Northern Exposure By Steve Eubanks
Multi-course management companies have been around for decades, so long in fact that most owners look at them with a jaundiced eye and ask, “What can you do that the other guys can’t?”
For New Jersey-based Applied Golf, the answer is simple: They don’t send minions to manage your problems. You get the owners of the company, who swarm your operation and make changes and improvements personally.
“The key to it is being on the ground,” says principal partner Dave Wasenda, an industry veteran who has been in the golf business for more than two decades. “It’s one thing to be the manager of a manager who is on the property. But the horsepower of our principals is the game-changing element. When we say we’re coming in, we’re not sending a regional manager to your property—you’re getting us. We’ll come in, be at your facility, and use our experience to change things on the ground.”
That specialized approach limits Applied’s geographic reach as well as its ability to take on too many new projects. The company currently manages 12 clubs, primarily in New Jersey and surrounding areas with a few outliers. But Wasenda views those limitations as assets. He’d rather make his existing customers happy than take on too many projects and leave someone unsatisfied.
“The owners are ecstatic that they have a business they can count on,” he says. “We have some huge benchmark successes—golf courses that were losing $400,000 a year a few years ago that are now cash-flowing $300,000 a year. That’s a big thing for this industry during this time.”
How did they do it? Wasenda likes to reference the “four buckets” of a golf course operation: revenue, sales, payroll and other expenses.
“We drill down into each bucket and do a forensic analysis of the business, then we present opportunities to make improvements on all the buckets,” he says. “[With] some, you’ll hit a single or a double, and some you’ll find a home-run by streamlining expenses, improving quality or service at the facility, or by using expertise and relationships to market correctly.”
It’s a decidedly different approach than some management companies employ, to be sure, yet it’s a strategy that’s working for Wasenda.
“Anybody can come in and slash expenses,” he says. “We believe in enhancing service and revenues by keeping the customers and the owners happy. It’s hard work, and you have to be there on the ground to do it.”
In an era of economic uncertainty, in an industry that is merely trying to hold its own, appliedgolf Course Management of New Jersey is something of an oddity. The three-year-old firm is actually in a period of solid growth and appears headed for even better things to come. The company has eight golf courses under its management umbrella, and its reach has spread into Indiana, Maryland and South Carolina.
“We are always looking to add courses that are the right fit for our company,” says Dave Wasenda, owner of the firm. “We need to know that going into a new project we are certain that, given the opportunity, we can elevate services and programs to the overall member and guest experience and at the same time assist our owners in becoming more profitable.”
appliedgolf, headquartered in Millstone Township, N.J., offers what Wasenda terms a “very customized and unique approach” to management services, which range from golf operations, food and beverage, marketing, agronomic, financial operations, and much more. The company focuses on constant personal interaction between senior appliedgolf personnel and course owners, and has built a management team that works diligently to establish “synergistic” relationships with the members, staff and owners at each facility. The goal is to create an environment in which the experience is enjoyable for everyone. With that continuity, owners can attain operational and financial stability and focus on growing their business.
“There have been some instances where we were in discussions with a potential client and the fit wasn’t right,” says Wasenda. “We need to know that we can deliver what we promise. Our results and referrals are always our best marketing tools.”
He adds, “Fostering a feeling of worth and reward for the facility’s members, guests and staff, and making sure the experience at each property is enhanced is always our primary objective. We also reach our goals by making sure the owners see operational and financial results from our management. Fostering a feeling of worth and reward for the facility’s members, guests and staff, and making sure the experience at each property is enhanced is always our primary objective.”
At time of publication, appliedgolf is involved with five golf facilities in New Jersey–Knob Hill Golf Club in Manalapan, Hawk Pointe Golf Club in Washington, the Regency at Monroe in Monroe Township, Clearbrook Golf Course in Monroe Township and Renaissance at Manchester in Manchester. In addition, the company’s out of state clients include The Bridgewater Club, a prestigious, private, 18-hole championship course designed by Pete Dye located in Carmel, Indiana, Hunters Oak Golf Club, a divisions of The River Plantation in Queenstown, Maryland, and Lady’s Island Golf Course in Beaufort, South Carolina. The firm also manages the Knob Hill Bowling Center in Manalapan, N.J., which it plans to combine with Knob Hill Golf Club over the winter to create a year-round experience for their members.
Wasenda said, “There can be two more facilities added to our portfolio very soon.” He added, “Although we run the gamut of properties, from multi-million dollar a year income facilities to a public course that grosses under $300,000 a year in revenue, the overall philosophy remains the same as to our approach,” says Wasenda. “You have to change some simple operational details, obviously, depending on the type of club and members and guests you are serving. And we believe that is one of our core strengths. We have all worked at various types of clubs and we are managing a wide array of properties, so we are very familiar with each type of course profile, making us very well rounded.”
