Tuesday, January 17, 2012

10 Common Golf Course Maintenance Mistakes

Every year, golf course operators struggle with the same issue - Keeping their golf course(s) in optimum playing condition while managing their maintenance expenditures.  Although there are many well-run, financially successful properties that have implemented an effective operations plan, there are also a number of operators that can improve their maintenance program.  Whether it be that they do not have a thorough understanding of how turf management programs are implemented on the course or a complete understanding of how certain agronomic practices can affect conditioning, playability and expenses; operators sometimes struggle relating practices and expectations to the budget process. 

Below is a list of what might be considered to be the ten biggest mistakes that can occur involving golf course maintenance operations. We hope that using this list when reviewing your maintenance practices and expenditures could lead to a more efficient and profitable golf course operation. 

#10 - Mistaking Capital Projects for Routine Maintenance 
During annual budget preparations, numerous construction or renovation projects are mistaken as routine maintenance rather than capital projects.  It is rare that the resources and staffing of an existing maintenance program are able to support the ongoing maintenance plan and a capital project. If the resources that support a high quality maintenance program are removed to cover even one project such as a bunker renovation, the man-hours must come from somewhere and the course may not receive the proper attention. This can result in a decrease in conditions.  Whether you hire an outside firm or handle the project internally, you must make sure you have sufficient resources to address all of the priorities. 

#9 - Failure to Establish a System to Adjust for Changing Priorities
Priorities can change at a club regularly, even on a daily basis depending upon the importance of the issue. These priorities differ and range in importance based on numerous influences. In addition, General Managers and Superintendents may view and set vastly different priorities.  Where one may view a task as moderately necessary, the other may view it as extremely important.  Each party must make a point to understand what it is that is important to one another and determine the priorities that help to best achieve the overall goals of the operation.  Communication is key, Superintendents and General Managers should meet often to modify and update priorities and goals.

#8 - Failure to Establish Budget Levels Against Expectations
While creating budgets there are numerous times that the numbers are determined by total acreage of the property, networking and comparing maintenance budgets with other courses, or from past years’ budgets. When forecasting a budget, an owner/operator needs to first consider the level of the maintenance operation.  Then factor items such as the maintenance challenges of the property or design including slopes such as surrounding the bunkers, the elevation changes throughout the property, efficiency of the irrigation system and quality of the equipment fleet.  While looking at these and all of the other components as well as close examination to the maintenance plan, the budget dollars should better meet the operation’s goals and objectives. 

#7 - Failure to Establish and Adhere to Written Expectations for How the Course Should Look and Play
Most properties in the United States do not have written expectations identified by the golf course owner or operator. Having a expectations identified by someone at the club level, superintendents can better understand their roles and the expectations for performance.  In addition, having clear guidelines to work with, superintendents can better manage themselves and their staff to achieve conditioning expectations while still meeting the budgetary goals. 

#6 - Failure to Establish Written Guidelines for Mowing and Service Frequencies 
There are too many instances at a club level, superintendents are solely responsible to determine the mowing and set up frequencies for daily operations.  In balancing the needs and wants from both the maintenance operation and clubhouse operations, a set maintenance schedule can help to give the staff a firm understanding of their duties each and every day.  Also, having a set schedule agreed upon by both parties can result in improved efficiency.

#5 - Failure to Establish Man-Hour Requirements to Perform the Written Guidelines
With set maintenance guidelines in place, superintendents are able to devise a man-hour estimate identifying the personnel requirements needed to achieve the expectations. Failing to have a man-hour estimate could result in one of two negative scenarios: expectations won’t be met due to lack of personnel OR there may be excessive spending on unnecessary personnel. Neither achieves all of the goals of the course and the business.

#4 - Failure to Manage Personnel Functions Effectively
Any management professional can understand the difficulties when it comes to managing multiple people.  There are many elements that make an effective manager; too many to cover here. In operations though, an effective leader ensures that staff is focused on their job duties and correctly completing tasks.  The leader also needs to ensure that the crew is working together toward meeting the goals and objectives established in the maintenance guidelines.

#3 - Failure to Reward Good Performance Against Expectations
Most superintendents are not rewarded with incentives.  Such incentives can be based on programs put into place as it relates to increased course quality, prudent budgetary spending and increased revenues at the club.  A bonus structure should never be solely based on budgetary savings. If bonuses were awarded based on running efficient operations, achieving the conditioning standards and meeting the maintenance budget, managers may gain a better understanding the business aspect of our business, resulting in a more playable and profitable golf facility.

#2 - Failure to Measure Results Against Expectations
Many times, owners/operators do not effectively measure actual results against the anticipated expectations.  A majority of owners or operators critique an operation by simply bringing attention to negative items.  This may raise a wall of defense resulting in a communication breakdown. Communication is again a key. Something as simple as a weekly/monthly tour of the property can lead to an improved and more effective maintenance operation.

#1 - Think Value! 
Many owners and operators view the maintenance operations only as an expense for the course. In all actuality, the maintenance operations are a key part of the revenue generating process.  A high quality product will provide happy customers and more revenue, while a lower quality product carries with it less revenue and ultimately less profit.

While it is difficult for most golf course operators to balance optimum playing conditions and maintenance expenditures, an understanding of these 10 common mistakes and doing your best to avoid them, will provide positive results for your operation. As a club operator, we all continually strive to improve and run more efficient and economical businesses. Those who succeed do so not by chance but with hard work and continual effort.