather important statistics on weather and its effect on golf greens during the spring and summer of 2010 I have initiated a short 5 question survey. Superintendents that have taken the survey spent an average of less than one minute, even though a short survey takes so little time the results may be significant as I have already witnessed. I already have over 100 respondents.

I will supply the information to all on this blog in approximately two weeks. Just follow this link, nothing for sale, no promotions, no catch, just a service to the industry that may need some stats on one of the worst weather seasons in recent memory for turfgrass.

I also send a weekly bulletin with information pertinent to golf course management, if you would like to receive, by email, please use the email (to the right) link and simply mail to me, in the subject line type; BULLETIN.

All my best, Mike

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Supers Ever-Expanding Role

I get an opportunity to view the business of golf course management from a different perspective that I did when I was a practicing golf course superintendent. For the most part I now focus my time on the business side of golf course management helping clubs and superintendents fine tune the skills necessary for the success of proper capital and operational resources.

These managerial skills are often the deciding factors for the prosperity of the club. The old adage that “clubs are managed like nobodies business” holds true in many cases. The emphasis on business skills can not be underestimated and sadly are not stressed in many of our fine turfgrass programs administered by universities. Agronomic skills are most always very sound at the clubs I visit, however, at the root of many failing clubs is a maintenance department that can be fine tuned by simply bolstering the basic fundamentals of business management.

Turfgrass management is mystical; unseen fungi, soil chemistry, water quality and weather conditions that can turn a perfect green to a bare patch of sand, these are subjects that the average member can seem to get their head’s around. I strongly believe that the superintendent in residence is the expert, period, no one spends more time and effort than the superintendent battling the elements to produce the great golf conditions we all enjoy so much.

The federal government, by example has shown us that if we allocate enough money to a problem we generally can arrive at a solution. Golf course budgets have followed suite and swelled to levels that far exceed the inflation factor over the last 30 years. Common to private clubs is one million dollar plus budgets to maintain 18-holes of golf. Of course conditions have improved dramatically and many members demained TV golf, that is fact.

Adding fuel to the fire is the USGA is beginning that same old song, again, similar to the 1980s, (the last economy that faltered). The USGA’s recent battle cry for golf course conditions of firm and fast, brown is okay, less water, less inputs more economical golf, also playing the number one USGA golf tournament at public courses, what are they trying to say? The political correctness of the USGA will never state that maintenance budgets are too high and business skills need to be brought to bear at golf facilities to keep golf alive and well.

Management skills by definition are:

Organization and coordination of the activities of an enterprise (the golf course) in accordance with certain policies and in achievement of clearly defined objectives (golf course maintenance standards). Golf course management is a factor of production along with machines, materials, and money. In the world of golf course management failures are becoming common and efficiencies oftentimes live only in the world of golf management companies. Does Troon Golf scare you, maybe it should.

Management companies are not the Darth Vader of the golf world but, (there’s always “a but”) it’s been easy pick’n for companies to bolster there contracts and outright purchases lately because of distressed assets. Clubs in financial trouble can be fixed in most cases without the help of management companies, just common business practices and management within the means of income.

Is the golf course a strictly expense entity of the club? I believe the answer is NO! Without the golf course no income would be realized from:

• Cart rental revenue
• Guest fees
• Outing income
• Full dues paying members

In fact, a full 78% of all club members are members because of the golf course. The golf course IS the engine that supplies revenue to golf and country clubs the world-over. If the superintendent does not have an understanding of revenue created by the golf course there will be no way to draw a parallel between maintenance expenses and income. All businesses need to know how these income and expense numbers figure into logical, proper budgets and spending metrics.

Management companies and the USGA is aware of the fact that good golf conditions do not require as much resources as are being spent at most clubs. If you limit inputs (the USGA plan) and tighten up business management (management companies plan) most clubs can be made well and whole without many changes in condition and services to the membership.

I believe you will agree that golf course management is a business activity. Even not-for- profit clubs must look at golf course management as a true business requiring a high level of business management skills. To be an accomplished golf course manager, superintendent, greenkeeper, director of agronomy or whatever title you choose the following four points are basic to your success:

You must be an expert in Planning: - Planning involves identification of your golf course business goal and the way to reach it. It involves the estimation of the costs that will be incurred and evaluation of the time required to attain the business goal. A business plan has to be documented and reviewed on a regular basis. A plan is worth it if the attainment of the business goal is feasible with the planned resources.

