Ditch the budgeting angst

Columns - Game Plan

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September 12, 2016

With the same certainty that football season arrives this time each year, so does something most of us view with far less excitement: budgeting. Autumn’s approach is the signal for managers and owners to begin their budgeting cycle.

Since most clubs and golf courses live in a world of doing more with less, developing a budget that responsibly anticipates the coming year’s resources and needs, not to mention one that will be approved, is one of the most important tasks with which any manager is charged. Your budget sets the financial mileposts that guide your business. It is the document that shows in cold, raw numbers the priorities on which management has agreed.

The following suggestions are intended to help make your budgeting process less daunting and more successful.

Always be budgeting.

Rusty Wilson, golf course superintendent at Tranquilo Golf Club at The Four Seasons Resort in Orlando, says his team is in a constant budgeting mode, continually tracking costs to inform the overall agronomic program.

“We have an agronomic plan for major cultural practices such as aerifications, verticutting, venting, pre-emergent apps, Curfew apps and so forth,” he says. “We are entering Year 3 with this detailed zero-based budget that we have created, and you can easily look into the month-by-month detail and see where these major cultural practices occur.”

Know where to find data.

The best data is your own. Resources like Club Benchmarking have developed club-specific financial analysis and record-keeping capabilities to ensure that every facility has ready access to its own performance data. Reliable macro-data is available through professional associations such as CMAA, GCSAA, NCA, NGF and PGA. RSM (formerly RSM McGladrey) is another trustworthy data resource. Macro-data supports the direct-application of self-sourced details that drive the dependability of your budget.

Use a zero-based budgeting approach.

Stephen Tucker, the equipment manager at Tranquilo and Wilson’s budgeting ally, says, “I like zero-based because it breaks everything down into smaller numbers. We can see where all of our money is going in a particular line item, which helps us negotiate pricing with a dealer. It also highlights something we might not have done enough of, and helps us defend what the dollars in that particular line item are for.”

This approach prevents the carry-over of mistakes from one year to the next. It also empowers managers to innovate better solutions. As Tucker notes, “It takes a commitment of sitting down one day a month and entering in everything that you purchased that month, but it has been successful 100 percent of the time so far.”

Use an agronomic plan to explain and support your budget.

Detailed plans that describe and calculate activity costs related to labor, cultural practices, arboreal, fertility and irrigation plans, pesticide usage, fuel consumption, and all non-controllable costs provide the level of support and backup that owners, club committees, and managers require in allocating budget dollars.

“Without a thorough agronomic plan, you’re only whistling through the graveyard, hoping to avoid the bogeyman,” says Jim Wyffels, director of operations at Spirit Hollow Golf Club in Burlington, Iowa. Wyffels has used an agronomic plan for more than a decade. “Our agronomic plan shows the details in written and photographic form to enable our owner to fully understand what goes into our budget and how it will be used,” he adds.

Educate up your organization.

We often hear the advice to “manage up,” which is another way of saying we need to go beyond our own job description to enhance your manager’s work. Successful budgeters – those who consistently create budgets that accurately reflect the priorities of the facility and how those priorities will be implemented – know how to “educate up.” They do that by making sure those up the organizational ladder understand what you need to maximize your effectiveness. They realize teaching is a never-ending opportunity, but one that requires staying ahead of industry trends and insights. Equally important, they know that getting what you need requires consistency, practice and redundancy. Top-tier managers are constantly educating up and down the organization.

Henry DeLozier is a principal in the Global Golf Advisors consultancy. DeLozier joined Global Golf Advisors in 2008 after nine years as the vice president of golf for Pulte Homes. He is a past president of the National Golf Course Owners Association’s board of directors and serves on the PGA of America’s Employers Advisory Council.