Golf Course Maintenance “Zero” Budgets

By Marc Gelbke USGTF Member and Contributing Writer Any manager of a facility who is familiar with its overall performance-based budget knows that a big part of expenses, if not the biggest part, comes from maintaining the golf course on an annual basis. So, it is only wise to be very familiar with, and to be part of, establishing your annual maintenance budget, along with your superintendent and committees, if present. As the overall economy continues to be challenging for golf course owners, a different approach to establishing your budget may be warranted. A very effective way to study costs is to develop a “zero” budget so that each line item has to be justified. This may be a far better approach than the traditional approach of applying inflation adjustments to your budget items year after year, as the “zero” budget will provide you with a justifiable course budget based on real costs for the year, and there by providing the possibility of saving on expenses and increasing your net operating income. The approach to this budget concept is to establish written standards of your annual maintenance goals, and should be explained in detail of the how, why, and who, so that a “zero”budget can be put together successfully.  Your superintendent and/or greens committee should be the ones to draft their goals and maintenance standards for the course and be reviewed and discussed with you, the manager. Once goals have been established and all parties involved are in agreement, the “zero” budget can begin to be put together,starting with all line items being zero. Labor and all predicted activities should begin the process. Include unpredictable occurrences, such as weather (being one of the biggest), that can have a significant impact on dollars needed to keep an acceptable standard for your course. Other items like labor, fertilizer needed and equipment needed, function cycles, as well as equipment maintenance, are relatively easy to forecast. Some distinct advantages of a“zero” budget are: Efficient allocation of funds and resources based on needs, goals, and standards. Challenges superintendent to look for cost-effective ways to improve operation. Eliminates the “standard” inflation-based budgeting. Involves staff and motivates by being involved in setting and monitoring set goals. Improves communication between staff, committees, and manager. Provides an “out of the box” and“refreshing” way of doing things and shows initiative. Next time you are tasked with annual budgeting, think of “zero” budgeting.

The Power of Mindset and Positive Self-Talk

By Brian Burke USGTF Associate Member, Tampa, Florida We have all been victims to some form of negative self-talk, played golf with someone who beat themselves up verbally during his/her round, or had a student that lashed out at themselves during a lesson. As a golf teaching professional, I have seen about everything from grumbles under their breath to throwing clubs in frustration in learning new techniques. Even some of the best players in the world have been caught on film and fined on the tour for their verbal escapades on the course. This negative self-talk may seem funny at first to those who witness the show of emotion, but it can lead to a round that spirals out of control, and leaves your playing partners with no plans for you to join them in future outings. I ask my students a simple question: “Would you tolerate someone talking to you that way?” This simple question can bring attention to what they just did. Sometimes they don’t even notice that they are beating themselves up. As an instructor, you can work with your students to evaluate their behavior. It is as simple as deciding between two mindsets. Carol Dweck wrote Mindset: The Neuropsychology of Success, in which she divides mindsets into two distinct groups that can be used to overcome the negative tendencies our students may be experiencing. The two mindsets that Dr. Dweck describes are the fixed and growth mindsets. If individuals are in a fixed mindset, they believe that intelligence is static and not able to change or learn new concepts. It avoids challenges, gets defensive with change, ignores useful negative feedback, and gives very little, if any, effort to overcome obstacles in its way. In the growth mindset, individuals believe knowledge can be developed for new swing ideas and techniques. They embrace change and give their best effort to overcome obstacles. They see criticism as an opportunity to grow to levels that would not be possible alone without outside observations and correction. Some years ago, I caddied in a local pro-am event and got paired up with a retired corporate-level executive. While hitting balls on the range, we conversed in small talk and I told him about my background, and he notified me that if I saw anything that I could help him out with, he was open to my input (growth mindset). While he was warming up, I noticed a few things that he was doing well and others that he could make some small corrections to. I made some small alignment and ball-position adjustments that increased his directional control, and he ended the range session hitting the ball very well, with solid contact. During the round, he started reverting back to his previous alignment and ball positions with negative results. He became frustrated and disgusted with himself. Here he was, playing with a pro and a famous guitar player from a touring band, and he could not even hit the ball in the fairway. This went on for a few holes, and he obviously forgot that I was on his team as his caddie (fixed mindset). I asked him if he would like my input, like on the driving range, and I could tell that he totally zoned out and thought he was on his own. Once he came around, he was very receptive to my input again. The next hole was a par-3, around 150 yards. As he was lining up, I corrected his alignment, and suggested ball placement where he had it on the driving range when he was striking it so well. He was totally in the growth mindset, listening to every word on the adjustments. As he struck the ball he remained in balance, the ball flight was true, and it stopped three feet from the pin. His eyes lit up, the whole group was clapping, and he was on top of the world. As you could guess, I gained his trust that he could do great things with me on his bag. For the rest of the round, he continued to be open to feedback before each shot to ensure he was set up correctly, to give himself the best possible opportunity to hit a good shot. Now, do you think the outcome would have been the same if he would have remained in a fixed mindset? If he would have thought that he had all the answers? Of course not. By aligning our students with a growth mindset and positive self-talk, we can move them in a direction for positive change and improvement. Our students are not always going to be the best ballstrikers in the game or wizards of the short game, but as long as they are aware of both mindsets, they can make the choice to go with the one that most suits them to enjoy the game and allows for continuous improvement.