You must be well versed in Organizing: - It involves the assignment of tasks and allocation of resources throughout the golf maintenance organization. It includes determining the primary goals of the business and specific strategies to reach them. Divide the activities into tasks and assign the tasks to suitable and deserving employees. After all, most of the golf course management activities are production.

You must be recognized as a Leader: - Leadership is a management skill in itself. A true leader inculcates feelings of confidence, admiration in the followers and a sense of commitment towards the success of the golf course business. A leader, through his demonstrated efficiency and effectiveness, influences the others on his team to act efficiently and effectively. Being innovative is important for a leader and it is again a skill. Delegation is an important activity of leading. It is allocation and entrustment of responsibility often not very practiced by the people in the golf course management business.

Your abilities must be keen to Coordinate and Control: - They are important for the success of a golf maintenance business. Coordination is the process of communication to track the activities towards the goal and make decisions about the next line of action. Control is better implemented in the form of prudent guidance given to the employees by their superintendent. Timely evaluations are critical and necessary to evaluate business performance.

Business implies being busy (no problem for most superintendents), doing commercially practicable and productive work. Functionally, management is the process of measurement of the quantity of work while assessing its quality.

Another attribute possessed by a skilled golf course manager is the willingness to strive to deploy effectiveness. The often quoted management expert, Peter Drucker made a distinction between efficient and effective business skills. According to him, performing an activity swiftly and economically is ‘efficient’, while doing the right thing well is ‘effective’. Good business management skills lead you towards the right goals, but doing the wrong thing is the exercise of efficiency to no avail. Learn to prioritize your business activities. In golf course management a key skill is to understand what’s important for the business and differentiate it from what is urgent.

As a manager, you should be able to understand and evaluate the weaknesses of the organization and try to improve in them. You must be able to concentrate on the threats to your business and fight them effectively. You should have the skill to endure every setback and learn from your mistakes. Successful business development strategies used by others, help you to implement your own. This is when your skill to ‘experiment’ comes in the scene. Experimentation has to be accompanied by skillful judgment of your actions and results.

Business management includes management of money and time. Being a manager, you have to time yourself and schedule tasks for your team, so that deadlines are met. Management of money is an integral part of running a business. Business management requires a large skill set. It is everything right from planning, supervising, and at times, being the spokesperson for your business.

People skills, as they are nowadays called, are important for a golf course superintendent to acquire. After all, management is about handling people. Bringing out the potential in the people of your team is a skill. Stonewallers need to be dealt with, by motivating them towards constructive change or eliminating them from the team if change can not be achieved. You need to improve yourself and imbibe in the minds of others that improvement is a continuous process. Learn to celebrate the success of staff members always encourage them to contribute to the fullest of their capacities, towards the business organization. This helps create enthusiasm in the staff. It’s a human psychology to work to get noticed. Human expects recognition for his work. So encourage your team members to put in their best and congratulate them for doing that. It is a good practice to assign relatively experienced employees as buddies to the new ones.

'Coming together is a beginning.
Keeping together is progress.
Working together is success.’

–Henry Ford

This is what a team is all about and developing and maintaining a team spirit is indeed a management skill.
You need to have excellent communication skills to be a good manager! Being able to convey your idea to the people, and getting work done form them is a skill. Communication encompasses a range of activities, right from internal communication in your organization up to your business negotiations. Thus it requires for you to be a good communicator for the growth of your business.

Foresight is another skill to be acquired. You need to sense trouble ahead of time. You need to be prepared for it and plan accordingly. You are required to think ahead. Think far so that your business targets seem near!

Simply stated: management skills are about making the right decisions at the right time and getting them implemented by the right people!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Times They Are a-Changin'

“Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown”

The above is part of the first verse of a famous Bob Dylan song. I thought this 60s anthem to be apropos in the latest governmental push for new pesticide regulation. A clear and present movement is afoot to regulate and legislate the use of pesticides under fear that we will foul our waters by misusing pesticides.

In response to a series of court rulings, EPA has proposed a general permit under the Clean Water Act (CWA) governing the application of pesticides to, over, or near waters of the United States.

By court order, the Pesticide General Permit (PGP) must arrive in final form no later than April 9, 2011. At that point, only those regions of the country for which EPA administers permitting under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) would be subject to the permit.

However, the many state agencies with authority to implement the NPDES program will be following with their own general permits, which may add additional requirements to the baseline EPA provisions.

Application of pesticides to U.S. waters has spurred legal debates about the intersection of the CWA and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).

