I live in Ohio, a middle-of-America state with a modest cost of living. On a mid-October day, I paid $44.57 to fill a compact SUV and $4.99 for a three-pack of romaine hearts. My wife and I have no kids. Our employers are people-focused. We work in industries that help people live better lives.
A few days after I purchased gas and groceries, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced consumer prices rose 8.2 percent in the 12 months ending in September. I scoured industry job postings that evening. I felt myriad emotions upon seeing the salaries and wages being offered. Embarrassed. Angered. Befuddled. Add a few adjectives I can’t use here.
Golf, fortunately, has thrived over the past 31 months. Many courses were never forced to close in March 2020. Courses that were forced to temporarily close quickly made up for revenue losses with historic play spikes. Few industries reliant on discretionary income have performed as well as golf in the COVID-19 era. Our 2022 “Numbers to Know” survey indicated 89 percent of golf facilities were profitable or broke even in 2021. That total will likely be above 80 percent again when we release the 2022 numbers in our January 2023 issue. In 2018, only 62 percent were profitable or broke even.
Yet many of your bosses still don’t get it.
Full-time positions paying $13 per hour. Assistant superintendent salaries below $50,000 in expensive places lacking practical housing options. And good luck finding a qualified, or even entry-level, equipment technician willing to work for less than $25 per hour.
Forget 2018. When it comes to pay, a huge part of the industry remains stuck in 1988.
The current system lacks a pipeline of workers willing to exchange immediate earnings potential for sunrises and serenity. Enduring the grind has never cost more. We’re quickly approaching the moment in some parts of the country where being a head superintendent barely pays the bills. Imagine trying to make life work as an assistant superintendent or full-time crew member in those places. It’s a twisted situation because upper-echelon clubs and courses are offering memberships and tee times for rates outpacing inflation. Are they increasing employee salaries at equal or above those rates? Sadly, some of the most expensive places to play are cheap when it comes to employee compensation.
What can superintendents do to improve employee pay? It’s a delicate yet necessary conversation with an owner, general manager, committee chair or board. Above all else, great managers advocate for their people, making the conversation a necessary one for thousands of superintendents.
Proceed gently in all conversations. Raised voices and take-it-or-leave-it demands make matters worse. Speak in calm tones. Listen to their reasons for not taking a more aggressive approach with employee compensation.
Data will make a stronger case than anecdotes. Yes, this takes time to collect. And, yes, time isn’t something superintendents have in abundance. But your current and future employees are worth the effort.
Make a few phone calls to learn what other area courses are paying and offering employees. Study compensation being offered in comparable industries. Study compensation in opposite industries. Create spreadsheets and charts comparing what you’re paying and offering compared to other businesses. Contrasts appear starker in written numerical form.
Don’t wait too long to get going. You can’t afford to lose that employee struggling to afford gas, food and other necessities. According to the BLS, there were more than 10 million job openings at the end of August.
Workers have options. The industry doesn’t. An employee exodus driven by — there’s no other way to describe it — crappy pay will thwart gains facilities have made in the past 31 months.
Every unfilled position makes the job more demanding for remaining employees and threatens their quality of life. That doesn’t require statistics to understand.