Golf Managers Must Understand and Manage Marketing

By Dr. Patrick J. Montana, USGTF Master Golf Teaching Professional 

One of the biggest concerns of golf club managers today is retaining current members or customers and attracting new members or customers.  This is a marketing problem, and golf club managers must understand and manage marketing in our changing world. Marketing in its broadest sense is a concept for running the entire business.  It puts the customer at the center of the business universe and not the organization.  In other words, we must start in the marketplace and work backward from customer needs to develop our products and services – not the other way around. This so-called “marketing concept” is based not only on being customer-oriented, but also on doing it profitably.  We are not interested in volume for volume’s sake, but in volume at a profit which flows as a result of meeting people’s needs effectively and solving their problems with our products and services. In its broadest sense, the purpose of marketing is to cause change in your favor.  It takes a conscious pre-planned effort and requires that top management first set a specific measurable objective for the golf club facility, which will serve as a guideline for the functional areas to do their planning and their research aimed at discovering opportunities for causing profitable change in their marketplace.

Importance VS. Loyalty Improvements

By Marc Gelbke

One of yearly “hot topics” in golf course managers’ annual budget meetings, with either the owner(s) or board of directors, is the conversation on how much, and on what particular items, capital improvements should be made for the upcoming year. Of course, the main question I would always ask myself each year is with what improvements we could improve our bottom line. The vast majority of golf course owners and boards of directors conduct strategic planning on an annual basis for their operations by the seat of their pants. Most of these decision-makers have no real evidence prioritizing what capital improvements, if any, should be made for the facility that will, at the same time, improve capital gains. Instead, these vast expenditures are made on hunches as to what the owners or boards thinks is important to the golfers. With specific surveys to your targeted cliental, one could get a more accurate baseline on what is important to golfers and what creates true loyalty. Once you have collected enough hard data, you can compare this side-by-side and see where they would intersect and use that as a point of measure. Furthermore, you may rank them by “moderate high,” “high,” and “very high” for each category. If you collected enough data and analyzed the results, you may see that, for instance, conditions of bunkers, fairways, tees and golf shop rank on the very high importance scale to your golfers, but on the very high important loyalty side you may find that overall golf course conditions, conditions of greens, course value, staff service and friendliness, quality of practice facility, and overall course design rank as the top favorites. Remember, loyalty promotes word-of-mouth recommendations, the most powerful tool for golfer/member retention and new membership/golfer business.  So, if I had to recommend where to spend capital improvement money, I would stick to the loyalty side, and it will most likely provide a reasonable return on our investments.

If you were a golf course manager, how would you respond to the following scenarios?