Under FIFRA, applications of federally registered pesticides must be performed according to directions on the product’s label. If an operator applies the pesticide as instructed on the label, there is no violation of FIFRA.

However, environmentalists have argued that pesticides are also pollutants. Under the CWA, no pollutant may be added to a protected water body unless it is authorized in an NPDES permit.

The PGP was proposed in light of the most recent court decision, which occurred in January 2009 when the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a 2006 EPA rule that allowed entities in compliance with FIFRA to avoid NPDES permitting.

Also following court actions, California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington issued state permits covering the application of certain pesticides to water. EPA’s rule is intended in part to remove the interstate imbalance created by the state regulations.

Among its provisions, EPA’s proposed PGP would require that, per application, operators use the lowest amount of pesticide product needed to control target pests; control discharges as necessary to meet water quality standards; and visually monitor for adverse impacts (water testing is not required).

Also, the PGP specifies that operators who exceed an annual treatment area threshold must prepare a pesticide discharge management plan before the first pesticide application covered in the permit and implement integrated pest management practices (IMP) for four categories of operations covered: mosquito and other flying insect pest control; aquatic weed and algae control; aquatic nuisance animal control; and forest canopy pest control.

The proposed PGP does not authorize coverage for pesticide discharges to outstanding national resource waters or to waters already impaired by the pesticide that would be applied. These discharges must be authorized by individual NPDES permits.

EPA’s proposed NPDES general permit for discharges of pesticides to U.S. waters was published in the June 4, 2010, Federal Register.

I also have additional concerns about H.R. 5088, the America’s Commitment to Clean Water Act, introduced by Representative James Oberstar of Minnesota. This bill would remove the term “navigable” from the definition of waters that fall under the EPA’s jurisdiction. I am, as well as others, concerned about the increased burden that could be placed on superintendents if this legislation passes. This bill is an unprecedented expansion of the reach of the law. Never before has Congress attempted to grant federal jurisdiction to essentially all wet areas including golf courses farmland, ditches, pipes, gutters, and storm drains.

Another part of the Dylan song calls for our leadership to take notice, and as a group might I suggest you contact your representatives in Washington and make our case - soon;

Come senators, congressman
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he who gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled

Because The Times They Are a-Changin'.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What's the Difference?

Satisfaction and importance of the golfers at your club should be a known variable. More than ever superintendents and general managers are surveying their members and guests to discover their desirers when it comes to what goods and services to deliver to club members.

Satisfaction is a measurement of what the player likes about the golf course as you present it, while importance ranks the components of the course that makes the game of golf more enjoyable. So it goes without saying that greens are generally most important to the game of golf, we should also know the satisfaction level of the player as it pertains to greens. If the importance is high and satisfaction is low we know to expend more resources on that component of the course.

Where the line begins to blur occurs with other lesser components of the course; cart paths, water features, sand bunkers, trees, landscape, even tees, fairways and rough are features that sometimes needs more attention based on this solid data to back–up additional expenditures.

To illustrate how the satisfaction and importance index can help you decide how to attack a plan to make your course as good as it can be for your unique clientele click on this link. Where the two categories of importance and satisfaction intersect will give you a clear picture of where to make improvements in maintenance and / or capital planning.

In this economy every member is critical to financial success of your business. The end of this summer season would be an ideal time to survey your players and formulate your plan for next year.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Game of Monopoly

Okay, the economy is tough, this summer’s weather has been brutal in many parts of the country, taking its toll on turf across the country; consider this story about an out of work heating salesman from Philadelphia.

The year 1933 was bleak. The weather was bad. The economy was bad. Charles Darrow of Germantown longed to visit Atlantic City as he had often done so in the past, but the depression had left him little money. As the next best thing to being there, Darrow concocted a little diversion. He invented a game based on the streets of Atlantic City: Boardwalk, Park Place, Baltic Avenue, and the rest. He called this new game Monopoly. It was all about making and spending money, some thing everyone wanted to do during the depression. Darrow showed the game to a few friends, and they liked it enough to want copies. Darrow made a few copies by hand, and thinking that he had a good idea, showed the game to Parker Brothers. But Parker Brothers considered the game too complicated to be successful.

Not willing to stop, Darrow managed to raise enough money to have some sets printed and offered them to Wanamaker's Department Store in Philadelphia. Very quickly Monopoly became the rage of the city. People who normally went to bed by nine o'clock would find themselves still trying to buy Boardwalk at two in the morning. The game was addictive. After this success, Parker Brothers took a second look and the rest is history. Charles Darrow was the first million dollar game inventor. Today, Monopoly is licensed in over eighty countries and in twenty-three languages.