Lou Kubisa, appliedgolf Director of Golf and Head Professional at Knob Hill Golf Club, came to the company from a long career at Forsgate Country Club in Monroe Township. “Several of us knew that there was a great opportunity with appliedgolf and Dave. His philosophy and work ethic are second to none. At some companies, the top executive isn’t in there working as hard as the rest of the team in day to day operations and continuing to grow the business. Dave works harder than anybody and when you see that it makes you want to do your job even better and try harder.”
Kubisa, a skilled player who enjoys not only socializing with the members but also getting out for a little golf with them once in a while, believes being empowered to make his own calls makes all the difference when it comes to member and guest satisfaction. “I’m allowed the staff I need and products I have to have in the golf shops to meet our member and guest demands. One of our company’s strengths is that we let the head golf professionals be traditional pros. We believe that the head pro should be there, giving lessons, playing with the members whenever they can. It’s our goal to attract new golfers to our clubs and the head pros’ job to keep them there.” Speaking company wide, Kubisa says knowing who you are and why the customer will come to you is crucial, especially in this market. “We’re successful now and weathering the economic storm partly because we are market¬ed and priced properly for the areas we are in. And appliedgolf doesn’t make false promises, come in, make some money and leave in two years. What we say we will do.” Jay DelliSanti, Food and Beverage Director, says one of the most important steps a successful company can take is to listen to the consumer.
“We always listen to the customer, and we do different things to keep our members and guests very happy. Whether we have a beautiful small bar or a larger restaurant operation, someone can always get a simple sandwich or a full dinner. In this economy, we pride ourselves on having a great variety of products at affordable prices. The staff is always proactive with the members and guests and do things that will keep our operation fresh and interesting.”
So, yes, it is possible to start and grow a company in challenging economic times. You’ve just got to have the right places, the right plan, the right people, and obtain great results to make it happen.
Article Written By: John Torsiello
In these challenging economic times, golf course operations have become stretched to the limit as owners and managers seek every means to keep their service levels high while maintaining profitability and, in some instances, staying afloat.
Course closings have become all too frequent. Some private clubs have opened on a limited basis to the daily-fee player, creating additional competition for greens fees in a marketplace already over-saturated by the public course construction boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
In this climate of uncertainty it hardly seems a good time to start up a golf management, ownership and consulting business. But an ambitious 20-year veteran of the club business by the name of Dave Wasenda took a chance on an idea and appliedgolf, based in central New Jersey, has become one of the fastest-growing companies in the business.
The three-year-old firm is actually in a period of solid growth and appears headed for even better things to come. The firm has 10 golf courses under its management umbrella, and its reach has spread into Indiana, Maryland, South Carolina and Florida.
“We are always looking to add courses that are the right fit for our company,” says Wasenda, owner of the firm. “We need to know that going into a new project we are certain that, given the opportunity, we can elevate services and programs to the overall member and guest experience and at the same time assist our owners in becoming more profitable.”
appliedgolf is involved with six golf facilities in New Jersey: Knob Hill Golf Club in Manalapan, Hawk Pointe Golf Club in Washington, Eagle Ridge Golf Club in Lakewood, Regency Golf Club in Monroe Township, Clearbrook Golf Course in Monroe Township and Renaissance Country Club in Manchester. In addition, the company’s out-of-state clients include The Bridgewater Club, a prestigious Pete Dye-designed course in Carmel, Ind., Hunters Oak Golf Club, a division of The River Plantation in Queenstown, Md., Lady’s Island Golf Course in Beaufort, S.C., and St. Petersburg Country Club in St. Petersburg, Fla. The firm also manages the Knob Hill Bowling Center in Manalapan, N.J., which it plans to combine with Knob Hill Golf Club over the winter to create a year-round, valued-added experience for members.
The firm is poised to expand further and has its eyes set on the Midwest and Southeast U.S. markets in addition to other clubs in the Northeast.
Wasenda has carefully selected individuals to populate various positions within his company. appliedgolf’s staff is extremely hard-working, versatile and well-rounded, possessing a wealth of knowledge and abilities that allow clients to receive optimum value and immediate, as well as long-term, results.
“Especially in these times, short term results are essential,” says Jim Geiger, divisional partner who also oversees operations and financial management for the company. “We don’t spend the first six months trying to push a one-size-fits-all system on our clients. We determine what a club’s needs are, and when we determine what those needs are we implement a plan and stick around to work with the managers to make sure it is successful.”
appliedgolf offers what Wasenda terms a “very customized and unique approach” to management services, which range from golf operations, food and beverage, marketing, agronomic, financial operations, and much more. The company focuses on constant personal interaction between senior appliedgolf personnel and course owners, and has built a management team that works diligently to establish “synergistic” relationships with the members, staff and owners at each facility. The goal is to create an environment in which the experience is “enjoyable for everyone.” With that continuity, owners can attain operational and financial stability and focus on growing their business.
“There have been some instances where we were in discussions with a potential client and the fit wasn’t right,” says Wasenda. “We need to know that we can deliver what we promise. Our results and referrals are always our best marketing tools.”
