In December of last year, Superintendent magazine surveyed 642 golf course superintendents on the state of the profession, including questions about the state of the golf economy and their personal challenges. The survey was sent to our email subscribers and shared on social media over three weeks; it has a margin of error of ±3.81 percent. Here’s what we found:

  • 38 percent of respondents are from private courses, 24 percent are from public/daily fee, 18 percent are from semiprivate, 13 percent are from municipal, 5 percent are from resort and 2 percent are from executive or “other.”
  • 72 percent of respondents manage 18 holes, 11 percent manage nine holes, and the rest were split between 27 and 36 holes.

We asked… Do you get along with your peers at your course (owner, pro, GM, etc.)?

  • 76% – Yes, we function well as a team
  • 23% – Somewhat, but I wish we were a better team
  • 1% – No, we can’t get on the same page

OUR TAKE

Improving relationships with your co-workers and peers can result in positive changes, including a happier work environment and even a better overall course. Getting on the same page and working toward the same goal is crucial to long-term success at any course, regardless of type, location or size.

YOUR TAKE

“I attribute the core issue to differences in priorities and a lack of understanding of the time it takes to provide the quality that I demand from myself and my staff, and that our patrons have come to expect. Our job is difficult enough without having to react to selfinflicted wounds coming from the other half of our team. I still believe that the key to improving any relationship is effective communication.”

Jeff Aldrich, Quail Ridge Golf Course (Winfield, Kansas)

“I [don’t get along] with only one person at my course. One thing I’ve done is plant thought seeds in his head and later bring it up and let him believe it was his idea.”

Anonymous superintendent


We asked… What one piece of equipment would you like to upgrade this year?

  • 22% – Greens Roller
  • 19% – Tractor
  • 18% – Aerator
  • 14% – Topdresser
  • 10% – Verticutter
  • 7% – Vacuum
  • 5% – Seeder
  • 5% – Blower

YOUR TAKE

“I’ve noticed greens rolling with a ride-on unit growing in popularity — I’m a little late to the game. I’ve used a roller attachment for triplex greens mowers for 15 years, and they worked pretty well. I finally acquired a used Toro GreensPro 1200 roller a few years ago, and the impact was much more noticeable than what we had been doing. We turned slow and bumpy into smooth and fast, and the customers have noticed that more than anything else we’ve done.”

Greg Bliek, Ancil Hoffman Golf Course (Carmichael, California); Sacramento County Parks & Recreation


We asked… Do you think you are fairly compensated?

  • 57% – My pay is fair, and I have no complaints
  • 40% – No, I don’t make enough for the time I put in
  • 3% – Yes, I never dreamed I’d make this much money

OUR TAKE

These numbers are identical to last year’s. It’s alarming that 40 percent of the 642 superintendents we surveyed feel they aren’t fairly compensated. Will these numbers shift over time? Will salaries grow, or even begin to properly reflect skill, experience and the work being put in? A lot of people are hoping so.


We asked… Is your 2017 maintenance budget:

  • 62% – About the same as last year
  • 19% – 5 percent higher than last year
  • 6% – 5 percent lower than last year
  • 4% – 10 percent higher than last year
  • 3% – 10 percent lower than last year
  • 3% – More than 10 percent higher than last year
  • 3% – More than 10 percent lower than last year

OUR TAKE

Almost 20 percent of respondents reported their 2017 maintenance budget is 5 percent higher than last year. This is a good sign for superintendents throughout the country.


We asked… How concerned are you about the water crisis in the U.S.?

  • 61% – Somewhat concerned
  • 27% – I’m very concerned
  • 12% – Not concerned at all

OUR TAKE

In last year’s survey, 30 percent of respondents said they were “very concerned,” while 9 percent said they were “not concerned at all.” This year’s numbers tell us the water crisis seems to be moving down the list of topics superintendents are worried about.

YOUR TAKE

“This should be everyone in the industry’s No. 1 concern. The golf industry will be the first area that water will be cut. We’ve already seen it happen in California and other parts of the country. I feel that a lot of superintendents — especially here in Utah — would rather turn their heads and look the other way when the water issues come up. We all need to join forces with GCSA and the local chapters to get BMPs and other water management practices implemented. At Fore Lakes, we’ve updated our pump station so we are more accurate on water use. [In 2016] we really focused on soil moisture throughout the entire course.”