The moral of the story, even in a down economy, situations present themselves, wise people pursue excellence and opportunity relentlessly.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Golf Management and My Turtle

In my younger days I saved up and bought a turtle. After about a month and a half the turtle died! There was no fan fare, no funeral, no burial at sea or toilet!

My mother demanded that I pick the smelly dead carcass out of the turtle bowl, and toss him in the trash. That's just what you did with dead turtles!

In retrospect, I didn't read up or have the slightest idea on how to take care of a turtle. I didn’t didn't think to ask questions when I bought the turtle at the pet store. Aside from the approved turtle food it was all a guessing game. It took forty days! That's it! Then he was gone!

I honestly thought Mr. Turtle would last longer! We now see so many golf courses who like me and my turtle don't take the time to investigate, read up on, learn about, or try to make sense of anything they do in management of their golf courses or clubs.

They operate their courses and clubs by chance, by luck or blind sense. Then they lose interest! Or even worse... they keep doing the same thing over again expecting different results.

Now, imagine if I were to replace his dead turtle with a new one every six weeks or so... it would get old fast... and costly too! You convince yourself, "I know it will work this time!"

But, sadly it doesn't! And, you're back to square one...

Habitual borrowing to shore-up operations, cash flow problems during off-season, expenses out of control, non-passionate employees who are ready to jump ship at a moments notice and basically not understanding your true cost of doing business... I could go on and on, but until you change your habits... your business will end up like Mr. Turtle...dead and gone.

Stop saying, "I know it will work this time!" Change your mindset! Start saying, "How can I make it work this time!"

List all of the things that you could have done differently... then do them!

If your debit load is terrible and rounds are down, hire someone that understands how to truly market your business and boost your sales to help retire your debit. Hire only passionate employees who are dedicated to your players and members. And, if you don't understand your numbers hire someone who can translate those numbers to you and let you know what changes you need to make.

I believe every golf course and club has a Mr. Turtle story in some portion of their business. When golf was booming, memberships, board of directors, committees and managers had this incredible club or course that was busy no matter what. Now that the economic double whammy hit with over-supply and a decrease in discretionary income, golf clubs and public courses are fighting for the same golf dollars. Now, some poorly managed clubs and courses of all types are suffering my childhood turtle’s fate...there dying a slow death,

Golf course maintenance proven best management practices are based on:
  • Golf course standards
  • Proper budget management
  • Labor management
Stop playing the guessing game. Make it work! Take lessons from Mr. Turtle! There is expert help, enlist someone that can take a close look at your golf course business and suggest tactics and proven strategies that can keep your turtle alive and well.

These words are as true today as they were years ago; “Those that fail to plan, plan to fail”.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Join the LinkedIn Group for Private Club Golf Superintendents

Follow this link to request membership in the Private Club Golf Superintentent LinkIn page dedicated to private club golf course management issues.

Private Club Golf Superintendents

It is my hope that topics that are germaine and unique can be discussed. Many of the issues facing the private club superintendent are vastly different that that of the public sector.

All Politics is Local, so is Golf

For some of you of my vintage that remember part of the title is a quote often attributed to the late Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill, Jr., former Speaker of the House. But Tip didn't coin the phrase ... it was passed down to him.

Tip revealed the true origin of the quote in his 1987 autobiography, Man of the House. Tip's father, Thomas O'Neill, Sr, shared this wisdom on the occasion of the only election loss in his son's lifetime, which was a run for the Cambridge City Council.

“During the campaign, my father had left me to my own devices, but when it was over, he pointed out that I had taken my own neighborhood for granted. He was right: I had received a tremendous vote in the other sections of the city, but I hadn't worked hard enough in my own backyard. 'Let me tell you something I learned years ago,' he said. 'All politics is local.'"

So what brings on this political babble? Golf club members are mostly people that live within a 30 minute drive from the club or course they play. It’s important to realize the demographics of this statement. If the club’s neighborhood is comprised $100,000 per year annual income families it would be logical not to build or operate a club that charges $800.00 monthly dues and has $100.00 food minimums and other associated fees that would cost upwards of 10% of the families total income for all inclusive club membership.

