Crystal Ball Time

Columns - Parting Shots

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February 9, 2016

If you read last month’s issue, you got a deep look at the current state of our happy little industry. The short version is that good facilities are getting smarter, more profitable and more innovative in their approach to everything. Investment in course infrastructure is growing nicely, budgets are finally trending up and supers are generally confident about the year ahead. Crazy weather and insane discounting of green fees remain our primary enemies in the short term.

But, what about a decade from now? What about 2026 or beyond? What will the future hold and how can you ensure that your facility, your agronomic strategy and your career are all viable?

Allow me to shine up the old crystal ball and peer into our future for a minute. Here are a few visions that rise up in front of me…

There will be no rising tide that lifts all boats (to steal a quote from my old boss Steve Mona) that will substantially grow golf nationwide. The socioeconomic headwinds against us are just too strong. I think the laudable efforts to grow the game will help replace lost play and revenues, but they won’t overcome the challenges presented by time, difficulty, perceptions and money.

We will continue the slow deflation of our facility supply but not nearly fast enough to equal slumping demand. That means that every one of the 15,000-ish courses still operating today will be in a market share dogfight for bigger slice of a gradually shrinking pie even as we close 150-200 facilities per year.

Superintendents have the opportunity to be front and center in the success of their operations if they choose to lead the charge for intelligent change. You manage the biggest, most important asset your business has and you need to help shape the vision for what the facility needs to do to survive the slow but inevitable shrinkage that lies ahead.

(Aside: the great Shawn Emerson of Desert Mountain spoke at Kevin Smith’s Turfhead Summit in Greensboro last month and said this: “To me, the secret to success in golf course maintenance is understanding the history and culture of your club and managing to it.” Think about that.)

Emerging technologies like precision turf management, super-efficient irrigation, improved construction practices, sensing systems, and metrics software and next-generation plant protection will be critical. But investing in those technologies today demands that you make a ROI case that shows you should jump in now to be prepared for tomorrow.

The question is which technologies and why?

We’re going to try to help answer that question and more in our first-ever national business meeting. The GCI Technology Conference will take place April 11-12 in Charlotte, N.C., and will focus on what the future of our business will hold and how you, the superintendent, can prepare yourself and your facility for what will come.

I’ll be emceeing and offering my vision for 2026, but more importantly you’ll hear from experts like Henry DeLozier, the driving force of Global Golf Advisors; Tim Moraghan, consultant and career expert extraordinaire; Dana Lonn, the genius behind The Toro Co.’s technology; and Dr. Lane Tredway, one of Syngenta’s experts on emerging plant health strategies. Additionally, we’re bringing in leading superintendents for panel discussions on how they’re managing key responsibilities today for success a decade from now.

I’m pleased to say we’ll be hosted by our friend Matthew Wharton, CGCS, at Carolina Golf Club (which is just minutes from the Charlotte airport). The event starts with a golf outing to benefit the Wee One Foundation on Monday, April 11 (the day after the Masters concludes) on Matthew’s remarkable Donald Ross course. Tuesday the 12th will be a full day of presentations and interaction, so come prepared to absorb and process a ton of good information.

When you’re trying to put together a new kind of conference on the business of golf, you need strong partners. We’re incredibly fortunate to have The Toro Co., Syngenta and Smith Turf & Irrigation supporting us. We’re also honored to have the Carolinas GCSA by our side on this too. Great companies, great association, great topic, great speakers, great networking…what else do you need?

So, consider this your invitation – whether you’re a super, supplier, designer, builder or any other stakeholder in golf’s future. Join us in Charlotte for the GCI Technology Conference and start charting your course for the next decade and beyond.

(Get conference details and register at events.golfcourseindustry.com)