Monday, January 25, 2010

Steps for a Better Golf Management Business, Step #2

By Michael Vogt, CGCS
Why Not a Survey?

Why do you think large, customer driven businesses like airlines, restaurant chains and hotels live and die by customer surveys?

Maybe these businesses are successful because they are so in-tuned with their custom’s desires and dislikes! You too can discover the likes and dislikes of your clientele. Conduct a Golf Course Survey of your own. With the internet being so popular and free sites available why wouldn’t you ask the questions that could drive your business into the next level of customer satisfaction?

These are the guidelines for successful survey writing:

Write a short questionnaire
Above all, your questionnaire should be as short as possible. When drafting your questionnaire, make a mental distinction between what is essential to know, what would be useful to know and what would be unnecessary. Retain the former, keep the useful to a minimum and discard the rest. If the question is not important enough to include in your report, it probably should be eliminated.

Use simple words
Survey recipients may have a variety of backgrounds so use simple language. For example, "What is the frequency of your golf rounds in the last ninety days at the club?" is better understood as, "About how many times have you played golf in the last 90 days at the club?"

Don't write leading questions
Leading questions demand a specific response. For example: the question "Do you favor compete sand bunker renovation?" leads respondents to decide on an expensive complete bunker project when the variety of sand is the biggest issue.

Avoid double negatives
Respondents can easily be confused deciphering the meaning of a question that uses two negative words.

Put your questions in a logic order
The issues raised in one question can influence how people think about subsequent questions. It is good to ask a general question and then ask more specific questions. For example, you should avoid asking a series of questions about a tees and then question about the most important factors in an excellent tee surface.

Cover memo or introduction
Once a recipient opens your survey, you may still need to motivate him or her to complete it. The cover memo or introduction offers an excellent place to provide the motivation. A good cover memo or introduction should be short and includes:

• Purpose of the survey
• Why it is important to hear from the correspondent
• What may be done with the results and what possible impacts may occur with the results
• Address identification
• Person to contact for questions about the survey
• Due date for response

Great on line survey sites that can supply you with a format and vehicle for your survey are:

Survey Monkey
Free Online Surveys
Poll Daddy

A survey can guide your maintenance practices and long range plan as well as communicate with members that you care enough to make every effort to supply the best course conditions tailored to their specific needs and wants, that’s a win-win!

Give the survey process a try, I really feel it will open your eyes to another great way to manage your course a keep you in touch with your clientele.

Any questions on writing great membership surveys; send me an email Michael Vogt, CGCS.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Steps for a Better Golf Management Business

By Michael Vogt, CGCS

Step #1

Have a Mission Statement

I ask a superintendent at one club I was visiting, “Of your entire crew who could cut the straightest line with a walking greens mower”? Without hesitation the super said, “Jose’ has been mowing greens for 6 years, his lines are the straightest, without a doubt”. I then posed a question and a challenge to the super, “I’ll bet I can teach any of the crew at your course, even the newest guy, to mow straighter lines than Jose’ in five minutes or less, ten dollars is my bet!”

The super took my bet picked up his radio and called for Jose’ and Primo to meet at the sod nursery to mow straight lines with a Toro Flex 21. Primo was a new hire (2 weeks) and was routinely assigned to hand rake bunkers and work around the club landscape, he hasn’t so much as used a rotary mower at the club.

As preparations preceded I reached in my back pocket and pulled out a handkerchief and tied it around Jose’s head covering his eyes, then I spun Jose’ in five quick circles. The super called fowl; and I said, “Your withdrawal from the bet is accepted”. My point being that it is certain that a master of the greens mower had no chance to mow a perfectly straight line while blindfolded and disorientated. It also holds true that an organization no matter how proficient and experienced can expect to achieve superior results without a mission statement. How can the superintendent and his team ever cut the straight line unbalanced and without being able to see forward to the next turn?

If your team is operating without a mission statement I might compare it to Jose’, scalping a path to the parking lot behind a Toro, blindfolded attempting to mow a straight line!

While your club, as a complete entity might have a mission statement it doesn’t preclude you and your team to being guided by a mission statement that complements or feeds the clubs overall mission and ultimate long term goals.

The second story I would like to share happened years ago during my career. I worked for a large management company. A golf professional was caring for a member that just got off the course playing behind a group that was particularly slow. The member was a regular, several times per week player along with his foursome; what I would call an extremely active members.

The member wanted to vent and the conversation escalated and got to a point where the golf professional finally said to the member, “What can I do to make the situation right.” The member said, “There’s nothing you or anyone can do to make the slow play I have just experienced right, I believe it's getting to be a problem here, this slow play.”

The golf professional without another word walked over to the putter rake and grabbed a Scotty Cameron putter that he saw the member looking at before his round and said, “I know nothing can make that unbearably slow round go away. Think of this gift as a token of our appreciation and how important you are as a member of the club.”

The member was floored by the gift of a $300 putter and the heated exchange ended. Each member of the staff is empowered to make these types of decisions and is still guided by a mission statement at this management company:

Do the right thing, do it daily, just do it!