T.A. Barker, CGCS, Fore Lakes Golf Course (Taylorsville, Utah)


We asked… Did you have to reduce labor from your budget in 2016?

  • 44% – No, because we can’t cut anymore
  • 26% – Yes, our crew is as thin as it has ever been
  • 20% – No, we hired more help than we had the previous years
  • 10% – Yes, but we still have plenty of help

OUR TAKE

Labor is and always will be a tough topic. In our survey, 70 percent of the respondents have staffs that are either bare bones or are as thin as they ever have been. At these locations, the onus is placed on the superintendent to come up with solutions to keep courses looking as good — or even better — than ever, with less people than ever. This is without a doubt a sore spot for almost all the supers we spoke to.

YOUR TAKE

“Operating the course with less staff puts more burden on myself and our key people. I have to perform more tasks instead of managing and directing, which is what my board wants me to do. I need to limit overtime, but they want a good presentation with less resources. They ask me why I’m here longer than the other staff, mowing or doing a project. I tell them I don’t have enough staff or resources to get the job done in eight hours, so I have to pick up the slack.”

Dan Nagy, Jonesboro Country Club (Jonesboro, Arkansas)

“Our staff is thin. In 2016 I had a difficult time finding reliable seasonal help, even with paying an aboveaverage starting wage. Later in the season, I chose to not replace the part-time guys by doing things myself and offering the good employees overtime opportunities. Since labor is 50 to 55 percent of the maintenance budget, it’s been an easy target for cuts. I’m paid to find solutions to [the club’s] parameters. If I don’t want to find them, someone else will.”

Mike Salvio, CGCS, Ocean City Golf Club (Berlin, Maryland)


We asked… What one thing would you change about your job?

  1. The pay
  2. The expectations
  3. The hours
  4. The budget
  5. The course I work at

OUR TAKE

Unfortunately, being overworked and underpaid came up a lot in the writein answers to this question. Also, the respondents are clearly weary of everincreasing expectations with shrinking budgets — not a recipe for success in any industry.

YOUR TAKE

“My membership wants well-groomed conditions most of the time, as well they should. But when they refuse to pay my employees a decent wage, it presents quite a challenge. Other courses in the area pay at least one dollar more per hour than we do, so it is hard to keep good employees. The core of guys I have in place perform adequately, but the difficulty with teaching/training new staff is that they don’t want to work hard for the wage I can pay them. In turn, the product suffers and the good people must take up the slack for the other nonperformers. This means both I and they have more stress, which isn’t good.”

Dan Nagy, Jonesboro Country Club (Jonesboro, Arkansas)

“For those of us working very long hours on a busy golf course in a competitive golf market, it’s extremely important to make the most of our limited time off. It’s our only time to sit back, relax, kick the feet up and enjoy a cold beverage! Overworking yourself can lead to becoming burnt out, sick and it becomes harmful to your career and health. Taking time off helps remind yourself that there is (and should be) life outside of work.”

Matt Claunch, Pine Tree Golf Club (Boynton Beach, Florida)


We asked… What were rounds and revenue like at your course in 2016?

  • 43% – Rounds and revenue were up, we had a good year
  • 36% – Rounds were up, but revenues were flat or down
  • 21% – Rounds and revenue were down

OUR TAKE

National rounds played were up in 2015 for the first time since 2012 — an increase of approximately 2 percent (2016 rounds data was not available as of press time). Last year, 49 percent of respondents said that rounds and revenue were up — which means a decrease of a little more than 6 percent this year. However, this year’s group of “rounds up, revenue flat or down” is a 4 percent increase over last year. These numbers suggest that, for our respondents, 2016 has seen more rounds played but less (or flat) revenue. In other words, golfers are coming to the course, but not as much money is coming in.

YOUR TAKE

“The weather allowed us to be open more often, with only one complete day of closure due to rain. Winter was shorter than normal, and we could open in the beginning of March, [as] opposed to April. Also, since we don’t have cart paths, my staff and I have targeted problem areas over the past five seasons that, after any rainfall, would cause us to shut down carts for the day. We’ve selected these areas for more cultural practices such as core aerification, drainage installation and topdressing.”

