Measure twice, cut once

Columns - game plan

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February 7, 2020

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Experts in the fields of economics, demographics and climatology tell us that recessions, housing booms, population shifts and catastrophic hurricanes are coming. They just don’t know precisely when any of their predictions will come true, exactly where they will occur or who among us will be affected.

Closer to home, in the business of golf course and club management, it’s also likely we will see irrigation system breakdowns, fertilization miscalculations and budget shortfalls. That’s why it’s wise to plan for what may well be the inevitable as well as the unknown.

Warren Buffett once observed, “Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” In other words, before the benefits come foresight, a plan and action. With the optimism of the new year now beginning to blend with reality, it’s time to make sure we have our most critical plans in place.

Irrigation plans are fundamental building blocks for every golf facility manager concerned about course conditions. Sound irrigation planning ties directly to the standards of excellence that are part of the overarching agronomic plan. Irrigation philosophy, methods and frequency must support and be consistent with the intended turf conditions for the course. Through attentive practices in most jurisdictions, golf has become an even more diligent user of water as many facilities now rely entirely on recycled water. A sound irrigation plan provides for three important factors: matching water consumption to expected results, measuring water consumption to ensure under-usage whenever possible, and seeking new options for further efficiency where sensible.

Rain Bird’s Bryan Stromme encourages managers to establish realistic expectations for what the superintendent wishes to accomplish. Stromme emphasizes that the system infrastructure and the intended outcomes – turf conditions – must be aligned. He adds that “having individual sprinkler control is critical. The faster you can water, the more efficient your system will be for energy and irrigation effectiveness.”

Fertility plans are mission critical for most golf courses considering the high standards of care and upkeep demanded, as well as the advancing requirements of sophisticated hybrid grasses. The first step in developing a fertility plan is to determine the desired level of course conditions and the corresponding turf standard. While there is no “perfect” fertility plan, the key to the planning process is nitrogen supported by phosphorous. The best plan for each facility also prioritizes environmental impacts to the site.

Nick Kearns, director of greens and grounds at The Oaks Club in Osprey, Florida, says he begins with a review of the prior year’s results and executes biannual soil and tissue sampling on each of his two courses. “Our two golf courses react differently,” he says. “The Heron, the Bermudagrass course, requires routine nitrogen applications. When applying we try to use the BMP rule of thumb of a 50 percent slow-release blend. With the Eagle, the paspalum course, we very rarely apply a granular nitrogen product because it can lead to an increase in disease pressure. The products that we apply to the entire course are 99 percent potassium based with minor elements blended in.”

Capital asset plans are a top priority for golf course and turf and facility managers because of life cycle demands and the time required to sequester and reserve needed funding. Craig Johnston, a partner at Global Golf Advisors in Toronto, says, “Clubs with golf courses and sports fields have an enormous appetite for capital.” He points to three key steps for asset replacement planning.

“First, planners must identify every asset that requires replacement, from the water fountain to the irrigation system,” he says. “One should have a depreciation schedule that lists all current fixed assets, the initial cost of the asset and the life of the asset. Start with this list to take a current inventory of your assets.  Make sure that all assets owned by the organization are included on the list and any assets the organization has sold or disposed of are removed from the list.

“Next, establish the replacement dates required for each asset. Use the depreciation schedule to set a target date for replacing each asset.  Finally, identify the financial resources that will pay for the assets that must be replaced. These days that’s often a hybrid of capital dues, capital reserves, short-term debt and capital calls on the membership.”

Henry DeLozier is a principal in the Global Golf Advisors consultancy. He is currently Chairman of the Board of Directors of Audubon International.