The general manager (still a good friend) was asked to sign off on the golf professionals “gift” to the irate member, at first he thought, “What’s the golf pro trying to do, give away the shop?”

Then the light went on and the GM realized; the dues, golf cart rental income along with F&B revenue - if the group decided to take their golf somewhere else the cost of the putter was a drop in the bucket.

Later in the year the golf pro was selected as employee of the year by his quick thinking and conflict resolution skills.

By the way, this foursome was estimated yearly at well over $35,000.00 in revenue to the club.

Mission statements are powerful tools, which lend clarity and goals to your team. A mission statement can also give guidance for employees to act in a certain manner.

A club's mission statement is a constant reminder to its employees of why the club exists and what the founders envisioned when they put their reputations and resources at risk to breathe life into their club.

Woe to the club that loses sight of its Mission Statement for it has taken the first step on the slippery slope to failure.

Sample Mission Statements

1) To form a team dedicated to providing exceptional golf course conditions to the members we serve. We will provide a professional approach to golf course maintenance and exceptional quality projects which meet budget and schedule goals.

2) Above all we highly value the importance of our members to deliver high-quality golf course maintenance by employing and supporting motivated, flexible, and focused teams. We will remain fair and true in our dealings with all members, employees, vendors, and partners. The club counts on our dependability, our drive, and our integrity. We take great pride in our accomplishments and build on them every day.

3) To provide excellent golf course conditions centered on the entire membership and to foster a family centered golf experience that meets or exceeds the expectations of those members and families we serve. To collaborate with members, committees, management and boards of directors to improve the overall conditions and environments of the club’s golf course and surrounding grounds all while protecting and safeguarding the environment.

Try a mission statement on for size, change some of the words, create your own but don’t forget - share it with your team, it might change how straight your lines are!

Friday, January 8, 2010

GOLF, 2020

By Michael Vogt, CGCS

Looking into the Magic Golf - Crystal Ball what will golf look like in the next decade.

Remember the Cayman ball, nearly 30 years ago. Jack Nicklaus asked the MacGregor Golf Company to develop a ball for a small course his design company was laying out on Grand Cayman Island. The Cayman ball is the same size as a regulation golf ball. It weighs just 24 grams, compared to the approximate 45 grams of a regulation golf ball. These balls travel slightly more than half the distance of a golf ball with a fast swing and a greater percentage with a slower swing. Its lightness also permits beginners to easily get this ball airborne and prevents miss hits from ever stinging their hands, common drawbacks to these players with a regulation golf ball.

Smaller course, less land, less money to maintain, less impact on the environment, less time to play and the Cayman course was supposed to be a gateway to big boy golf. Good idea? No, the concept looked good on paper but never caught on. The golfer wants to blast the ball 250 plus off the tee, that’s golf!

Continued pressure might resurrect this thinking.

Dan Bjorkman of Colorado built a 1.2 million-square-foot championship, artificial-turf golf course. The course, located on his Echo Basin Ranch is the first of its kind, and the largest layout of artificial turf in the world.

There are five different (phony) grasses for the course – putting, fairway, rough, fringe and tee box – ranging from 5/8th inch, 7/8th, 1¼ inch, 2¼ inch on the fairways, and 2¾ inch in the rough. The course is said to be groomed as immaculately as any major golf course, never flooded or swampy after big rains, playable anytime it’s not covered in snow – which will melt faster. All that has to be done for course maintenance is occasionally run the broom over it to pick up pine cones and twigs after big storms and high winds.

The 7,800-yard PGA championship course is the constructed using six inches of three-quarter-inch road base that is meticulously compacted throughout, covered with three grades of Arizona silica sand, spread as a bedding for the turf. As the grades of silica get smaller, the final layer supporting the turf is smoothed and graded as slick as ice.

After the carpet is fitted, it is top dressed with a mix of silica sand and granules of recycled truck tires. This mixture holds up the blades and percolates down through the rubber backing to commingle with the silica, giving the turf a surprisingly real feel and the substance from which to take a divot-type swing without breaking the yarn or tearing the backing. The rolls weigh 600 pounds, are 15 feet wide and require careful cutting at the glued seams and around the contours so there’s no bunching or bubbling.

The cost of artificial turf is twice that of natural grass. But real grass uses many thousands of gallons of water a night to keep green, and it costs $1 million a year to cut the grass the water grows. In golf Mecca’s like Arizona and Nevada, that’s $1 million in water and $1 million in maintenance – $75 per player per round – in addition to the hundreds of thousand of pounds and gallons of fertilizers and herbicides that leach into ground water, that might not be a bad idea.

Why hasn’t plastic grass caught on throughout the world?

High installation cost - as high as $12 to $15 per square foot.

Maintenance costs - "No maintenance" claims are absurd. All you have to do is check out a few of the artificial turf driving ranges and you will see evidence of annual bluegrass and other grassy and broadleaf weeds. The lack of thatch or biomass opens up questions of contamination from using chemicals that could more readily leach into ground-water for lack of a biologically active thatch layer.

