Friday, March 19, 2010

The art and science of hiring the best crew ever!

By Michael Vogt, CGCS

How often have you been in a hiring situation? With the majority of golf courses using seasonal and part time employees the task of finding the right fit is difficult at best. And the results; you’ve used your best interviewing techniques and questions. You’ve checked his references and they were great. Your gut instincts said, “He’s a winner.” You and your assistant have poured your heart and soul into training him and now, two months later, he’s late for work, doesn’t follow through on his jobs, and gives you every excuse in the book why he can’t perform up to expectations. You have to let him go.” Sound familiar? It has happened to all of us.

One of the most difficult tasks a superintendent faces today is finding the right person for the job. Most follow an old fashion interview and trust their instincts. They hire the individual and hope that with proper training and motivation, the individual will succeed. The difficulty with this approach is that it is human nature to hire people we like and that have similar personalities to our own.

You are a superintendent and hiring top positions on your team, like assistant superintendents or spray techs, you probably have a 50% chance of hiring the right person for the job. These positions are generally committed people with a definite career track. But, if you are hiring for a laborer or equipment operator or even a head mechanic position chances are you will fail and the position will become a revolving door. With the average hiring mistake in the golf course industry costing a club upwards of $5,000, for an avoidable miscalculation in most cases. Especially in this economy, competitive pressures make hiring right the first time a necessity.

There is a better way. I have learned that the key to golf course productivity is having the right people in the right jobs. I call people with the skills, motivation and work ethic to do the job Hour Savers. Put the Hour Savers in the job and you will have a top producer; someone you wish you could clone. Put many Hour Savers in the job and you will have a highly productive, exciting maintenance team that is fun to work with; a team that your fellow superintendents wish they could clone. An analogy that illustrates selecting the best employees this is a bus, the bus has many seats (jobs), hiring right puts the correct person in the correct seat, hiring poorly forces you to kick riders off the bus completely (firing them). Don’t let anybody on your bus that can’t find their seat and stay on for the whole ride.

Job Compatibility

The first question to answer is “Is the individual compatible with what you are asking them to do (will they fit into the seat)?” Many golf maintenance operations today have extensive cross-training assignments for their employees. The notion is based on the idea that the broader the experience, the better the employee. Unfortunately, many employees are miserable in cross-training assignments because their personalities are not compatible with what they are being asked to do. Their performance lags. They become frustrated and what was once a rising star becomes a management problem with an attitude. Usually, the employee leaves before the busy superintendent can determine the root of the problem. Doesn’t it make sense to determine a person’s compatibility with a new job BEFORE they are hired and/or promoted?

How is this done? I recommend the use of a personality profile. First, test your most successful people in the position you’re hiring. The results will uncover their dominant job related traits. This program will then model the results through a process called “benchmarking" or "base lining.” This process creates a hiring or promotion personality trait standard, by which you can compare your applicants or employees to the successful people in the job. Find out what makes Ralph the best cup cutter, or Joe the best fairway mower, just ask them some questions, find out what makes them tick! Use those traits to screen your applicants and voila, a better than average chance the applicant will fit the job profile. Ask questions that probe into their likes and dislikes, attention to detail, typical day on the job, you’ll be surprised what you learn.

Skills, Knowledge, Experience

The second question to answer is “Does the individual have the skill set to do the job?” This can be determined through good interviewing questions, checking references, and giving the applicant a skills test that is relevant to the position. Recent research has shown that many applicants lack the basic skills to do the job. I sincerely recommend the use of a basic skills test, if you’re looking for a greens mower, and you walk mow greens ask if walking is something the applicant has an affinity for, like 3 miles per day. At a company I used to work with we used tests that were developed by an employment consultant to uncover certain personality traits that might be congruent to the different positions we offered. Bottom line, what good is it to hire someone who can’t or doesn’t want to walk 3 miles to mow greens and have the desire to be at the job before the sun rises? Make sure they have these basic skills before you hire.

