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Features - 2017 State of the industry report

From coast to coast, the labor market glut is impacting golf course maintenance operations. This year’s report breaks down the core problem, as well as benchmarks superintendent finances and spending.

January 23, 2017

Wanted: Reliable workers to fill open positions on golf course maintenance crews.

Location: Everywhere.

Results of the State of the Industry survey supported everything we heard from superintendents on both coasts and all spots in between throughout 2016 – the industry faces a labor crunch.

How big of an issue is labor? Fifty-five percent of respondents indicated the labor situation at their course is either at a “crisis level” or makes them “nervous.” Superintendents at private facilities are especially unnerved, with 60 percent falling into one of the two above categories.

Improvements in the national economy and upticks in industries such as construction, manufacturing and landscaping mean the average starting wage in the golf industry entering 2017 is $10.60 per hour. The two coasts are the most expensive places to fill a crew, with 81 percent of facilities in the Northeast and 72 percent in the West reporting figures that exceed the national industry average.

General labor is the toughest positions to fill with qualified candidates, according to 59 percent of respondents. Seventy percent of Midwest superintendents listed general labor as the toughest position to fill with qualified candidates. Sixty-one percent of Midwest courses have starting entry-level wages below $10 per hour. Seven of the 14 states where the minimum wage is the same as the federal rate of $7.25 per hour are in the Midwest, according to Department of Labor statistics. Arizona, Vermont, Connecticut, California, Massachusetts and Washington have minimum wages above $10 per hour. Georgia and Wyoming have minimum wages below the federate rate, while Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee don’t require a minimum wage.

Despite the hiring challenges, the average size of a maintenance staff increased from 16.9 workers in 2015 to 18.3 in 2016. The increase is likely attributed to a higher percentage of private course responding to the 2017 survey compared to previous years. The average size of a maintenance staff at a private facility is 20.8 workers, compared to 15.7 for a public facility. Private facilities average 10.3 full-time workers, compared to 6.3 for public facilities.

What they are saying

I would say that in 2016 I had more conversations with superintendents about the difficulty finding suitable labor than in the past 10 years combined. It’s really become an issue to the forefront. — Kevin Sunderman, Isla Del Sol Yacht and Country Club, St. Petersburg, Fla.
We are lucky in that we are somewhat in an economic upturn particularly compared to 2008. We have started to see a regrowth in the housing market, regrowth in the commercial construction market and we’re starting to see more business expansion occurring in our area. Our state has been somewhat prosperous when you compare us to the rest of the country and there is a real demand on labor. You are not looking to so much hire someone that has mowed fairways at five other golf courses in their life. You are looking to bring someone in that has maybe never worked at a golf course and maybe trying to get them starting on weed eating, raking bunkers or mowing greens. There’s a lot of pressure on that type of person because they are now able to find jobs painting new homes or framing or doing some of the other jobs that are somewhat cyclical and tied into economic growth.” — Brian Powell, Old Chatham Golf Club, Durham, N.C.
We try to build a culture and climate for our employees where we are an employer or preference and we really work hard in our department to make sure we are recognizing good employees in their efforts. We realize we are not necessarily going to get an ‘A’ player employee coming in but our goal is to take that employee and make them an ‘A’ player employee. Sometimes that opens up your pool a little larger. — Andy Morris, Country Club of Peoria, Peoria, Ill.
What we compete with right now is those paint plants or any automotive or factory work that is booming. Their starting wages are very high and they have very aggressive pay increase plans because they can pass the cost along. We get challenged with that, but it’s very cyclical here. As soon as there is a downturn, our floodgates open with the pick of great candidates. — Ross Miller, Country Club of Detroit, Detroit, Mich.


Golf Course Industry partnered with GfK Kynetec, a world leader in pesticide, fertilizer and turf market research, in the creation and computation of the 2017 State of the Industry survey. This is the first SOI survey since GCI announced in February 2016 the formation of its partnership with GfK Kynetec.

The survey was distributed via eblasts, bi-weekly Fast & Firm enewsletters, Twitter and Facebook from Nov. 2, 2016 to Dec. 7, 2016. GCI received 531 qualified responses: 456 superintendents or equivalent at a single golf course, 66 superintendents or equivalent at multiple golf courses and nine assistant superintendents acting on behalf of their bosses. The survey started with eight baseline questions and respondents were given the option of participating in a panel to answer future questions about various aspects of the industry.

The split between public and private facility respondents was nearly equal, with 270 working at public facilities and 261 working at private facilities. Among public facility respondents, 89 worked at daily fee facilities, 79 at government/municipal facilities, 72 at semi-private facilities and 30 at resort/hotel facilities. Sixteen percent of respondents indicated their courses are part of a management company, hotel or chain.

Data was compiled for the industry overall, private facilities, public facilities and four geographic regions (Northeast, Midwest, South and West). GCI received at least 90 responses for each of the four regions. Illinois (7 percent) was the most well-represented state in the survey. California, Florida, Ohio and New York also accounted for 5 percent or more of the total respondents.

As an added incentive to complete the survey, GCI committed to make a substantial donation to the Wee One Foundation, a charity group started in the memory of Wayne Otto, CGCS, that assists superintendents and other turf professionals in need.