CBAP and developing standards for golf course cost centers

CBAP and developing standards for golf course cost centers

GCI guest columnist Bob Lohmann defends why a Cost-Benefit Action Plan (CBAP) is essential to any renovation project, and the importance of ID-ing cost centers.

May 13, 2011

In February, right here at, we went public with our plans to replace the traditional master plan process with what we believe is a more efficient framework for renovation, the Cost-Benefit Action Plan, or CBAP. We even went so far as to say, tongue in check, that the master plan was dead — long live the CBAP!

Well, the response has sorta blown our hair back. We really touched a nerve, but in a good way.

The major innovation of the Cost-Benefit Action Plan is its emphasis on economic efficiencies, enabled by design. For example, when we talk to a course about renovating its greens, the CBAP spells out exactly how much money will be saved, year over year, in maintaining the refurbished greens — in comparison to keeping the old ones. Another priority is setting those costs beside the actual cost of renovating. These have to be considered together to be meaningful, of course.

In short, the long-term benefits have to pay for the immediate costs. If we can show that regrassing/renovation will save a club significant $ per year, per green, in water, chemical-use and man-hours (and in most cases we can do exactly that), then we are providing the sort of renovation service clubs really need today.

However, I want to add another component we didn’t detail nearly enough in February: To really examine your golf course through the lens of a CBAP, you have to divide your course into cost centers: greens, tees, fairways, bunkers, drainage, etc. Then you have to ask, “Well, what’s wrong with the greens, the tees, etc.?” That leads to a consideration of what the ideal situation would be. Take greens as an example: We might be talking roll, speed, consistency (of both) from month to month, the ability to survive a hot, wet August, and so on. These are the specific standards superintendents and their owners must consider: “What do we want out of our greens. Are we achieving this? If not, why not?”

In the CBAP process, this is where the architect comes in. We are the ones who help you achieve these standards in the context of cost-benefit.

So, you can see the CBAP process is tied directly to this process of developing standards for each of the cost centers, something the superintendent, the green committee and members should all collaborate on determining. If the standard for bunkers is the ability to play 12 hours after a major rain, and the bunkers aren’t draining that fast, they aren’t meeting the standard.

It seems this approach resonated with a whole lot of people on account of economic factors, naturally, but for other reasons, too. The USGA was particularly interested. The guys in the blue coats have been beating the maintenance-standards drum for a long time  — and the CBAP dovetails nicely with this, by attaching economic goals and outcomes to maintaining or improving upon these standards.

But mainly the responses we got came from two groups:
  1. Clubs new to Lohmann Golf Designs who wanted to learn more
  2. Clubs for whom LGD had developed a master plan sometime in the past who are now wondering, “Hey, what are we supposed to do with this master plan you did for us. I hear they’re dead. How come you never developed a CBAP for us?!”
Well, this last group is actually the most interesting group to discuss, with you, the Golf Course Industry reader. Truth is, there are some clubs where we did master plans that aren’t suited to today’s economic climate. Rest assured that we are busy working on further CBAP analyses for these folks.  We see it as a duty to them, and ourselves, to truly put our money where our mouth is.

But there are lots of clubs where our master plans were, in fact, more CBAP-oriented than perhaps we knew at the time. Their examples are interesting because from each we picked up ways to improve or better evolve the CBAP approach. Let me briefly touch on a few of these real-world examples where the approach is already working:

Jefferson City Country Club, Jeff City, Mo.

We did a pure master plan for JCCC in the mid-2000s, finished construction in 2009, and by traditional measure it was very successful. The renovation won national recognition and the members love the new bunkering, the new greens, and the holes we rerouted.

But the interesting part, from a CBAP perspective, is this: The club leaders here went to great pains to survey the membership on what it wanted out of this renovation. These responses developed standards across the board, and we put all of them to work in executing the renovation.  But one significant standard, and the resulting cost-benefit, developed as much from reaction as real foresight. 

The standard, simply put, was that members wanted their bunker sand to be firm. So, post renovation, instead of getting in there with a mechanical rake six times a week (as they had with the old bunkers), the crew hand-rakes but once a week. Less handling means less cost, the equivalent of 12 man-hours per week, and it also reduces wear and tear on the bunkers.  But more important, it satisfies the members and it justifies the investment with measurable money-saving results – the quintessential goal of the CBAP.

