As a member of the National Golf Foundation and also a subscriber to Pellucid Corporation operated by Jim Koppenhaver I have access to enormous amounts of information concerning the business of golf. Recently I have found this information fascinating as it seems since the crash of 2008, the economy has exerted the strongest influence on golf turf management I have ever seen in thirty years in the industry.
A close look at data from the NGF report on course supply found that in 2011 there was a net loss of almost 140 golf courses. The fifth consecutive year with a net loss in course supply. In fact over the last decade (2000-2010) there was flat growth that essentially showed with about 500 courses opening in the USA in that decade there were 500 closures. Current projections from NGF suggest a 500 to 1000 course closure number for the 2010s.
There is also something called the Course Supply Index. This is a measure of the busy-ness of your course. Over the last 20 years there has been a decline in busy-ness in US golf courses. For example, an 83 on the index means that you are 17 percent less busy than you should be. Looking closely at the data you can see that right after the NGF announced we need to build a golf course every day for the next ten years the busy-ness of courses began to drop. And then in the early 2000s with Tiger Woods, plenty of funny money, and courses beginning to close busy-ness spiked up. Only to be followed by the largest drop in 20 years. We are currently at our lowest point in 20 years and the only thing that might save this index is more course closures.
So the mantra has begun, we need to grow the game and so jingles such as Golf 2.0, Play Golf America, Get Golf Ready are rolled out. Again look at the data. Pellucid has consistently questioned the need to reach into Juniors and get more women to play and rather focus on your core customer group, those Avid golfers that play 25 or more times per year. These are the folks that buy $500 drivers, drape $1000 Alpaca sweaters around their shoulders and yes, demand high quality conditions!
Pellucid offers advise on the role of weathering how many playable hours every course has and are we maximizing them. It is time for the entire golf turf industry to turn their focus from simply growing grass to managing a business. Yes it is tough as it seems demands are rising, budgets are shrinking and now the climate is changing.
In a brief video shoot with TurfNet member Steve Swanson, Director of Golf Operations at Red Rock Country Club, I saw a professional who has evolved to see golf turf management through the lens of a business manager. Yes, customer satisfaction is the key. Optimizing the golfing experience for our avid golfers while being mindful that core golfers who play once a month can still enjoy a round is our job. If you are simply focused on fast greens as some sort of phallic contest among your colleagues it is time to knock it off and view the course from a customer and business management experience.
Most golf course superintendents no longer have the luxury of growing grass without regard for running an efficient operation. If you have not examined your operation top to bottom and questioned every aspect of fuel use, labor allocation (Swanson went to 30 hour work weeks because the trip across the course was taking an hour and half of his staffs day), cost per day of disease control (saving $20 per day on longer intervals and lower rates accounts for that cart that is not going out), and the list goes on. In other words if you do not manage your supplies, there will be less demand.