How To Handle A Renovation Project

Columns - Outside the Ropes

March 18, 2016

Growing up, teachers referred to the “three Rs”– reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic. Now we’re grown up and in the golf-course maintenance industry, there are “five Rs” we need to know – refine, renovate, restore, redesign and rebuild. And chances are, you either have or soon will encounter at least one of the Rs at your facility.

If you don’t want to find yourself reassigned, run out of town or retired, I suggest you do some hard work – and hard thinking – before touching any part of your golf course. Because while it can be exciting and challenging to work on a course refinement of any kind, your actions can have significant ramifications on your club, your course, your members and, most important, your livelihood.

The first consideration is money. Ask yourself these questions about any R-related project:

  • How will it be paid for?
  • How much will it cost? Including what you’re told it will cost and how much it really will cost. Figure an added 20 percent, possibly more.
  • How well do you understand your club’s financial situation: Where the money comes from, who has control over it, how big a reserve fund exists?
  • How much more will you have to pay your staff, or others you have to bring in, to work on this job? Again, assume the estimates are going to be wrong and at least some of the work is going to fall on you and your crew.

Here’s another important question to consider: If the project is only going to keep the course status quo, are you simply throwing good money after bad? Would it make sense in the long run to spend more now for greater savings, and payback, down the road? Or is the work being proposed doing nothing more than simply keeping the course viable and calling for little more than bubble gum and baling wire to keep things going? If that’s what you think, it is your duty to tell the people you work for that the plans they’re discussing are not sufficient to keep your course/club healthy and growing.

Consider another R, that is, a more robust project. If that’s your recommendation, remember the people you have to convince are paying the bills and your salary. Do your homework before recommending they spend more money, and be prepared to answer a lot of questions. For example, how will this enhance the playing experience? How will this make the club money? Who will do the work? In the long run, your job will be easier and their club will be more playable. But getting there can be a long, windy road. So be prepared.

Next subject: Planning.

Give everyone plenty of notice to plan, acquire the necessary funds, make other arrangements for play if necessary, and notify those affected and deal with the inevitable backlash.

The quicker you expect a project to be discussed, agreed upon and finished, the worse off you are going to be. Trust me, things are going to go wrong, and you are the one who is going to be blamed.

Identify and explain every step of the process. Be realistic about the potential lost revenue from not collecting green fees; selling apparel, clubs, and food; hosting outings, meetings, and catered events; even damage to the building, parking lot and other areas of the club.

Whenever you talk to committees, members or anyone else, be brief but be complete. State the facts, avoid getting emotional and cite comparable examples from similar projects. Whenever possible, point out long-term cost savings, depreciation and accomplishments, such as hosting a tournament or more outing business. Don’t make things up, but don’t be afraid to find a silver lining.

When something goes wrong – and it will – let everyone know how long it will realistically take to fix the problem. Identify the problem, determine why it occurred, figure out how long it will take to fix (time, process, labor, budget) and look for an in-house fix rather than having to spend more money by going outside.

In my consulting practice, the most renovation attention goes to greens. But I’m never surprised when the superintendent hasn’t done his homework and hasn’t evaluated all the agronomic options available for green maintenance. Investigate all of the costs outside the realm of green reconstruction. These include additional green perimeter work, amending green approaches, bunker expansion, tree reduction, irrigation add-ons, green expansions, course closing and re-opening dates, reciprocal playing options for members while the course is closed, and how long it will take to properly rebuild putting surfaces. Evaluate and remedy all existing ancillary agronomic items to promote a successful rebuild.

Something else to consider.

While it isn’t sexy, like greens, infrastructure is vital. What golfers don’t see – underground irrigation systems, architectural features that were once revolutionary but are now just expense to maintain – have to be addressed. Many older course have become outdated as equipment has improved: Does your club have the means, to say nothing of the courage, to undertake these changes? You may be convinced your course is behind the times, but getting the powers that be to agree can get you in big trouble.

Here’s a fairly simple checklist of major areas and minor concerns whenever a renovation is being considered.

Project Time frame.

There must be an organized time frame, flow chart and schedule of events planned for and set in motion. Proper timing is vital when communicating with members, as well as hiring an architect, builder or other vendors. The schedule must include all aspects of the effort from course shutdown to its reopening. Consider timing to ensure the new turf can grow in successfully.

Communication and Membership Input/Opinions.

Planning, communication, budgeting and implementation are necessary when renovating even the smallest part of a course. Thorough, ongoing communication is vital, and should begin as soon as a project is approved if not before.

Schedule of Events.

Every club and every project is different, but you can be sure this list will include at minimum project timing, length of project, budget process, opening and closing times, rescheduling of club championships, outings, and any state and local golf events. Feel free to add your own particulars.

Membership Impact.

Question No. 1 must be, “What are the costs of undertaking this effort?” And question No. 2? “What are the additional costs they can expect?”

Cultural Management.

Even if you are very involved in the redo, your primary job is to protect the club’s investment for the future. And once the project is done, there will be even more to do. Even if the course is closed and the members have agreed to stay away, you can’t neglect proper turf management.