Steve Loughran, Rock Ridge Country Club (Newtown, Connecticut)

“Rounds were up because the club has embraced its niche as a mid-priced, value-added facility. There were also three course closings in the area last winter.”

Mike Salvio, CGCS, Ocean City Golf Club (Berlin, Maryland)

“We’re [a] private club and don’t allow outside play unless accompanied by a member. During the last few years, our club has been working toward other means of revenue, like allowing for outside golf tournaments. The members can get a bit bent out of shape with the tournaments, but our owner says, ‘If you don’t like it, tell your friends to buy a membership.’ ”

Jeff Gyselman, Black Bull Golf Club (Bozeman, Montana)


We asked… What’s the biggest challenge you have managing your golf course?

  • 41% – Finding good and reliable help
  • 21% – Old maintenance equipment to do the job right
  • 14% – Golfer expectations for near-perfect conditions
  • 13% – The erratic weather
  • 11% – Golfers who don’t repair ball marks and divots and damage other areas of the course

OUR TAKE

No surprise that, once again, finding good and reliable help is the biggest challenge our survey respondents face — the labor issue isn’t going away anytime soon, folks. One note of interest here is that 21 percent answered that “old maintenance equipment to do the job right” is their biggest challenge. In last year’s survey, the total was 16 percent. From this we can take away that the number of courses in need of equipment upgrades is increasing.

YOUR TAKE

“Running older equipment is the biggest challenge for us. The same budget cuts that have prevented us from buying new equipment also did away with the full-time equipment manager position at our course. Equipment failure during the season always leads to more hours — on both the equipment that’s operational, as well as on our staff. If one of our two greens mowers goes down, it’s not tough to figure out that to mow all 19 greens, the good greens mower has to be out the door at 4 a.m. instead of 6 a.m.”

Jeff Aldrich, Quail Ridge Golf Course (Winfield, Kansas)

“With our course being seasonal and in the high desert, growing grass has many challenges. Golfers that don’t think about our challenges are quick to judge when they’re used to playing in Florida or Arizona, where they have higher numbers and more revenue to spend on the conditions. We try to educate them as best we can in the amount of time that we have their attention. I’ve made sure the golf shop staff is educated as well, so they can assist in responding to the customers, being on the ‘front line.’ ”

Laurie Meredith, Towa Golf Course (Santa Fe, New Mexico)

“Our weather is getting hotter in the summer and warmer in the winter. We can go months without rain in the summer with very low humidity and very high temperatures — this makes water use go up [significantly]. During the winter when we used to be covered with snow for two months, we’re now lucky if we get a significant accumulation in the valley that lasts a week. With the erratic weather that we’ve gotten over the past few years, I’ve had to start treating for summer diseases more often, a practice that I didn’t have to worry about in the past. We typically only had to deal with snow mold in the winter, but now, depending on the year, we may treat for pythium, dollar spot or anthracnose in the summer.”

T.A. Barker, CGCS, Fore Lakes Golf Course (Taylorsville, Utah)

“Being able to find good and reliable help is industry wide, especially up here in the Northern climate. We’re relying on rural communities to supply people that want to do this kind of work and are capable of doing this kind of work and still be able to pay a reasonable wage so they can survive. That in and of itself is a very difficult thing. For us, this problem is also compounded by the fact that we don’t have any colleges in the area where you can pull [workers] for summer help.”

David Berard, CGCS, Dorset Field Club (Dorset, Vermont)

“The kids these days want higher pay without having the required experience. The landscapers and home builders throughout the community tend to pay a higher wage than we can. So, it becomes more difficult to compete. One of these seasons, I’d like to implement an incentive program that would entice employees to stick around for their entire summer. Maybe for example, start a wage at $10 per hour and then have a $.50 or $1 per hour incentive that they would receive at the end of the summer. Most people wouldn’t leave money on the table if they had it coming to them.”

Jeff Gyselman, Black Bull Golf Club (Bozeman, Montana)


We asked… From a business perspective, do you think the golf industry is improving?

  • 54% – Maybe, there are signs the industry is improving
  • 27% – No, the golf industry is still down
  • 19% – Yes

OUR TAKE

These numbers are almost exactly in line with last year’s. The golf economy is in a much better place than it was three years ago, when only 11 percent answered “Yes.”

YOUR TAKE

“The economy seems to be taking a turn, and I think there will be more dollars available for activities such as golf. Also, Tiger Woods coming back will help, whether he’s successful or not.”

