Balancing budgets and expectations

Balancing budgets and expectations

Agronomist Jon Scott provides a thought-provoking counterpoint to Tim Moraghan's March GCI column on the impact of the less-maintenance-is-good philosophy and the role sustainability plays.

April 15, 2013

Editor's Note: GCI believes it's important to let readers – particularly owners and others – know that there’s two sides to every coin. Jon Scott approached us about authoring a "counterpoint" guest column to Tim Moraghan's March column, "Less is definitely not more." CLICK HERE to read Tim's March column.


My good friend, Tim Moraghan recently wrote that “Less is Definitely More” in golf course maintenance standards. His point was basically that no superintendent worth his or her salt would accept that they would be forced to work to a lower standard of course conditioning by continuing budget cuts. The message is that those who are busting their butts to keep the flag high would be insulted if told that golfers would accept a bit of brown instead of the Augusta green that our sights have been pegged to since the advent of color television. Well, Tim, I must travel in different circles because I see a much different picture.

For too many years, golf budgets have either not kept up with inflation and general cost increases or they have been repeatedly reduced. I can’t remember the last club budget at a course I visited where the budget was increased by any significant amount. This set up a continual pressure to become more efficient, find less costly ways to do things, and in general do a better job of managing golf course maintenance. This was a good thing. I say was, because I think we passed the point of no return a few years ago with the help of the Great Golf Course Depression as I call it. We are, in fact, still in it and budgets continue to fall. Expectation levels, however, have not fallen. And therein lays the dilemma.

We have to quit thinking that there is more gold to mine from the hill, more oil in the sand, more money to be saved by forced cutbacks. In the minds of some, it is only getting the right person with the right attitude and the right skill set. Many good superintendents have been let go in search of that person. And, the wheels continue to spin. In my opinion, superintendents are at the very end of their rope. Something has to give.

It is time for a reality check. Sustainable means just that. It must have staying power to be around tomorrow. How that is accomplished is causing great debate, but very simply expectations have to be a part of the equation. Alchemy went out with the Middle Ages. We need to look at all aspects of golf course conditioning, including brown, if golf as a popular sport is going to survive. There are always two sides to a story, and this is mine.

Golf as we know it began in sheep pastures. The weather and sheep droppings dictated the color and the rabbits the green speed. I’m not advocating going back to our roots, though the Rules of Golf would accommodate us if we did. My point is that The Game is bigger than course conditioning. Perhaps if we had more fields to learn the game on there would be more golfers wanting to play it today. SNAG is a good example of how this could work. We need to get back to The Game and quit worrying about perfection. The USGA figured this out and I applaud the effort. We need to expect the best playing conditions possible given the resources at hand. I don’t think any superintendent I know would be insulted by that.

Jonathon L. Scott is the Vice President of Agronomic Services at Nicklaus Design in North Palm Beach, Fla.