Nature of the business

Weather can affect maintenance, budgeting and property value.

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Superintendents and course managers in the Mid-Atlantic region were dealt a bad hand this summer with extreme weather. The area has been subject to relentless high temperatures and humidity without much of a break. Low temperatures dipped only to the periodic normal low for the area several times.
Many courses received overabundant rainfall because of scattered thunderstorms, while neighboring courses received little or no rain.

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The problems from heat, humidity and excessive rainfall highlight the importance of drainage. This fairway exhibits poor drainage.

The extreme weather impacted maintenance practices and course conditions at many facilities. Increased disease pressure, saturated soils, wet wilt/scold injury, mechanical damage and thinning turf lead the list of problems plaguing superintendents. Properties most affected seem to have a combination of the following:
• Abundant rainfall;
• Poor drainage;
• Heavy soils;
• Limited airflow;
• Shaded areas; and
• A significant percentage of Poa annua.

Even predominantly bentgrass courses with adequate drainage and sand greens that have been lucky enough to avoid untimely thunderstorms haven’t gone unscathed by this season’s vicious weather. By most accounts, however, such courses have fared better than older courses without such benefits.

While at the mercy of Mother Nature, area superintendents have pulled out all the stops to get their courses through this stressful period in the best conditions possible under budgetary constraints. Some of the programs include: modified control products, fertilizer applications, precise water management (including increased hand watering) and temporarily conservative cultural practice decisions.

Many courses have resorted to increasing the amount of hand mowing to alleviate the mechanical damage associated with larger riding mowers, while others are pruning (and removing) trees and installing fans to increase airflow around problem areas. Some courses are keeping staff members on the property after hours to squeegee puddles from critical areas of the golf course to prevent scolding of the turf.

While all of these additional maintenance practices might aid the turf during high-stress periods, they often are unanticipated expenses in an already tight maintenance budget. Increased pressure to improve the bottom line has left many courses with maintenance budgets that won’t withstand additional expenditures necessary to limit effects of extreme weather. While worst-case-scenario budgeting is unaffordable and inappropriate for most golf properties, course managers and owners need to consider the cost to prevent turf loss versus the cost not to during extreme situations – namely the cost to reverse the damage, the cost of lost revenue and, in some cases, a blemished reputation.

Unfortunately, this also can result in certain areas of the golf course being neglected because greens, tees and fairways get all the resources available for survival. Eventually, areas such as bunkers, roughs, plantings and landscaped areas become eyesores and require repair or are sometimes eliminated.

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High temperatures and humidity have contributed to turfgrass damage on greens in the Mid-Atlantic region.

All this impacts a course’s bottom line from several perspectives:

Damage repair. This amount varies from course to course, but one should count on higher seed budgets in the fall, along with increased labor costs for those projects able to be completed in-house. Additionally, those courses with more severe damage might require outside contractors to fix some of the damage. This increases operating expenses beyond budgets for the year.

Correcting problems. Often, some of the damage reveals problem areas requiring correction, such as the installation of additional drainage, irrigation upgrades, tree removal and trimming, or in some cases, green, tee or bunker renovation. A prudent buyer for any course will view these as immediately required capital improvements and will evaluate purchase pricing accordingly. Thus, additional monies need to be included in the capital improvements budgets, at least for the short term.

Lost revenues. Several courses have closed greens, and some have shut down for periods of time because of damage. Revenue loss is in the form of no play or reduced green fees for courses with temporary greens. With most courses reporting improved performance during the previous two years, any such interruptions will impact those gains.

While it’s difficult to estimate the revenue loss for each course because of the varying levels of damage, this season’s weather could impact the value and potential sale price of those courses slow to recover or make repairs. Given an expeditious program to return the facilities to their prior condition (or improved), long-term performance and values shouldn’t be impacted because this year’s weather in the region has been abnormal (characterized by some superintendents as a 10-year occurrence). For budgeting purposes, it would be prudent and proper for operators to consider their unique costs and expenses incurred this season and budget 10 percent of same to prepare a sinking fund for the next time similar conditions occur. These funds could be used to make improvements that would alleviate some of the damage incurred this season.

There are several things that can be learned from the challenges of 2005:

Preparation. Operators shouldn’t be surprised with conditions like they’ve experienced this summer. If this is a 10-year occurrence, then they should plan accordingly with appropriate sinking funds. It’s not like these conditions don’t occur, the question is how frequently.

Drainage and irrigation. While there have been problems from heat, humidity and excessive rainfall, they highlight the importance of drainage. Despite the high temperatures, courses with adequate irrigation are experiencing problems in their low areas compared to the higher spots, which might not hold water. Water doesn’t always cure the problems of tough summers, sometimes it causes those problems. Adequate irrigation is obvious and, without rain, will always be needed to be applied precisely with modern systems.

Trees. Trees often are the objects of considerable debate at many clubs. Everybody loves trees. The recent removal of almost 1,000 trees at some of the nation’s greatest courses (Oakmont and Merion to name a couple) wasn’t without good reason. As these trees grow, they deprive other parts of the course, especially greens and tees, of sunlight nutrients and water. Trees require trimming (and in some cases removal) as they grow to ensure adequate air circulation. This should be part of any course’s long-term plan. This isn’t without cost and should be planned for.

Budgeting. It’s difficult for many to budget for unforeseen circumstances. Therefore, natural shortsightedness suggests operators normalize their budgeting, often to make it attractive. The suggestions above should be incorporated into an accurate annual budget in the form of a sinking fund for occurrences that, while not annual, are foreseeable and somewhat periodic. GCN

Shaun A. Henry is a former golf course superintendent and a staff appraiser-consultant with Golf Property Analysts. Laurence A. Hirsh is the president of Golf Property Analysts.