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”.