Courses have cash. Now what?
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Courses have cash. Now what?

Jun 20, 2023

Behind a flood of new private club members and their joining fees, many golf courses are awash in something they haven't had for a while – cash. And this is a problem. OK, a nice problem.

This newfound money raises a question about how it should be directed and presents a challenge for golf course superintendents and club leaders: how best to prioritize and then tackle projects – improvements, renovations and project re-dos – against a backdrop of increased costs, supply chain limitations and labor shortages. Best intentions aside, it doesn't help that their members and customers are raising the volume on the "more and better" channel and offering more than a smattering of suggestions and advice.

Golf course architect Forrest Richardson, a past president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, has some thoughts on that challenge, which he's gathered into a neat little book, "Course Brains: 25 Questions to Help Measure the IQ of Your Golf Course." In essence, it's an effort to help superintendents and course operators think and act smarter.

"I wrote ‘Course Brains’ because I realized a need for cost efficiency among those who managed and cared for golf courses," Richardson says. "As a golf course architect, I see firsthand the ways we can be more efficient and actually make a dramatic difference to the bottom line."

The book takes golf operators, managers and club leaders through 25 distinct topics. Following each, readers get a chance to grade the golf course, assigning an A through F assessment of the course's success in maximizing revenues and controlling costs. A handy tally sheet at the back of the book makes it easy to determine an overall Course I.Q. – from genius to dull.

"Course Brains" helps operators understand what really matters when it comes to taking care of their most valuable asset. Those who go to the head of their class stand out in three phases of operations and management.

To remind us that decisions made today can have long-lasting impacts, Richardson shares an example of investing in bunkers with durable liners that stand up to years of wear and tear instead of deciding against liners to save money on the front end. "When we make decisions based on the future, and costs moving forward, we all win."

Richardson encourages superintendents, owners and operators to look at their course from an architect's perspective, a vantage point that can prove beneficial when it comes to liability claims associated with errant golf balls that can cause property damage and personal injuries. The seemingly simple decision of removing or adding trees is an example of the value an architect can add. "All courses need to have a golf course architect on call and, at least, a professional to occasionally come by, have lunch, and help guide decisions. He or she may well be the most enlightened resource you have to help be a part of your course's future. It's well worth the investment."

"Today we push efficiency, but we’ve taken it to a new level," Richardson notes. "From HDPE pipe in irrigation to new advancements in turfgrass varieties, we are now at a point when technology and innovation will shape the future of golf in even more dramatic ways. Robotics, drones and new water conservation are all a part of our future."

"Course Brains" walks superintendents, owners, managers and operators through an exercise that opens course stakeholders to more effective communication and begins the thoughtful process of improving course conditions and player experience while reducing costs.

Henry DeLozier is a partner at GGA Partners, trusted advisors and thought leaders. He is currently Chairman of the Board of Directors of Audubon International.

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Forrest Richardson