If you want to know if an applicant knows how to operate a mower, I sincerely recommend the use of a demo as part of the applicant screening process. It puts the applicant in typical mowing situation and then measures their responses against a known group of top producers. I am sure you have witnessed an employee that was trained without much effort; they most likely turned out to be excellent hires. Take the applicant to the nursery green with a greens mower and observe the basic walk, turn, throttle use, grip on the handle; the basic aptitude on their relationship with a walking greens mower. The stiff, apprehensive fellow might never find a balance in walk mowing greens.

Work Ethic

The third question we must answer is “Will the individual work?” Below is an assortment of interview questions mostly for salary or core staff members, to help you determine the applicant’s work ethic.

Mission/Sense of Purpose
• Who is the most successful person you know?
• What is your goal in life?
• Tell me about your 5-year goal? Your 10-year goal?
• Is there any reason why you wouldn’t be willing to commit to working 5 am to 3:00 pm, five to six days a week?
• Is there any reason why you wouldn’t be willing to commit to working weekends and holidays?

• Tell me about something you have accomplished that required great perseverance?
• Tell me about the jobs you have had that required self-discipline and perseverance?
• Tell me about something that made you decide to give up and why?

Time Management
• What method do you use to track time, appointment book, day timer, calendar
• At home how do you prioritize your “To Do” list?

Character and Credit History
• When we conduct our character and credit checks, will we find anything questionable?
• Check driving, credit, criminal, and employment history.
• Check personal references.

For hourly positions, the questions we must answer are different. We want to know:

• “Will the applicant show up for work?"
• "Will the applicant steal from the company?"
• "Will the applicant take drugs on the job?"
• "Can the applicant accept supervision?"
• "What is the applicant’s attitude toward customer service and communication?”

There are several tests that have proven to be very effective at screening out people with absenteeism, tardiness, drug, theft, supervision, safety, job hopping, and customer service problems. These tests are now given online and are available in English or Spanish, results can be returned in as little as 10 minutes speeding the process up considerably. Per test costs will vary but in most cases these tests can uncover attributes that are good and bad for your team.


The final question we must answer is “If I hire this applicant, who inside of my organization is best to manage the new hire and jump start his/her productivity?” How many times have you hired the “right” applicant, seen them perform excellently during the “honeymoon”, then watched their productivity slowly fall into the abyss? In my experience I have found that personality conflicts account for about 50% of the employee turnover. In a recent research study, it was discovered that often a new hire had all the “right” ingredients for success. The new hire was then assigned to a manager or trainer with whom they were incompatible. The result was after a month, the new hire became de-motivated, disheartened and left.

How can this be prevented? By making sure that the new hire and training supervisor are compatible. While opposites may attract socially, they usually like oil and water at work. If the differences are not as extreme, then have an initial conference and show the new hire and manager how they are alike and how their differences can benefit each other. Often, just showing two people how they can attack a problem from their different perspectives is enough to promote teamwork and often can jump start productivity.


With hiring mistakes costing golf courses real money, competitive pressures necessitate “hiring right and promoting right” the first time. In order to do this, you must have a complete picture of an applicant or employee’s strengths and weaknesses and how they will fit into your organization. This picture must include an assessment of their skills, their personality, their work ethic and consideration of compatibility with the immediate supervisor and/or trainer.

We all remember that magic year that we had the best crew ever, good morale, on time everyday, responsible team of just great people. The rush of spring often has the superintendent making quick “warm-body” decisions to fill needed positions at the beginning of the year. Resist the temptation to just hire the friend of a good employee or someone not known to you off the street. Take some time and research that applicant, your job will be better for it and it could be that “best crew ever”.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Carbon Footprint, Why is it Important to Me?

By Michael Vogt, CGCS

This is the best definition I can come-up with:

“The total amount of greenhouse gases emitted directly and indirectly to support human activities, usually expressed in equivalent tons of either carbon or carbon dioxide.

