Putting money where their mouths are

Columns - outside the ropes

April 6, 2022

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The current golf boom has had many unexpected consequences, among them more golfers, new golfers, filled tee sheets and busy golf shops. More greens fees, increased sales and bursting memberships means more revenue than clubs—private and public—have seen in a long time, if ever. This infusion of funds is allowing clubs to dust off plans that have been on the drawing board, but also the back burner, for months, maybe years.

I’m confident you know what’s needed to manage a renovation. Despite the extra cash, there’s one more hurdle to overcome: Getting the buy-in of membership or ownership. It’s time to go from what you know the golf course needs to convincing them that this huge investment is in the best interest of the club. Getting from “we’ve got the money” to “let’s spend it” depends on what you do next.

First things first: Align your allies. Make sure your general manager, golf pro, and the chairs of the long-range planning, golf, and/or green committees understand what’s at stake. Remind them you’ve got to spend money to make money and that the greatest asset any club has is its golf course.

Befriend the finance chairman or CFO and be sure you’re on the same page about what the project will cost and where the money is coming from. Find the alpha golfers at your club who will support you and the best interests of the course. Enlist outside contractors and consultants to back you up, then bring them in to provide valuable insights on costs, timing, return on investment, etc.

Maybe most important, know who the naysayers are or will be and their opposition to the plan. Be prepared to refute, or at least speak to, their concerns.

Before sticking your neck out for the plan, get those same experts and consultants in your cart, drive them around the course and pick their brains. Put a cost to every problem, a benefit to every opportunity. Arm yourself with facts, not opinions. And be prepared for some wacky, off-the-wall questions and arguments from those who don’t like to spend money or just don’t like change.

Know all the facts and be ready to explain the science. These may be intelligent, successful people in their “other” lives, but as much as they care about their club and course, they know little about turf types, water distribution, pump stations and how a green is built. When you explain it to them, be careful not to talk down or belittle them. Show how you’ve been putting Band-Aids on the wounds and warts for years; now it’s time for major surgery.

You get to talk about what no one sees and fewer think about: infrastructure, the nuts and bolts, grass seed, sod and soil, the underpinnings without which the rest of the plan falls apart. Explain that (tactfully), making sure to emphasize how long it’s been since the irrigation pipes were replaced, the teeing grounds properly sized and bunkers drained.

Ultimately, as much as they love their club, it’s going to come down to cost. Not only money, but time away from “my” golf course while “you” rebuild it. Remind everyone that while it’s expensive to do the job right, it’s a lot more expensive to do it over. The point of the project is to make them happy, not you. They’re the ones who will benefit.

Be careful quoting exact figures. Besides causing a massive case of sticker shock, the way the world is, whatever you say tonight will be wrong tomorrow. Remember, “the first person who gives a number usually loses.” And it could be your job.

Outline the process so everyone can follow. Explain the wisdom of doing everything at once rather than piecemeal (which is way more expensive and time-consuming). Don’t fall into the trap of doing nine holes at a time. Do it all and do it once. Everyone will benefit.

If the course or club is part of a community, bear in mind how homeowners will be affected. Non-golfers and “social members” won’t benefit much from a new golf course, but they will suffer the noise, mess and other inevitable fallout of trucks and dozers. Make sure they understand the timeline and be prepared to fix road surfaces and other “collateral damage” when the work is done.

And you can bet some older member will come up to you and complain, “I’m 78, have only so many rounds left, and you want to shut down my course for six months?” If you can prove it, remind them that a previous generation had to undergo the same hardships so he’d have the chance to play as long as he did. Otherwise, there’s one response sure to get them nodding their heads: “You’re doing it for your grandchildren.” Works every time.

Tim Moraghan, principal, ASPIRE Golf (tmoraghan@aspire-golf.com). Follow Tim’s blog, Golf Course Confidential at www.aspire-golf.com/buzz.html or on Twitter @TimMoraghan