I’ve been making a case for golf’s rebound since January. The point isn’t to be an industry cheerleader, although there is some benefit to that. The primary reason I look for positive factors in the industry and the general economy is to give superintendents fodder for near-term budging and justification for expenses around the golf course. It’s led to this time of the year, when superintendents have some say in the resources they will need to manage to meet the expectations of golfers and the ruling bodies at their respective golf courses.
A few things I’ve chronicled in other columns throughout the year:
- Consumer confidence hit a 15-year high this year and shows little sign of subsiding. Households are spending disposable income on everything from durable goods to services for their homes. Some of that money is making its way to golf facilities.
- Housing is on the rebound. In some markets, housing prices have hit pre-crisis levels. New housing starts and new home sales are surging. This creates consumer confidence and actual wealth that encourages households to tackle home-improvement projects, take vacations and spend more time and money on leisure activities, including golf.
- Millennials are showing signs that they will follow in the footsteps of other generations. A recent study showed millennials are buying houses in the suburbs and SUVs for the garage. The generation that many said would ruin the economy by forgoing home ownership is buying big-ticket items as soon as they are able. Golf will follow as soon as they can spare the time away from their young families.
- The National Golf Foundation recorded a new high of new players in 2016 with 2.5 million beginning golfers, a 14-percent rise compared to 2015 and a 4.2-percent rise from the previous high in 2000.
- The number of NGF’s “committed golfers” surged to 20.1 million people in 2016, the first year-over-year increases in 5 years.
There are a slew of indicators that bode well for golf businesses, and I’m banking on 2017 NGF numbers to show that rounds and revenues will be the strongest we have seen for a decade. It’s time to take advantage of these trends.
This issue discusses tips for budgeting, including devising maintenance standards as a foundation for justifying maintenance expenses and practices and outsourcing tasks to free up time and labor resources. A valid argument can be made that contractors can provide less disruption to the golf course and expedite tasks more effectively with specialized labor, equipment and technology. Time is money, too.
Now is the time to align your budget with maintenance expectations, and that includes labor. The USGA recommends, among other things, you plan to pay a premium for your seasonal help next year. Superintendents already realize the heavy competition of unskilled labor in your respective markets. Now is the time for you and your management team to devise a strategy to become the preferred employer in your area. Pay is one part of that equation that also includes culture, professional development and personal growth.
Here are a few more tips on budgeting to get you in the mindset of the season:
- Overestimate all expenses. A little cushion in each line item can add up to a decent safety net.
- Analyze all purchases; identify non-essential expenses that you can eliminate if you underestimate essential expenses.
- Talk to your assistants, mechanics and other key personnel in your department about what they need and what they don’t. They might enable you to make some easy decisions.
And of course: Pay more and be ready to be brutally honest with the rest of the management team about the actual costs of each daily task. It might be tedious, but this is the first step to creating standards that are transparent, prescriptive and universally agreed upon. These tactics will mitigate stress, unnecessary long hours and hassle for you in the long run. At least until next year’s budgeting season.