Direct greenhouse gas emissions can include tailpipe emissions of CO2 from motor vehicles, methane from landfills, and hydro fluorocarbons from leaking refrigeration or air conditioning equipment. Indirect greenhouse gas emissions arise from coal and other fossil fuel-based energy generated to power residential, commercial, and industrial activities. Indirect emissions also arise from fossil fuel combustion used in the manufacture, transport, storage, disposal, and recycling of commodities and manufactured products.”

How about the golf course, what’s involved in calculating carbon foot prints for a golf course maintenance operation?

• Gasoline and diesel fuel for machinery and delivery trucks
• Heating and cooling the Turf Care Center
• Plastic packaging
• Electricity for irrigation pumps

Virtually everything, (products and services) used at the golf course has an associated carbon foot print. As soon as we use these products and services the green house gases (GHG) that help manufacture and delivered these products and services are assigned to the end user.

Basic Carbon Dioxide Chemistry:

• Chemical Formula: CO2
• Molecular Weight: 44.01
• Temperature of Solid CO2 ("dry ice"): -78.2° C or 108.4 below 0 F
• Common Uses of CO2:
     Refrigeration (dry ice)
     Fire fighting, fire extinguishers
     Carbonated beverages
• CO2 in the Atmosphere: The Earth's atmosphere is about 360 ppm (parts per million) carbon dioxide gas. This concentration is an increase from 315 ppm in 1960.
• CO2 Production: You produce 1/2 lb (pound) of carbon dioxide when you watch television for an hour.
• Geometry: The CO2 molecule has a linear shape. This means that the atoms in carbon dioxide are arranged like the picture below. The Black circle represents one atom of carbon and the two Red circles represent oxygen atoms.

• One Pound: One pound of carbon dioxide gas has the volume of 8.2 cubic feet. You could store two pounds of carbon dioxide in the average kitchen refrigerator.

Lets run the numbers

Calculating CO2 emissions:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) guidelines for calculating emissions inventories require that an oxidation factor be applied to the carbon content to account for a small portion of the fuel that is not oxidized into CO2. For all oil and oil products, the oxidation factor used is 0.99 (99 percent of the carbon in the fuel is eventually oxidized, while 1 percent remains un-oxidized.)

Finally, to calculate the CO2 emissions from a gallon of fuel, the carbon emissions are multiplied by the ratio of the molecular weight of CO2 (44) to the molecular weight of carbon (12): 44/12.

CO2 emissions from a gallon of gasoline = 2,421 grams x 0.99 x (44/12) = 8,788 grams = 8.8 kg/gallon = 19.4 pounds/gallon

CO2 emissions from a gallon of diesel = 2,778 grams x 0.99 x (44/12) = 10,084 grams = 10.1 kg/gallon = 22.2 pounds/gallon

Thus, for every gallon of gasoline your equipment burns 19.4 pounds of CO2 are released into the atmosphere, and for every gallon of diesel fuel 22.2 pounds are released.

Soil below turfgrass areas can trap CO2

Agricultural Research Service soil scientist Ronald F. Follett and Colorado State University researcher Yaling Qian have studied soil records from 16 Denver-area golf courses. Follett says they found that carbon sequestration in the soil under turfgrass occurred at a "significant rate that is comparable to the carbon sequestration rate reported from U.S. land that has been placed in the Conservation Reserve Program." That voluntary program, run by USDA's Farm Service Agency, pays agricultural landowners to "establish long-term, resource-conserving covers on eligible farmland," which helps trap carbon.

Follett explains that golf course managers generally keep excellent soil records; some of the records used for this research go back 45 years. The scientists found that carbon sequestration lasts for up to 31 years in fairways and 45 years in greens, after which the rates slow or become negligible. While carbon sequestration exists on tees, it was not nearly as much as those on fairways and greens. The researchers are still investigating why this is the case.