  1. During a busy day early in the season, several groups legitimately complain about the slow pace of play on the course. Do you… a. Apologize for the slow play but explain that your Players Assistants were doing the best they could to keep play moving? b. Explain to the golfers that it was a busy day and slow play is to be expected particularly early in the season? c. Tell them that you understand that play was unusually slow today and offer them a discount voucher for their  inconvenience and ask them to please come out and try the course again? d. Tell them that you are not surprised as you saw many bad players out on the course today? Answer: Although A, B and D may all be very true, none of those answers will bring any satisfaction to the golfers and CUSTOMER SATISFACTION is the number one priority. Discounting golf is certainly not the answer to everything – but the course is obviously having a good day (causing slow play) and you want to cultivate as many happy customers as possible.

  2. Your club policy is that employees must request days off two weeks in advance for scheduling purposes. A usually very reliable part-time staff member comes to you and informs you that he needs the next three days off because of a wonderful opportunity that just came his way. You are already short staffed because of others who had requested off a couple of weeks ago. You… a. Reiterate the policy and explain that you can’t give him the days off. b. Let him know that you’ll be glad to cover for him even though you’re short-handed and to have a great trip. c. Let him know that he can have the time off as long as he can find someone to cover his shifts. d. Moan and complain about how difficult it will be to cover for him so that he feels bad about the late notice – but cover for him anyway. Answer: Reliable part time staff is hard to come by and are an essential component of any smooth running golf course. By allowing him to feel good about his opportunity, he will be much more productive when he returns, bringing with him a positive attitude and good morale. Answer C would seem to be a reasonable solution but it will very possibly cause extra stress and hard feelings between the staff members who can’t, won’t, or eventually do cover his shifts. Staff will be much more willing to cover if asked by the Director or Head Pro – thinking they will be banking some good will for later use.

  3. A golfer comes into the shop after having a confrontation with another group and ultimately your Player Assistant. He is very upset with the way he was spoken to by the PA and demands that something be done. He is a regular customer and influential in the community. Your PA has already made you aware that this individual was hitting into the group ahead of him on more than one occasion. When the PA approached him he became loud and abusive. You should… a. Apologize for the confrontation because “the customer is always right” and allow him to leave feeling good and limiting any negative publicity. b. Respond in a strong tone making sure he understands that hitting into other groups will not be tolerated and that your PA acted appropriately. c. Tell the customer that you will speak to your PA about the way he spoke to him and assure the customer that it will never happen again. d. Explain that you have already heard what happened from the PA’s point of view but would like to hear his side too. Discuss how the situation can be avoided in the future without demeaning the actions or authority of your PA. Answer: The trick is to neutralize the situation, take steps to prevent it from reoccurring, and to protect the integrity of your staff. Making a stand and lecturing on the customer’s wrong- doing may feel good and deserving, but will probably come back to haunt you at some point. It is very important that your staff understands that there is a right and wrong way to communicate with customers but that you will support them when they are forced into a difficult situation during the course of doing their job. Correct answer – D.

  4. Membership is down and a small group claiming to represent a contingency of 16 members comes to you because they have been offered a better deal to join a neighboring club. Do you… a. Tell them you will match the other club’s offer if the group will rejoin your club? b. Meet with the group to discuss a mutually beneficial resolution? c. Point out to the group the benefits of remaining at your club and impress upon them how much you value them as members? d. Advertise special pricing and incentives to all members to attract additional members while limiting the departure of current members? Answer: Members can be tough to come by, and at times, even tougher to keep happy. “The grass is always greener” philosophy does present challenges when trying to get members to rejoin year after year. Meeting with the group to discuss a possible resolution AND impressing upon them how much you value their memberships are both necessary steps. Often times the members just want to know that they are valued and are heard when it comes to golf course and membership issues. Matching the other club’s offer will most certainly be found out by your other members and will create a terrible situation. If the numbers continue to drop, advertising special pricing and incentives may become necessary – however, getting pulled into a price war with neighboring clubs will usually only benefit the golfers and hurt any and all of the clubs involved. Unfortunately, sometimes drastic measures must be put in place to get through difficult times. Correct answer – C.