Chuck Green, Sage Valley Golf Club (Graniteville, South Carolina)


We asked… What could your golf course use right now?

  • 31% – A bunker renovation
  • 30% – A new irrigation system
  • 25% – A new fleet of mowers
  • 14% – A greens renovation

OUR TAKE

Bunker renovations top this list for the second straight year, narrowly edging new irrigation systems. When a superintendent is forced to allocate labor hours and resources to bunker maintenance that would normally be reserved for other essential maintenance practices, it’s probably time for a renovation. The question is, how many courses are undergoing these renovations?

YOUR TAKE

“Being amongst the oldest courses in the country, one thing that helps in our being able to accomplish [a bunker renovation] sooner rather than later is that our original nine holes were developed over the years. It’s not like we had a famous architect design them; they sort of created themselves on the club’s acquired property. There’s not a signature look to our bunkers that would be blasphemy to change. In the late 1990s when we built the new nine, we had an architect… [build] the type of bunkers they thought would work well. I think they do, so therefore if we renovated them it’s not like changing a Holy Grail — that’s one hurdle we don’t have to jump over. Bunker renovation is being pushed here now because there’s a group of members that feel the sand and texture isn’t as good as it should or could be; it’s starting to become a bugaboo for some members.”

David Berard, CGCS, Dorset Field Club (Dorset, Vermont)

“I have been a golf course superintendent for almost 39 years, and the cost of mowers and technology has steadily climbed. I used to be at a club [that] could spend $50,000 a year in capital and effectively rotate the mowing inventory. With today’s costs, $50,000 won’t replace much, especially with the new Tier-4 regulations for diesel equipment. Operating with older equipment causes repair costs to escalate and downtime for repair increases. Equipment breaks can cause damage, which impacts the experience of the player and the bottom line of the club. Expectations of conditions are constantly increasing, which is a huge challenge for the manufacturers of today’s equipment, as they have to find ways to lower their costs.”

Robert Rogers, CGCS, Big Spring Country Club (Louisville, Kentucky)

“More members, then we might be able to afford any of the above.”

Anonymous superintendent

“Higher pay and benefits.”

Anonymous superintendent


We asked… What would you do to attract new players to the game to increase rounds and revenue?

What would you do to attract new players to the game to increase rounds and revenue?

  • 34% – Reduce the cost of a round
  • 43% – Make golf courses shorter and easier
  • 23% – Offer golfers the chance to play 6 holes

OUR TAKE

This age-old question doesn’t have a wrong answer. It’s undeniable that the game of golf is in dire need of a younger generation to embrace it, not only to increase rounds and revenue right now, but also to sustain the game in the future. In our survey, making courses shorter and easier is the most popular idea every year.

YOUR TAKE

“More important than lowering prices, we need to maintain a low cost for golf. The average to above-average golfer is always going to be there, but we need to always encourage and accommodate the new golfer.”

Steve Sarro, Pinehurst Country Club (Denver, Colorado)

“I believe that the future of this game doesn’t rest with the folks who can poke a tee ball out to 300 yards, but rather it lies with beginners and the younger generation. It’s tough for me to imagine how a beginning golfer, or middle school golf team member, can have much enjoyment from playing a 500-yard, par 4. I’m an advocate of adding forward tees to give folks more options to enjoy developing their game, subsequently increasing the length of the course as their skills increase.”

Jeff Aldrich, Quail Ridge Golf Course (Winfield, Kansas)

“One possible way [to attract new players] would be introducing the opportunity for golfers to play a partial round, such as 6 holes. By doing so, this would attract anybody who’s interested in beginning the sport but is turned off by the amount of time it may take. Golf is a tough sport, and for beginners, 18 holes, and even 9 holes, is too long. Shortened rounds can slowly build up a beginner’s talent and interest in the game until proper skill level is reached.”

Matt Claunch, Pine Tree Golf Club (Boynton Beach, Florida)

“[Reducing the cost of rounds] is an opportunity to offer reduced packages for guest play, family play and/or beginner play to introduce new people to the game. Youth is the future of the game, and [in] our industry, we need to do all that we can to introduce them to it.”

Robert Rogers, CGCS, Big Spring Country Club (Louisville, Kentucky)