Here are three things new superintendents – and those looking for a financial refresher – should know about building a functioning budget for 2020 and beyond:
1. Become a property financial expert
The new superintendent must commit to becoming an expert with the programs, processes, people and the history of how previous budgets were crafted and ultimately performed.
This usually requires two critical actions: First, confirm access and acquire all available budget forecasts (projections) and actuals (final spend) and review them for cause and effect. How much was spent on each line item? Are the line items correct? How often are budgets reviewed and critiqued? Who can speak to the events that may need explanation? This initial step will allow the new superintendent a critical glimpse at how money and priorities connect and are evaluated.
The superintendent must then understand the approval and accountability flow. Who will oversee your financial performance? The general manager or director of finance? Get to know the preferences and language of your financial supervisors and teach them critical aspects of your operation (learn first, teach second). Never assume that your accounting department has a working knowledge of golf course maintenance or agronomy. Be proactive to learn the accounting lingo and reports that will be the critical measure of your financial success in the upcoming year. It is much easier to communicate up and down the Profit and Loss statement when everyone is speaking the same language that is connected to shared goals.
2. Justify every budget request on multiple levels
We all want more resources to improve our operations, but how do you approach getting a budget increase? Using the financial skills you have mastered about the people and processes at your property, you must evolve to the next phase of budgeting, the justification phase. In short, how to get what you want/need.
Identify who must approve your request and what they will likely be influenced by. Is there a return on the investment? If so, getting a budget increase may be easy: just give them the ROI data. However, you may need to show the negative impact if funds are not allocated (say, investing in a new pump system vs. having a catastrophic pump system failure in mid-summer).
This is often connected to owners or green committees. The key is to have agreement that the expenses are necessary to achieve the shared goals of the property at each level. Be willing to negotiate but stand by your numbers as they will ultimately reflect your ability to deliver on promises made. And never forget that when you accept an operating budget, you have committed to that financial benchmark for the duration of that financial period or season.
The razor’s edge of a successful superintendent career is often to balance the delivery of a quality golf product within the given budget.
3. Remember your role – you don’t own the golf course
Attitude is everything. We do not always get the budget increase, the new mower or another staff member as requested. Sometimes even weather or other events occur and eventually consume resources that we originally budgeted to use elsewhere in the operation. It happens, and when it does, you must control your emotions and commit to the core goal, which is to provide the best golf course possible within the budget given – even in difficult times.
Be professional, be consistent, but most of all be a solution rather than a problem. The energy with which you handle something that negatively impacts the budget often determines the longevity of your tenure at a given facility. Communicate the facts in a timely manner, make your recommendations and if the powers that be say no or choose another direction, support the new budget direction 100 percent.
The truth is that you may not own the course, but you should always demonstrate a deep commitment to the course as the property steward. You are an integral part of the operation. By demonstrating a high level of financial skill, trust and professionalism, a new superintendent will remain gainfully employed while making wise budget decisions for a long time. Budgeting and financial analysis are simply tools that build relationships within any business. It’s how you use them that counts.
Anthony L. Williams CGCS, CGM, is the director of golf course maintenance and landscaping at the Four Seasons Resort Club Dallas at Las Colinas in Irving, Texas.