Gone haywire

Columns - Game Plan

August 15, 2017

They call it a “haywire outfit” when something is thrown together at the last minute, without planning and using whatever materials are available. The term comes from the days when farmers and cattlemen used the soft malleable wire they found lying around to bale hay.

If you’re a golf course superintendent or club leader, you don’t want to be accused of running a haywire outfit. But we often see signs of a lack of planning and a whatever’s lying-around approach to course operations and management practices. Evidence of a disciplined, deliberate and well-researched style are also just as visible.

Developing a sound agronomic plan is a sure sign that an expert is on the job. Thorough agronomic plans provide the owner, manager and greens committee with a clear picture of management and cultural practices. Such a plan features several key components:

Detailed Budgets. Assumptions in terms of unit count (the number of gallons or applications being used) and unit cost reveal a superintendent’s experience, due diligence and forecasting accuracy. There is no better way to earn credibility with management than through careful budgeting.

Capital Asset Evaluation. Golf courses are continually in need of capital investment, and a range of capital needs come under the superintendent’s responsibilities, including rolling stock, irrigation and pumping systems, and on-course comfort stations. The maintenance compound with its building, tools, supplies and turf-care equipment houses substantial assets that must eventually be replaced. Careful tracking of the use and condition of capital assets provides essential information for the budgeting process and reduces spikes in capital purchases. Tools and resources that can aid in this process include schedules produced by the American Society of Certified Public Accountants and the Golf Course Builders Association of America.

Labor and Staffing Plan. The greatest operational costs for most golf courses are labor related. Stephen Johnston, the founder of Global Golf Advisors, notes that from 50 to 60 percent of most golf course expense is tied to direct labor and benefits. An effective staffing plan should focus on the full range of staff positions required to provide the level of maintenance called for in the strategic plan, including specific job descriptions, compensation and benefits.

Because of the growing scarcity of capable workers in many areas, staff development is critical at most facilities. Consequently, the agronomic plan should show how workers will be trained and retained in their jobs. Some workers jump from job to job for the money, but most want a professional home where they are a respected member of the team, paid a fair wage and understand how their work makes a difference. This section of the agronomic plan will continue to demand thought and grow in significance.

Environmental Management Plan. Many important cultural programs, such as fertility planning, water-use and arboreal plans, should be included in the plan. As a growing number of courses are undertaking species development and protection initiatives, golf courses are finding new purpose in beekeeping, wetland preservation, and programs to enhance habitat and vitality for bats and birds.

Targeted Special Projects. In-house improvements for certain golf course features, such as ornamental landscaping and small-scale projects, often stimulate creativity and teamwork for the maintenance crew. The agronomic plan should describe each project, indicate direct costs involved and forecast a timeline for implementation.

We all know that even experienced management often doesn’t fully understand the expertise and experience required for course conditions that meet quality standards and are delivered under budget. That’s why the most successful agronomic plans are the ones that set out a well-documented and clear path that superintendents and their crews intend to follow.

Plans enhanced and supported with photography are a great way to educate and build credibility at the same time. Great plans are not thrown together at the last minute. They take research and thought, which makes the off-season the best time of year to tackle next year’s plan.

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.