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Course Maintenance – A Considered Approach

4 July 2017

Course maintenance is the single biggest expenditure item for almost every club in operation, here and overseas. Despite there being several specialist companies who make it their business to maintain golf courses, nationally, less than 5% of Clubs currently outsource their course maintenance.

One might say that this is not necessarily surprising since the core business of any golf club arguably is to maintain the golf course for the benefit of their members. This may well have been the case many years ago when the industry had waiting lists as long as your arm. With a glut of eager golfers waiting many years before obtaining their full 7-day playing membership, clubs were comforted by their waiting lists and therefore future guaranteed revenue streams. Why consider paying a contractor to do the same job when the club could take care of things in the comfort that there was always going to be plenty in the kitty. If standards dropped, just spend more on staff, materials and equipment to get the job done.

The golfing landscape has changed. The core business of the modern day golf club has now become one of survival and strategic planning whilst club administrators and boards charged with their management juggle the complexities of an extremely competitive market place. Pressures on revenue items through reduced green fees and membership takings on the one hand, and increased course maintenance costs through equipment, chemical and labour rates for which are ever on the rise from one year to the next, on the other.

The skill sets vary markedly from one club to another just as the courses themselves differ in their offering to discerning golfers.  Committees and Boards at times can be very strong in some areas of the business while weak and ill-equipped in others; only to have these skill sets change at the next election.  Does a club tie up their limited resources in micro-managing their expenditure or are they better off using these limited resources to build a stronger customer base and improve the golfing experience so that they can increase revenue?  The three pillars of any major decision–Time, Cost and Quality–are equally important when determining a club’s capability to ensure all of its resources are being utilised to deliver maximum benefit.

Just as businesses outsource their IT or other elements of their operations, golf clubs need to consider the option of outsourcing their maintenance to ensure they are getting the best value for their dollar.  Even if clubs choose not to pursue or investigate outsourcing maintenance, the business aspect of club management needs to at least ensure they are optimising their resources.  Apart from offering fixed budgeting maintenance solutions – including all the human resource and Occupational Health, Safety and Environment (OHSE) costs – outsourcing can allow clubs to reallocate precious capital expenditure into operation expenditure by getting their maintenance contractor to bear these instead, i.e. by making the contractor invest and maintain all the equipment necessary to maintain the course.  These, along with all staffing issues and day-to-day agronomic decision making necessary to ensure the course is always looking at its best, then becomes the contractor’s risk.  Further efficiencies can be achieved through the contractor. Savings can be passed onto the Club as they can access specialist equipment which the contractor already maintains and uses across multiple courses; along with the pooling of intellectual property IP gained through the collective experiences of their superintendents.  Quite often, this alone enables clubs to save significantly as it offers a cheaper and more effective solution, as compared to the oft-proposed, never-ending, expensive chemical option.

Contract maintenance isn’t for everybody – that’s a given; but clubs need to manage the business of running the club. This requires an unemotional assessment of their operating position along with a full and frank evaluation of their finite resource allocation. Like any business, a club’s long term survival lies in recognising its strengths and weaknesses. Acknowledging these, and being able to change as required, will ultimately benefit the Club and its paying members.

Whether you’re interested in an assessment of your course, or in outsourcing a course management system, our Programmed Turnpoint specialists are ready to help!

By Justin Trott, General Manager Golf Division, Programmed Turnpoint.

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