While the prices of other items seem to ebb flow and with the economy why is it different that the price of membership shouldn’t do the same? Examine the results on the big picture, if the cost of being a member is reduced by 20% then the expenses of the club must be curtailed by 20% if all things where equal. Therein lies the problem – has the management of the club been most efficient with the clubs funds in the past? How is it that clubs that hired management companies operate the club on substantially less money and still garner a profit for the companies (does Troon Golf come to mind)? When times are fruitful clubs began to compensate employees more and funneled excessive money into operating budgets and facility improvements to outdo the club across town. In golf and country club heydays the initiation fees where high, clubs had waiting lists and usage was more than adequate to support and expand operations. Did the majority of clubs save for a rainy day, I think not.

The excess of the 1990’s and early 2000’s evaporated into the rapidly expanding economy. Loans, houses, cars, club memberships, everyone wanted to live the dream. Now its time to pay and local clubs are witnessing a mass migration of members to the "Wal-Mart" public sector of golf, health clubs and restaurants. The top 10% of private clubs do not have the same problems, their well healed, old money members have the wherewithal to ink a check and move on.

The National Golf Foundation reported that private club transfers to public facilities in the last year were the largest ever recorded, 96 during 2009. There were over 15 private golf club complete closures during the year, which represents one-quarter of all such closures over the past decade. This is a multi-edged problem, more public golf available in an already saturated market and lower end private courses forced to close completely contributing to players retreating from golf altogether, lower real estate prices, unemployment and reducing the economic viability of communities through loss of major tax revenue.

Which brings me back to the lead-in, All Golf is Local. According to the Club Managers Association of America an average private club contributes to the local economy the following:
• The average club’s gross income is $5.5 million,
• Clubs spend $2.79 billion in their respective local community as a whole,
• Clubs spend $2.9 billion within their state as a whole,
• Clubs as a whole paid $351 million in real-estate taxes, $708 million in payroll taxes, $528 million in sales tax and $218 million in other taxes (i.e., liquor, excise, occupancy and school),
• That’s $1,805,000,000 in taxes alone!

What needs to take place is government to get smaller and reduce the tax burden on non-profit clubs among other cash producing - job creating entities. Clubs need to be more efficient with expenses on other resources; conspicuous consumption is out-of-style. Dues and initiations need to move with the economy to reflect a family’s expendable income. Some of the for-profit management companies need to be called out for unscrupulous practices especially in the lower end private club market.

John Easterbrook, executive vice president of operations for Troon Golf said in an article written by John Walsh, then editor of Golf Industry Magazine. “The formula for turning around facilities is the same. We go in and analyze the operation and staff, support programs that are doing well, and where there’s a challenge in the operation, we overlay our system, which includes benefits, staff sharing, national procurement, insurance, sales and marketing programs, membership programs and agronomy standards,” he says. “In most markets, golf is overbuilt, rounds are down, the cost of operation is up and workers’ compensation insurance is up. If revenues are down or flat, courses need to rejuvenate those, and that’s why people hire us.”

Easterbrook also added, “We don’t move staff out unless the people who hire us tell us to,” he says. “We look at the staff levels and where the superintendent is spending money. Most of the time, we don’t ask for more money, and we’re not blowing out a superintendent. We’re just looking over the shoulder of the superintendent.

“There are times when a course or club isn’t managed well,” he adds. “We bring a culture and enthusiasm for what we’re doing. The quickest way to get let go is to not have enthusiasm for what you’re doing. Whether you’re operating a $30-a-round golf course or a $300-a-round golf course, people in charge need to be enthusiastic.”

Peter Hill, chief executive officer and chairman of Billy Casper Golf Management said in that same GCI article, “Most superintendents are passionate and competent guys who are either real good grass growers, good course presenters, have good business sense or are good project managers,” he says. “The ideal guy has all four of these traits, but most have just two or three.” Hill also remarked that, “Part of being a good manager is recognizing the weak link and supporting that. At many courses, superintendents don’t have a sense of what they’re spending and there’s no long-term plan.”

Typically management companies remove 5% to 15% of revenue from a club, even at 10% that’s $550,000 in local money. Most local community’s report that a dollar turns 8 times in its economy in goods and services, the math is an impact of $4,400,000 in local economy.

If stand-alone club management can learn business skills to match income with expenses and manage to save funds for capital and downturns in economy maybe large management companies would seek work elsewhere and keep GOLF LOCAL.

The learned lesson is, pay attention to your local golf environment, your home course members and the economy of your local community. Your good work at your club isn’t just vital to you, your family and your members; your community is also depending on the vitality of the club. Clubs are small economic engines that support your local economy, like Tip O’Neill said, “ALL POLITICS IS LOCAL”.