Superintendent Magazine - December, 2012


Cover Story: Looking Forward

10 things we can do to help turn around the game in 2013
By Ron Furlong

Can we breathe a little easier now? Can we all agree the planet is going to survive the once dreaded, often feared 2012 predicted by the Mayans?

I know, I know, we're not quite there yet. But the finish line is within sight. Let me be the first to go out on a limb here and say I think we're going to make it.

So, assuming we do avoid a late fourth-quarter collapse and we all trudge on into 2013, maybe now is a good time to think about what the future holds. Where does the business of golf go from here? Or, perhaps more to the point for most of us, where does the business of golf course management go from here?

As we sweep aside the first dozen years of the century (actually a baker's dozen, I guess), what, we wonder collectively, do the next 13 years have in store for us?

More of the same negative trends we've been heading into?

Fewer and fewer golfers?

More and more environmentally based restrictions?

An ever-increasing unemployment rate?

Rising fuel costs?

Yikes. Sorry about that. I turned a little negative there. Let's shake those bad thoughts for a moment and try to look on the bright side of things. Let's try and focus on some positives heading into the great unknown that is - THE FUTURE!

What, actually, can those of us in the field of golf course management do to help turn around the stagnant condition of this game we love so much? Can we really hope to make a difference?

If we can't, who exactly do you think will?

So, on that note, here's a top-10 list - something to turn those frowns upside down. Here are 10 things (with a little hard work and ingenuity) we can do to help turn the future of the game around:

1. Sell environmental golf

What is environmental golf? It's simply the way we are changing and have already changed the manner in which we manage our golf courses. Best management practices-based decisions. Making the right choices, which doesn't always mean the way we were taught to do things back in the day. Adapting to a new world, and doing it in an environmentally positive way.

I'm not talking about selling it to the public; I'm talking about selling it within the individual golf course - to the general manager or to the owner, to the green chairman or to the members. Before it can spread outward, it has to be accepted within.

Almost everything that follows in this list can be traced back to the concept of having, accepting and managing an environmentally friendly golf course.

2. Threshold tolerance

If I've learned anything during my 25 years in this industry it's that things change. What once was accepted or sought after no longer is. Playability has finally surpassed aesthetics. Which, when you think about it, is the way it should have been all along. Shame on us for having it take so long to sink in.

3. Cultural management

One of the first things you learn about in turfgrass management is differentiating between chemical and cultural controls. The importance of this distinction is now greater than ever. Finding cultural ways to control diseases, weeds and other unwanted pests has become as vital as any tool in the superintendent's arsenal.

4. Tighten the belt

This probably goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway: The trend the last three or so years has been shrinking budgets and more creative management techniques. There's no reason to think this will change anytime soon. And maybe that's not such a bad thing.

I know for me, finding new and creative ways to accomplish things has been a nice challenge. Finding ways to do things differently and less expensively is something all managers and superintendents are going to have to embrace at some time. You can fight it or accept it. One way is a heck of a lot less stressful than the other.

5. Hire wisely

It's been so long since I haven't had a quality staff working for me that I may not be the best person to say this. But I do remember when it wasn't always so rosy. In this time of shrinking budgets and shrinking payroll, the importance of having quality people around you has never been more apparent.

Years ago you could get by with a lack of top-notch people by having an abundance of less-than-top-notch people. You made up for the lack of quality with sheer numbers. Safe to say those days are long gone (thank goodness). It's essential you find the right people, and, once you do, treat those people well. Do what it takes to keep them around.

6. Communication

It's always been important for the golf pro and the superintendent to keep the lines of communication open, and now it's more important than ever. Revenue and windows to gain revenue have dwindled over the past several years, so when those windows are open (tournaments, busy weekends, etc.) it's vital that everyone is on the same page.

Just as superintendents expect the golf pros to bend over backwards sometimes and understand what they're trying to do, the golf pros expect the same effort from superintendents. Priming the product for certain events or showcasing it for a particular group has become more important than ever.

7. Education

This isn't the time to get left behind. Continuing education is a prudent thing to do for any professional, and with the industry changing so dramatically and so quickly this would be a bad time to not be at the forefront of what is happening. Stay up to date.

8. Networking

Like education, networking is also a good way to keep at the forefront of change. Know what the course down the street and the one across town are doing. Forget about rivalries. We're all in this together. Share your knowledge and more than likely you'll learn something new in return.

9. Adhere to regulations

As mentioned earlier, regulations are going to get stiffer and stiffer. Where before you never heard from certain regulatory bodies and agencies, expect to see them at some point in the future. Golf courses, right or wrong, are at the forefront of many groups' mindsets when it comes to how we operate and how we're regulated. Know the laws. Do what you're supposed to be doing.

10. Rolling true

When all else fails, you can always fall back on this: Nothing matters on a golf course as much as your ability to have your 18, 27 or 36 (or whatever number you have) putting greens rolling as true as you can. It all begins and ends with the playability of the greens. On days when nothing else is going quite right, this can be a comforting thing to fall back on.

We survived Y2K, Hurricane Katrina and now Superstorm Sandy, and we're about to put the once feared 2012 behind us as well. Everything else should be downhill from here, right?

Furlong is the golf course superintendent at Avalon Golf Club in Burlington, Wash. He can be reached at