Indian Creek Golf Club, Omaha, Neb.
We executed a bunker renovation and green-regrassing project here in 2010, but the way the project progressed really led to the CBAP idea. We were brought in to look at the bunkers primarily, but the owners recognized that its competition, some of the top clubs in the area, had regrassed or renovated their greens. Indian Creek felt obliged to keep pace. This essentially defined their green-surface standard: They wanted greens with grass as good as the other guys, while also getting the associated agronomic benefits.
After we were hired, things progressed beyond this simple standard. We suggested that some of the greens were too steep to handle the low mowing heights allowed by these new grasses.  This led to the idea of rebuilding some, which then led to the idea of rebuilding all of the greens for purposes of consistency (a prudent recommendation by one of the owners). With that door open to us we looked at rebuilding the greens and moving some, which led to some rerouting.  Ultimately, the price tag for this grand plan was way too high, especially considering the limited potential return on the investment — were they really going to attract enough new business to offset these costs? Probably not. So, we ended up coming back to the project where a proper standard had been established: green surfaces equal to the top clubs in the area, along with the agronomic benefits.  The cost of providing this was reasonable and the benefits justifiable.

Here’s the take-away: Had we better understood this level of expectation from the beginning, or been more willing to embrace it, we could have spared a lot of time and cost in developing the “grand master plan” that was ultimately abandoned. The CBAP’s early analysis and standard development is what makes it so valuable. The process filters out the unreasonable.

Westmoor Country Club, Brookfield, Wis.
My firm has been working here for nearly 20 years now, on a variety of projects. The superintendent Jerry Kershasky has been there throughout and he’s one of the sharpest minds in the business. We have vetted a great deal of the CBAP approach through him. Indeed, Jerry has taken the creation of standards, and the maintaining of those standards, to another level. Here’s something he recently wrote on our blog, in response to the first CBAP column.

Bob: As you stated, when the construction is done on a CBAP project and you leave the property, it then becomes the owner’s (Board of Directors, Superintendent, Green Committee, GM, Golf Professional) responsibility to take ownership of CBAP in order to realize the cost-saving aspects of the new design, new grasses, etc. And I agree, in the highest degree, that this includes an annual course evaluation tour by the architect, with all of the above people included in the tour. This is the Check and Balance that is often never budgeted for, or is the first to get cut out, in tough economic times. But it is a MUST for CBAP’s short- and long-term success. Let me add, the architect, in these tours, must be able to articulate the principles of the CBAP, so they come to fruition.
As usual, Jerry has it exactly right. (And let me also say that he left that post on February 26, 2011, at exactly 7:48 a.m. I love these blogs!) Westmoor has put together a comprehensive package of standards for every feature on their golf course, along with what it’s going to take to achieve and maintain them, from a cost perspective. I’d be surprised if anyone in the Midwest has a better understanding of what it really costs to maintain, and what it would cost to renovate, every feature on his golf course.

Medina Golf & Country Club, Medina, Minn.
The superintendent here, Erin McManus, is one of the guys for whom we had recently done an old fashioned master plan. We got back in touch, and all this spring he and his board have been developing new standards in the course of generating a Cost-Benefit Action Plan. He’s a believer, but not because the CBAP is the end-all, be-all — but because the process of standard-setting inherent to the CBAP process is so detailed and practical.

“It really does get you thinking about where the weaknesses are in the golf course, where we can make improvements — it makes you critically think about what you have and how to make things better,” Erin says. “My goal with the master plan last year was to make sure we were spending wisely. Now with the CBAP, we can highlight the areas that need work, break it down into so many different parts, the club can pick off what we all agree needs doing right now —or start saving for larger capital improvements projects that can wait.”

Medina is a splendid club already. In fact, Erin and his team will host U.S. Women’s Open final qualifying on May 23. Our work there remains limited for now: some tee box renovations is all we have planned for 2011. But the club’s future renovation intentions now have a structure and mandate they never had before.

“With the economy we have right now, the days when clubs will just shut down for a year and totally renovate, that’s going to be rare,” Erin says. “If you can plan things out with a CBAP, you can pick off the pressing things as you go along… Still, if we do renovate the greens some day, we know what the members expect for speed and size because it’s all laid out and outlined. We tried to do that with the master plan, but the CBAP is far more detailed and effective. They can see that the CBAP outlines what we talked about last year, but the CBAP breaks it down more specifically according to cost. That’s what members want to know.”