Unlike natural grass, it will not be possible to protect the quality of the surface. From the time it is installed until the day it is replaced, the product will reduce in quality in an uneven manner. Unlike turf that can be maintained at a high quality or rejuvenated with overseeding and other techniques, artificial turf will only become more worn out until it must be replaced.

Effective repairs for torn and ripped areas have yet to be satisfactorily addressed. This is a maintenance function, whether it is admitted or not. Solutions to these problems are critical to the future success of the product.

Real growing turf is cooler. The idea of standing on an artificial golf course in the middle of summer in Phoenix is not appealing at all. The feel of the shot from today's artificial turfs may be of good quality, but the experience continues to be unnatural and uncomfortable.

When the artificial turf is replaced the old turf must be handled as a toxic waste in landfills contributing to already overcrowded landfills with slowing degrading petro-carbons.

The jury is still out on artificial turf, for now it’s safe to say “thumbs down”.

Robot Grass Mowers
Already here, just for greens.

At last years Golf Industry Show, Indianapolis-based company, Precise Path Robotics has announced its latest creation, the RG3 robotic greens mower and a fully automated robotic golf course conditioning and maintenance mower.

Precise Path’s vice president of sales and marketing said that the latest technology will undoubtedly help golf course superintendents achieve uniformity and outstanding course conditions while allowing crew workers to tackle other tasks during the greens-mowing process, such as raking bunkers, plantings, turf repair, and so on.

The RG3 comes with a relatively easy operation protocol where the operator places four beacons, each about the size of a bowling pin, in predetermined, fixed locations around the green. Then the operator simply presses “start” and the RG3 automatically performs the mowing operation according to exact specifications set by the superintendent.

The mower remains in constant communication with the beacons to help guide its precise movement across the green during the mowing sessions.

“There is a need for a more consistent method of maintaining golf courses,” said Gamble. “Not only will golfers benefit from better, more uniformly cut greens, but superintendents and crews alike will be able to focus on other important tasks such as general course maintenance and landscaping.”

“Helping golf course superintendents, owners and operators realize the benefits of robotics is our top priority, and we intend to be here for the long haul to support the industry in making this important technology adoption,” said Doug Traster, Precise Path Robotics president and co-founder.

Could this robot go rogue, if the beacons are misaligned or some other mechanical mishap occurs, I would imagine so! The robo-mower could take off down the fairway munching a one eighth inch scalped swath until the kill-robot switch is enabled.

Automatic irrigation was once on the same footing and infancy as the robotic mowers, now computer controlled irrigation completely replaced the night waterman.

Will robotic mowers take over as crew members dwindle, I would bet this is a trend of the future.

The USGA is the watchdog of the rules and equipment used in the game of golf. The latest change in the equipment rules is grooves. Changes in types and surface area of grooves on irons will make it more difficult to execute a controlled shot out of deep rough.

Where were this USGA guys when the titanium driver and Pro V ball hit the streets increasing the average pro drive to 300 plus yards? How many clubs in the last ten years lengthened the golf course to 7,000 plus yards in an effort to keep the course challenging to the clubs low handicapper. As if costs aren’t enough lets add a quarter mile or more to the course because USGA dropped the ball (pardon the pun).
Rule changes often have unintended consequences and in some cases drive up the cost of golf. Where will USGA rules go next, how about we ban golf carts, GPS and laser range finders?

The USGA will keep monkeying around with rules, it’s what they do!

Genetic Engineering
Super Genetically Engineered Turf Plants that can withstand extremes in hot, cold, wet, dry as well as insects and fungal attacks and remain green and growing, that’s what’s next. Round-Up ready bents are already headed to a turf distributer near you in the not-so-distant future.
Once the genetic code is broken and scientists learn how to select and install these super traits in turf the sky’s the limit.

Super grass, you will see this stuff in you lifetime!

Management Companies
Management companies are already a big player in golf maintenance, their ability to leverage purchasing, labor, and other resources are going to be a fact of the golf business. When operators, municipalities and members switch to management companies the dynamics of operations changes and instead of stand alone businesses these courses are managed as part of a big business with substantially more zeros.

Similar to what happened to the old neighborhood grocery store and hardware store; Wal-Mart is the game-changer! Everyday I read news that XYZ Company just inked a new management contract.

More big business for small golf properties!

What’s Next?
Business and innovation is a wonderful thing and is powered by the ability to create a superior product or service at a lesser cost. Million dollar plus maintenance budgets will only survive for the most elite of private clubs in the next decade. With government pressure on water use, chemical and fertilizer applications, tightening of the boarders, fuel prices and taxing the rich; where else can the golf business go?
My prediction for the next decade:

• Reduced new course length (7,000 yard max)
• More robots to replace labor
• Better grasses (no brainer)
• Improved water delivery (sub-irrigation)
• Less private clubs
• No growth or reverse growth in superintendent salaries
• Smaller crews
• More management companies
• Cost will be a bigger factor in choosing courses
• More restrictions on chemical and fertilizer use
• Mega-courses with many nine hole layouts
• Less not for profit private clubs (government will see as found tax money)

Sharpen your pencil, it's all about the money, 2020 will change the face of golf as we know it today!