  5. A group of eight have reserved two prime tee times on a Sunday morning. Four players show up and announce that the second foursome decided to cancel. You… a. Politely let the gentlemen know that they had reserved two tee times and that they will have to pay the greens fees for the time that will go unused. b. Politely let the gentlemen know that this is a prime time for the course and in the future you would appreciate their calling ahead to cancel the time. c. Don’t say anything and accept that this is part of the business. d. Make a note of the reservation for future reference and let the staff know that if a multiple reservation is made in that name again that the individual will have to leave a credit card number to secure the times and that it will be charged greens fees for any no shows. Answer: This is a common occurrence at golf courses that take advance reservations. Answer B is probably the best way to handle the situation at the time, but it would also be prudent to implement a policy to take a credit card number at the time of the reservation and let the person know that it is course procedure to charge a green fee for no-shows in prime hours of operation. The policy should be written down and all pro shop employees should know the policy. If you have to enforce the procedure, be sure to keep a record of the charge, day and time the  reservation was made and the name of the person. That way, you can have it available for a customer who disputes the charge or the credit card company disputing the charge.

  6. You are the Director of Golf Operations and a Certified Golf Instructor presents you with a plan to teach golf at your facility and bring students. When you present this to the golf pro, he resists and tells you he does not want any outside instructors teaching at his golf course. You… a. Tell the pro that it is not his decision and you are allowing the new teacher access, like it or not. b. Remind the pro that the goal of the course is to bring in business and that the instructor’s plan does not compete with the pro and that it will bring in new business to the facility. c. Discuss with the pro the benefits of having an individual that will bring in new business and assure him that there is room for both to grow and prosper. d. Demand that the pro come up with a plan that will add the same revenue promised by the certified golf instructor’s proposal. Answer: It would be easy to just tell the pro that you make the decisions not him, but that would probably create hard feelings and cause more harm than good. It is always better to be up front and try to get people to see the bigger picture. Golf is a competitive business and convincing him in the long run that the more opportunities to improve the bottom line is good for everyone. C would be the best approach.

  7. A guest of a member of your golf club is having dinner in the main dinning room of the clubhouse. One of your wait staff informs the club manager that this person is receiving multiple calls on his cell phone and is annoying their members. Club policy clearly states that cell phones are not allowed in the main dinning room. Therefore, you respond in the following manner: a. Confront the member and reiterate the policy. b. Confiscate the cell phone from the guest and say it is against club policy but the phone can be picked up at your office after dinner. c. Do nothing. d. Tell the waiter to explain the policy. e. Show the member the written policy on a small business card you had developed for that purpose. Answer: E

  8. The starter on the first tee of your golf club calls you stating that Dr. Smith, a suspended member for nonpayment of dues, has just teed off with three guests. Dr. Smith has been a respected member of the community and a club member for seven years. How would you, the club manager, handle the situation? a. Tactfully escort Dr. Smith and his guests off the golf course. b Allow him and his guests to finish the round and ask Dr. Smith to see you in your office after the round. c. Have the ranger hand him a note reminding him of the situation and ask him to see you after play. d. Allow him to finish the round with his guests and telephone him the following day. Answer: B

  9. For your pro shop you need to decide what retail prices to set on apparel and equipment. To help determine, you need to find the gross margin percentage (GMP) in figuring these prices. The equation for GM is displayed: GMP = (Sale of goods—Cost of goods) / Sale of goods. Therefore, which one of the following is not included in calculating the GMP? a. Rent b. Cost of apparel and equipment c. Shipping cost of apparel and equipment d. Retail price Answer: The best answer is “A.” The cost of rent to house your equipment and apparel is definitely not part of the GMP equation. Hence, rent would be considered an indirect cost. Any cost directly related to equipment and apparel such as shipping and the wholesale price is part of cost of goods. And, to complete the calculation, the retail price (which is the sale of goods) is the other number required for the GMP.

