Bonuses and Incentives
Bonuses and incentives can go a long way with your employees, or potential employees. The most obvious incentive program for the maintenance staff is allowing them to play the course for free. Golf privileges vary significantly from course to course, but allowing the staff to play at least one day each week is fairly standard. That said, setting up some parameters and guidelines to help avoid potential issues with paying golfers is wise. Other incentives include new rain gear or other work clothing, meal plans, staff golf outings and parties. Don’t underestimate how much your staff appreciates these incentives.
Some superintendents have had success with implementing creative bonus programs paid out monthly or quarterly. Communicating the parameters of the bonus program is crucial to get the most benefit from it. Monitor the success of any bonus program and be prepared to change it up as necessary.
Many courses have utilized internet job sites like Indeed or Craigslist for finding potential employees. These internet sites often yield a lot of applicants, but many superintendents report that they haven’t led to a lot of positive outcomes. In the last six months, Jared Nemitz has relied exclusively on hiring new staff recommended by the existing staff. “We provide a $50, $100 and $150 cash incentive for employees who recommend a new staff person that works at the course for 30, 90 and 150 days. Capitalizing on leads from the existing staff has resulted in some great new additions to our team,” said Nemitz.
Recruiting local teachers, policeman, fireman and veterans has also worked well for Nemitz. “We recognize these people might only be looking for part-time or seasonal work, but they’ve been valuable assets when we’ve had them work for us,” said Nemitz. “One thing that has helped with recruiting is that we make sure the potential employee knows that we maintain a fun atmosphere at all times. Keeping it fun at work can go a long way, and potentially make the difference between someone working for me or moving on to job that pays a little more money,” said Nemitz.
Scott Bordner suggests recruiting through local FFA Chapters and Boy Scout troops. “The FFA students and Boy Scouts enjoy the outdoors and that translates well into working on the course. Community Facebook groups have also been a surprising success. Many times, there is a young person looking for a job that doesn't look on our normal platforms and many retirees came to our team through these sites as their kids informed them of openings. It hit two important demographics on one site,” said Bordner.
Nelson Caron, director of golf course and grounds maintenance at The Ford Plantation in Savannah, Georgia, has had success using old-school recruiting methods. Caron is very proactive and regularly posts job flyers around town, hands out business cards to workers at restaurants and grocery stores, and visits with local high school teachers to highlight the benefits of working on golf courses. When talking with potential employees, Caron often points out that working at his course can provide more consistent weekly hours than other industries – e.g., landscapers – that might be more impacted by weather. This is likely to be particularly appealing to employees that value a consistent paycheck.
The labor challenges facing golf are not going away. Offering competitive wages, utilizing more part-time staff, creating flexible work schedules, mentoring and development programs, bonuses and incentives, and proactive recruiting methods are just a few examples of strategies that are helping superintendents meet their staffing needs in the current labor market. As leaders at the course, it’s important to be open to new ways of building a maintenance staff. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but if you don’t adapt in some way it will likely become even more difficult to produce the type of playing conditions needed to make you and the course successful.
Adam Moeller is the director of Green Section Education and conducts Course Consulting Service visits in the Northeast Region.
Special thanks to Nelson Caron, Jared Nemitz, Russ Myers, Scott Bordner, Tyler Bloom, Josh Lewis and Blake Meentemeyer for contributions to this article.