Consider customer experience
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Consider customer experience

A superintendent turned general manager offers a different perspective on how to think about your 2022 budget.

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October 12, 2021

Here’s a different twist on budgeting: think about customer experiences before revenue or costs.

A superintendent turned general manager for the second time in his career explains.

“I just think club,” says Carlos Arraya, the general manager/COO at Bellerive Country Club near St. Louis, Missouri, site of the 2018 PGA Championship. “Revenue is a piece, but my job isn’t to worry about the revenue. My job is to worry about the people who drive that. If I can help them create programming experiences for the people who come to the club, then that’s going to drive revenue.”

Bellerive officially appointed Arraya as its general manager/COO this past summer. Before the promotion, Arraya handled a dual role, serving as the club’s superintendent and assistant general manager. One of his philosophies involves delegating revenue-driving responsibilities to department heads, including superintendent Nick White.

“The hardest thing for a superintendent is to see the big picture,” says Arraya, whose résumé also includes a stint as the general manager at Hawk’s Nest Golf Club in Vero Beach, Florida. “Sometimes a superintendent thinks, ‘Hey, I want X.’ Make sure you understand how that’s connected to the club. Too many times it’s focused on requests for me, whether it’s capital or operations. You have to think about how it impacts the club. If you show some sort of ROI to the members, you will be better received.

“The really good business leaders that we have who work with me are thinking about how they can all connect it to the club and how they can help support each other. That’s the lesson that should be shared with superintendents as they put together a budget: How do you ultimately improve experience? It’s not about money. People come to me and say, ‘You have this budget and you’re at Bellerive.’ It doesn’t matter. I think it’s more critical at a smaller-scale operation because the margins are so much tighter. If you are able to connect the value to it, you can probably get a better response as opposed to saying, ‘Here’s my budget, it’s gone up 10 percent because labor is up.’ Sorry. That’s not the approach. Too many times we talk about the increase and we don’t talk about the return.”

Wading through variables such as rising labor and product costs, worker shortages and supply-chain interruptions has created budgeting conundrums for everybody in the golf industry. The average non-capital maintenance budget was $1.044 million this year, according to Golf Course Industry’s State of the Industry report. That average will likely be higher in 2022.

“I told all the department heads, focus on what you need and separate that,” says Arraya, alluding to the rising costs of seemingly everything. “Build a budget with no increase. Build it on the labor side flat and then tell the narrative and share the story: There’s no way we are going to be able to continue the member experience if we don’t make a market adjustment. You start preparing for that and then you build the budget separately. You always have to be educating and you always have to control your own narrative if you want to be successful in the budget process. If you only focus on it at the end of the year, you’re going to end up a creek. The rapids are always harder to paddle when you are going upstream and you haven’t done anything to prepare for it.”

Guy Cipriano is Golf Course Industry’s editor-in-chief.