A rapid increase in carbon sequestration occurs the first 25 to 30 years after the turfgrass is established. The study found that greens and fairways each store nearly a ton of carbon per acre per year. An average size golf course can be responsible for better than 100 tons of CO2 per year.

The comparison is this, a golf course can use 100 gallons of fuel and still be carbon neutral if the course is younger than 30 years and has at least 100 acres of turf less tee surfaces.

CO2 gases are believed to be the major contributing culprit in global warming.

If you are a believer in global warming, CO2 disaster, there you have it. However, if you think this global warming thing is a big scam by the elite left wing educated and big government the above doesn’t mean anything!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Mike Puts the Grip on Mike

Notice The Firm Handshake, I Think Iron Mike is Wincing From the Grip!

"We Have Met the Enemy... and He is Us"

By Michael Vogt, CGCS

Modified USGA specification greens, sand bunkers with pure white sand also add expensive fabric liners to these bunkers so we can flash sand at ridiculous slopes, oh, and don’t forget blemish free turf from tee to green. Is it harder to let go of the tiger than it was to catch him by the tail? We are the victim of our own technology; let’s examine just two basic problems with technology, golf design and maintenance and see if we have identified the enemy.

Let’s examine the green:

In an article by James Moore, Director of USGA’s Construction Education Program states that, “After 20 years the greens will probably not drain well internally.” The highly modified and engineered USGA specification sand greens that dot the golf landscape are each dying a slow 20 year death, according to the USGA!

We build high content sand greens to encourage rooting, increase gas exchange in the root zone, drain water so we don’t miss an available tee time, reduce compaction to allow root space and allow golf designers the ability to contour the putting surface as they seem fit. How is it we create these superior surfaces and now have the added expenses of hand watering, constant fights with thatch, rolling to increase ball speed, fight moss and bacterial invasions, add fans to increase air circulation and have to limit the natural growth of the turf with plant growth regulators? Do we aerify greens less today on sand greens than we did on soil greens? No. With dense new bentgrass cultivars these new super grasses seem to produce even more thatch, so instead of aerification to just relieve compaction we need this process to remove accumulated thatch and pore clogging organic matter.

International Sports Turf Research Center (ISTRC) a physical soil test lab in Kansas, is so convinced in the importance of removal of thatch that they recommend in most of their soil reports that 20% at a 3 inch depth of the green surface be removed annually just to “manage” the thatch layer. That equates to at least 2, 5/8 inch hollow tine aerifications annually, followed by introduction of pure sand into the hole to act as a conductor for water and gas exchange in the root zone. The ISTRC guidebook should be required reading for all golf course superintendents that mange sand greens, the guidebook can be found at: ISTRC Guidebook

Old push up style greens I have observed lately compared well with these fancy sand based wonders of technology. Poa annua (Annual bluegrass) is still no less of a problem in most geographic regions with or without sand based greens. So, what have we gained by building greens with scientifically selected sand size? Elaborate drainage systems and a complete greens replacement schedule of every 15 to 30 years and this schedule was reviewed and endorsed by the USGA, GCSAA, CMAA, GCBAA, NGF, NGCOA and compiled and distributed by the American Society of Golf Course Architects.

Let’s grab this tiger by the tail and run the numbers. The cost of 19 new greens is perhaps, on the low side, $600,000 (about $4.00 per ft²). If the greens in a drastic situation needed to be replaced after 15 years (minimum time frame set forward by the above golf associations) a course would have to save, in today’s dollars, $40,000 per year. That’s nuts! Even if the greens endured for the maximum time, the course is on the hook to put away $27,000 per year! That means as soon as the first putt rolls in the cup at least one dollar per round, forever, needs to be saved for rebuilding of the greens, in today’s money!

A soil green, (of which there are many great examples in the USA) can be built under the strictest specification and be built for a fraction of the cost. These greens often have better soil microbial activity, use far less water, play firmer and support very good populations of turf.

