Golf Course Maintenance Budget Survey: How Does Your Course Compare?

By Adam Moeller, Agronomist
February 18, 2009

The state of the economy and how it is affecting golf course maintenance operating budgets across the country is a topic that is unfortunately unavoidable. In response to numerous conversations with golf course superintendents, general managers, green chairmen, and owners, a consistent theme of cost saving and improving efficiency has emerged. The amount of budget reductions and specifics for improving efficiency across the Northeast Region, however, is unclear. These questions lead me to conduct an informal survey of nearly twenty-five golf course superintendents with a wide range of operating budgets across the entire region.

All but one of the responses indicated a reduction in the total operating budget for 2009. A 5-10 % reduction of the total operating budget was the most common response, although two courses reported reductions near 10-15 %. Labor comprises the majority of the maintenance budget and is usually the first target when it comes to budget reductions. All of the courses reported that reducing labor was part of the strategy to meet the lower budget. Improving efficiency of hourly employees and limiting overtime were consistent responses from nearly all the golf course superintendents. Reducing bunker maintenance was the most commonly reported change in management practices among the responses.

Of the turf areas, roughs were reported to be the first area for reducing maintenance inputs followed by inputs to fairways. In terms of playability and turf health, most of the superintendents believe that the in-play areas will not have any significant changes (good or bad) from the 2008 season. However, nearly all of the superintendents reported that expectations will be equal or slightly higher from the previous year. Thus the dilemma begins; how to produce the same product or a better one with less?

Although the survey was very informal, it certainly shed some light upon trends in our region. In a recent meeting I attended, a superintendent mentioned that this economy is going to inspire creativity among superintendents across the country. I could not agree more as tough times require creative and efficient solutions. Examine all aspects of your maintenance budget to find areas where efficiency could be improved and where resources might be more valuable. Ultimately, communication is needed between course officials and the superintendent emphasizing the concerns that might arise if tough weather is experienced and how it relates to budget decisions during the season. Additionally, educating members on the realistic expectations if the budget is substantially cut back is necessary.

USGA agronomists can provide insightful and invaluable information involving all areas of golf course maintenance, which will help maximize turf health, playability, and efficiency. Contact Dave Oatis, ; Adam Moeller, ; or Jim Skorulski, for a Turf Advisory Service visit this season.


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