Golf – The Game Of Lasting Friendship

By Anthony Bernard Benny

Sitting at my desk and looking down memory lane, I could not help but smile at what this great game has done for me, from being a caddie, a worker on the golf course, a stint as caddie master and also a player, but the best was yet to come. One day, I was asked to play in an event that had the best players in my country.  It was a four-day event and at the end, I placed second, a loser by one (1) shot.  The then-manager of the golf club suggested that I should turn pro.  In those days, being a pro was mostly to teach, because there were one or two events for us to play, and being a good player, everyone believed that you could teach, as well. I remember quite clearly that one day while giving a lesson to one of my very outstanding students, there was a guy not too far away, on the range.  He put his clubs down and headed for the manager’s office.  I then thought that maybe I had spoken too loudly, or said something offensive.  In a matter of minutes, the manager came out of her office and requested that I visit her after finishing my lesson.  I proceeded to the Manager’s office after my lesson was completed.  She informed that the gentleman on the range had asked her to speak to me about being his teacher/coach.  We became good friends.  One night he asked me, “Where do you get all this knowledge?  What do you have as evidence to show that you are a teacher?”  All I had was my local PGA card.  He then informed that that was not enough and I should research and find a school where I could get my teaching card. Chris Richards and I went in search of this and we found quite a large number of schools, but decided on the United States Golf Teachers Federation. On yet another night, I had a class of six (6) new students and after the class, I told the leader of the group that I was going to America to golf school to learn to be a better teacher.  He asked me who was paying for it.  I then called the name of the other guy present and without hesitation he said that he would double what the other guy was paying. That was more than ten (10) years ago and to date, I am still supported by the second gentleman to be a member of the USGTF every year.  I look forward with great anticipation as to where the next USGTF Cup will be held.  There are many reasons why, but most of all, I look forward to seeing my friends made from events of the years gone by, and the new ones that I am going to make.  Plus, it gives me time to go visit my guru and friend David Leadbetter. Being a lover of the sport, I am always open to knowledge, and to be a good teacher, one must be always open to learning. To all my golfing friends, golf simply means a game of lasting friendship.

Surveys To Improve Services

By Marc Gelbke One of the single best tools a manager can use to improve his or her club’s services is to introduce customer surveys to its members or public players.  Businesses like airlines, restaurants, and hotels live and die by customer surveys, and the reason they are so successful is because they are so in-tune with their customers’ desires and dislikes. To run a successful golf operation, you, too, must find out your clientele’s likes and dislikes. Conduct a golf course survey of your own, and with the Internet being so popular, why not introduce surveys through your website, Facebook, and e-mail blasts?  Some simple guidelines for successful survey writing you may want to consider are:
  • Write a short questionnaire.  Only the most essential things you need to know should be included.
  • Use simple words.  Remember your clientele’s variety of backgrounds, so keep it short with simple language.
  • Don’t write leading questions, as they demand a specific responds.
  • Avoid double negatives when writing a question, as it may confuse the respondent.
  • Put your questions in a logical order.  Remember, the issue raised in one question may influence how people think or respond to a subsequent question or issue.
It is a good idea to begin a survey with general questions and then ask more specific ones later on.  Complement your survey with a good cover memo or introduction. You may still need to motivate your participants to complete the survey, so the cover memo or introduction is the perfect opportunity to do so by including things like purpose of the survey; why is it important to hear from your players; what impact could the results have for the club and/or players. Include a due date and a person of contact about the survey. You may also consider including a giveaway or raffle for all participants as another form of motivation, such as a dollar amount of your next round of golf, free range balls on the next visit, or raffle off a new set of clubs or gift card for the shop.  Stay in-tune with you players and eliminate the reason why some parts of your club’s business aren’t as successful as they could be.

Preparing The Facility

By Marc Gelbke As we continue to elaborate on managing a golf tournament at your facility, we now have to look at what it takes to prepare for an event. We recently discussed promoting your tournament and, assuming this has been done, we now must get started on facility logistics and the planning steps needed to get the facility ready for a tournament. As manager, you will need to focus and analyze needs of the event for the bag pickup area, golf shop, practice area, possible club rentals, restaurant, snack shop, scoreboard(s), parking, course marking, and course setup. I would highly recommend the use of checklists as a tool for successful preparations, and I have always firmly believed that time spent planning well in advance of an event will pay dividends, because a tournament can become very unmanageable if you underestimate needs for items such as carts, food, and so on. Another good tool is to use request forms to capture the needs of the group or organization sponsoring the event; it will help avoid embarrassment of inadequate preparation. Your preparing considerations should focus in detail on items such as scoreboards (should be located near the gathering area after the event – a lot of times this is at the restaurant or clubhouse); registration tables and bag staff (make sure the staff is equipped with a list of tee times and names of participants); golf carts (make sure to arrange appropriate to the type of start, e.g., if shotgun, by hole order); sales (run a sales special on logoed merchandise each day of the event as it will help promote your club and increase your retails sales); housekeeping (make sure facility and locker rooms are cleaned and stocked), and the practice range (have adequate amounts of range balls available for all participants and have the practice area ready to go with staff that can manage the before, during, and after prep work). As for setting up the course, make sure you consult and include your superintendent and committees to discuss marking requirements for ground under repair, water hazards, out of bounds, tee markers, and setting hole locations for each day of the event. I would also recommend discussing length of rough and speed of greens to ensure the course plays appropriately for the tournament. Take an active role in overseeing the process of preparing your facility for a successful event and to capture possible future customers, members, and repeat tournaments sales.