Apparently, most people believe the USGA specification green building and subsequent renovations are worth the extra money or not as many people would be requesting the fancy sand greens; but how long can courses sustain these expensive modifications, maintenance and green rebuilding schedules?

Another driving force in the favor of sand green is the golf course architect, the reason being is they can shape a green with extreme contours and not be concerned with surface drainage as the old soil based greens. The type of sheet drainage (old style greens) that was said to lead to soggy approaches and waterlogged greens surrounds. Those soggy areas around greens are easily solved by installation of drainage at a fraction of the cost.

Let’s examine the sand bunker:

Bunkers are even more absurd than greens! Flash sand bunkers with laser sharp edges is also a function of fad; golf course architects piling sand on ridiculously steep banks for visual effect, not necessarily for playability, because they could create a visual stunning look from the tee and/or second shot.

In these cases form followed newly functional and improved building techniques, golf course architects used these new and expensive building and maintenance techniques to build extreme cost and high maintenance golf course sand bunkers. The life of sand bunkers is said to be only 5 to 7 years. I completed a complete sand bunker renovation during 2008 on a Tom Fazio design golf course, the bill, $650,000. That’s a whopping, $92,857 per year of bunker life based on 7 years of asset in service.

As mentioned earlier if you amortized the cost of just bunkers and greens the course would have to reinvest $132,857 per year. That’s just for bunkers and greens renovations or replacements, from day one the asset was put into service.

Whom else to blame?

The superintendents are the next nemesis of the grand old game. Their ever increasing expertise demonstrated that super-green, blemish free turf could be achieved, at a substantial additional cost!

Golf course designers have been practicing one-upmanship for the last 50 years. The golden age of golf architecture with practitioners such as Maxwell, McDonald, McKenzie, Tillinghast and Ross are lauded today for their design genius, even today. They understood the game of golf on a higher level than most and based their designs on what was available to build with on site. They never moved 100,000 cubic yards of soil; they designed the greens to surface drain properly. Trees, as a rule, didn’t have a purpose on golf course design except for an occasional grove of apple or pear trees to supply the walking golfers with a treat during the dog days of summer.

The cost of golf has increased dramatically due to these advances in design, construction and maintenance. With today’s economic pressures, over-supply of golf, reduction in leisure time and lenders and banks classifying golf as “Toxic Assets” we have built high maintenance features without the forethought of cost. Golf maintenance has never been inexpensive; however, golfer, owner, members and superintendent demands strive for ever-increasing pristine conditions and visual perfection. These elements have driven the cost of golf into the stratosphere. Slowly the game will once again be reserved for the ultra-rich with ample time and resources to enjoy.

Let’s examine the maintenance cost:

Now that the other shoe has dropped the buzz is, maybe less is more in golf design and maintenance, to wit, Bandon Dunes, Chambers Bay and Barnbougle Dunes. These are wildly popular courses that focus maintenance on play areas, have little or no trees and have sand bunkers that are truly hazards; not perfectly groomed, white sand, lined maintenance headaches.

We are now experiencing the perfect storm, less free time, less disposable income, high maintenance costs, banks and intuitional lenders turning their back on golf and a mass exodus of members fleeing the private club sector. Perhaps less is more in golf design and maintenance, to wit, Bandon Dunes, Chambers Bay and Barnbougle Dunes. These are wildly popular courses that focus maintenance on play areas, have little or no trees and have sand bunkers that are truly hazards; not perfectly groomed, white sand, lined maintenance headaches.

Million dollar maintenance budgets have become the norm at just average golf courses from coast to coast. Should we attempt to look at golf course design, building and grooming and accept a through-back principle to less expensive, simpler times? There will always be golfers willing to pay a premium for super-ultra private club golf courses. I just find it hard to imagine the average small business owner or upper wage earner spending an average of $130.00 per round (at a club) of golf before the first beer.

What do you think, email me with your view?