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!

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