Promoting Your Tournament

By Marc Gelbke

After you have successfully completed your part in leading up to promoting your tournament, you can now put on your more creative hat. As discussed previously, you have developed a plan to host a tournament, you’ve established the format and finalized contests (if any), you have identified specific facility requirements, and you have elaborated your tournament plan to the powers-at-be and identified and organized your staffing needs. It is now time to promote your event, and it is one of the more creative aspects of tournament preparations. A well-planned promotional strategy takes advantage of many free and inexpensive forms of publicity (of course, the size of your event will determine your advertising budget), but nevertheless, to be successful, all tournaments need to be promoted, so careful planning is essential.  The purpose of publicity is to gain attention, as well as to inform potential participants, so the visual impact of promotional materials is as important as their contents.  Professional-looking designs will draw people’s attention, followed by reading its contents. Once you have decided on how to promote your event, it’s time to design and to find some free and inexpensive ways to promote, such as:  Posting notices around your facility and bulleting boards; telling members and guests about your upcoming events; print flyers and leave copies around the golf shop and restaurant; post flyers around local sport/golf stores (with permission, of course); write an ad for your newsletter; notify  the media (newspaper, radio, TV) about the event and offer to give interviews to discuss the event, and use any social media platforms you can (Facebook, Twitter, e-mails). Keep in mind, when developing and designing written promotional material, that you want to create interest and clearly communicate all details a reader needs to know. Include information such as names of well-known players that are participating, prizes to be awarded, special events or formats you are using, and the name of any organization the tournament will benefit. In addition, clearly state the five “W’s” of communication:  who (is eligible to participate); what (description of the event, prizes, and how to sign up; where (location of the event, directions); when (date and time of the event); why (purpose of the event and who it will benefit). Make you material easy to read; use short sentences and use lists or bullet points. People are likely to read materials that contain large blocks of text. A professional-looking ad and promotional campaign will draw interest and participants, and create enough entries to ensure a successful tournament at your facility.


By Marc Gelbke As a continuation from my last editorial, “Developing a Tournament Plan,” I would like to stay along this topic and discuss another couple of important factors when considering organizing a tournament at your facility. Now that we have a general idea of what type of tournament we want to organize, it is time to elaborate your plan and possibly sell your concept for approval to, for example, the board of directors, tournament committee, members, or facility owner. Furthermore, elaborating your plan simply means spelling out the financial and logistical details to gain approval and help organize your event. It is a good idea to prepare a proposal that establishes cost, schedule, profitability, benefits to the community, and benefits to the facility. Your proposal should always included the “four W’s” and the “two H’s” (who, what, when, why, and how and how much). In addition, list all of your specific elements such as type of event, cost per person, number of players, cart requirements, schedule of activities, food and beverage requirements, and staff requirements. The most important element for gaining approval is, of course, your profitability, so carefully consider all expenses, and as a rule of thumb, use 10% for gifts and awards from your initial intake. Once your plan and proposals are complete, start organizing your staff requirements to make preparations and help run the tournament. Consider first what positions need staffing and then find people to fill those positions (employees, club members, volunteers, etc). Be sure to identify all the functions and assign responsibility for each function to a specific person, and assign people to functions you feel comfortable they can handle. Use a checklist to help in planning, and you will improve your chances for a smooth operation. The more you prepare and cover all angles before the tournament, the more you can enjoy your hard labor and feel good about your success come tournament day.