Communication, Communication, Communication

Having spent an informative four days participating in the National Golf Course Owners Association annual meeting, and attending the Golf Industry Show in Orlando, I was concerned with the number of owners walking the show floors without their superintendents. Are both parties communicating effectively, or are we at a stage within the current golfing market … which at times seems “average” at best … that everyone has gone quiet and no one is communicating? As owners, it is important we empower our staff to make key decisions, yet we also need to grow revenues and cut expenses. When it comes to maintenance particularly, we all know how hard this is! While I spent my evenings in Orlando meeting with owners from all over the country, I rarely heard, “Well my golf professional came to me with expense-saving ideas,” or “My superintendent came to me looking to reduce labor this winter.” Not that this is wrong or right, but when I was forced to make payroll reductions at both my clubs, I approached the staff as a team about who desperately needed 40 hours per week, and who was happy to take a reduction in time. Many employees commented that they could indeed take a reduction in hours because they had a good pension from a previous job, or simply wanted to spend more time enjoying the hunting season. The reduction in the payroll issue was tackled bottom up. The result was a savings in labor of around $3,000-$4,000 with all seasoned and knowledgeable employees ready to go back to full time when the weather improved.

During my visit to Orlando I was very fortunate to meet with many talented owners and operators. It was humbling to listen to my peers talking about last year’s frustrations, industry concerns, and in many cases a reduction in revenues. At the same time, what I found to be most reassuring was the openness to discuss failings. When and if you speak to a neighboring course they so often tell you that they are having the best year ever, rounds are up, and all is perfect less than 10 miles away. You often leave scratching your head asking, “How can they be enjoying so much success when our rounds are flat?” But as we all know deep down, this is often not the case. Again I return to communication. Communication of our very real difficult issues is the beginning of finding solutions. Maybe these aren’t best discussed with our direct neighbors; however, our industry is full of great organizations such as the Club Managers Association of America, Professional Golfers Association, Golf Course Superintendents Association of American and the National Golf Course Owners Association. We should reach out to the best of the best of these organizations and other industry activists for ideas, insight and suggestions. The wheel has been invented, but I am still firmly convinced it can roll faster and with better grip!

All the recent statistics claim that a number of courses will close over the next five years, and in one way it will be good for the industry as a whole, but it does concern me how this will impact so many people’s families and financial well-being. Dedicated owners and staff who have lived and breathed a club for so long will feel these impacts indefinitely. Sometimes it is just too late when you finally reach out to a consultant or well-thought-of peer within the industry. Owners are now faced with the reality that it may be necessary to incur a few years of losses before the good times are enjoyed again. I can only recommend that we all hunker down, talk with your staff about the issues your club may be having, be truthful and empower your employees to make a difference. So often the pro shop or maintenance building is such a long commute from the manager’s or owner’s office in the main clubhouse, but this should not be the case. This is an exciting time with many companies looking to grow, while other operations are holding on for dear life. Stick to the basics, such as a well-conditioned course representing value for what is being paid, a friendly motivated staff, and creative marketing programs encouraging more participation at your facility. Talk, talk, talk and never go quiet. This industry is filled with very talented people who are often quite willing to give a helping hand.

Michael Hatch had a distinguished career with American Golf in the U.K., then with Meadowbrook Golf in the states. He is now the general manager and owner of Brandermill Country Club and Birkdale Golf Club, located near Richmond, Va. Michael is also the owner of Acumen Golf Consulting, which specializes in discreet private consulting.

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