He adds, “Fostering a feeling of worth and reward for the facility’s members, guests and staff, and making sure the experience at each property is enhanced is always our primary objective. We also reach our goals by making sure the owners see operational and financial results from our management.
“Although we run the gamut of properties, from multi-million-dollar-a-year-income facilities to a public course that grosses under $300,000 a year in revenue, the overall philosophy remains the same as to our approach. You have to change some operational details, obviously, depending on the type of club and members and guests you are serving. And we believe that is one of our core strengths. We have all worked at various types of clubs and we are managing a wide array of properties, so we are very familiar with each type of course profile, making us very well-rounded.”
Another key strength of the company is that Wasenda and Geiger can provide day-to-day general manager services to a club for a limited amount of time while a search is conducted for a full-time general manager.
Says Geiger, “Finding a good general manager for a golf club can be a lengthy process. You need a qualified person who will fit. We can go in right away and relieve the pressure so that the club doesn’t have to rush into a decision.”
Lou Kubisa, appliedgolf’s director of golf and the head pro at Knob Hill Golf Club, came to the company from a long career at Forsgate Country Club in Monroe Township, N.J.
“Several of us knew that there was a great opportunity with appliedgolf and Dave,” Kubisa said. “His philosophy and work ethic are second to none. At some companies, the top executive isn’t in there working as hard as the rest of the team in day-to-day operations and continuing to grow the business. Dave works harder than anybody, and when you see that it makes you want to do your job even better and try harder.”
Kubisa believes being empowered to make his own calls makes all the difference when it comes to member and guest satisfaction. “I’m allowed the staffs I require and products I need to have in the golf shops to meet our member and guest demands. One of our company’s strengths is that we let the head golf professionals be traditional pros. We believe that the head pro should be there, giving lessons, playing with the members whenever they can. It’s our company’s goal to attract new golfers to our clubs and the head pros’ job to keep them there.”
Kubisa says knowing who you are and why the customer will come to you are crucial, especially in this market. “We’re successful now and weathering the economic storm partly because we are marketed and priced properly for the areas we are in. The great quality of our company is that we don’t make false promises and waste members and owners’ time by disrupting the club. What we say is what we will do.”
Jay DelliSanti, food and beverage director, says one of the most important steps a successful company can take is to key in on the consumer. “We always listen to the customer, and we do different things to keep our members and guests happy. Whether we have a small bar or a larger restaurant operation, someone can always get a simple sandwich or a full dinner. In this economy, we pride ourselves in constantly adjusting our plan to have a great variety of products at affordable prices. The staff is always proactive with the members and guests and do things that will keep our operation fresh, interesting and most importantly fun.”
appliedgolf proves it is possible to survive and thrive in the golf industry when all the signs point the other way. It just takes a winning game plan, the right people to execute that plan, and hard work-even in a challenging economic climate.
For more information on appliedgolf, visit www.appliedgolf.com.
John Torsiello is an editor/writer living in Connecticut. He has written extensively about all aspects of the golf industry for a number of national and regional publications. He is a regular contributor to Golf Course Industry, Lawn and Landscape, Golfing, and Fairway Living magazines as well as various online publications. He has strong, ongoing relationships with industry professionals and has worked closely with course owners, architects, developers, course superintendents and general managers around the country. He has won a number of awards for his writing, including first place from the Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association for a piece that appeared in Golf Course Industry magazine.
Facilities involve several people, have multiple criteria and use different avenues when hiring the right person for the job.
Article Written By John Torisello
Anthony Williams, CGCS, at the Stone Mountain Golf Club in Georgia, remembers the moment clearly.
“I was leaving an interview and was actually on the pro shop steps when the owner stopped me and asked me to translate a conversation in Spanish for him,” Williams says. “I never faltered and finished the interview in Spanish, and I got the job. I learned a valuable lesson that an interview isn’t over until you leave the property, so be prepared for anything.”
Sound words of advice from an industry veteran.
At one time, if a person could grow and care for grass skillfully and was willing to work seven days a week 12 hours a day, he was qualified to be a golf course superintendent. However, the current demands of the job and skill sets owners and general managers need have changed dramatically.
“You have to remember my superintendent oversees a million dollar budget and has 25 to 30 people working under him,” says Gary Sciarrillo, general manager at Great River Golf Club in Milford, Conn. “I look for the financial skills to manage a large budget and the people skills to communicate and motivate a staff. I want somebody who will nurture his staff and make them better at what they do, which is to grow grass and maintain the golf course and surrounding landscape.”
The hiring process for a superintendent position is often lengthy and exacting. The open position at Great River generated about 120 applications from all over the country. Sciarrillo reviewed about 50 applications and reduced the number of potential candidates to 25 then 10.
“We went to all the courses of the final 10 candidates unannounced, and we wound up reinterviewing five,” he says. “The process took several months.”
The hiring process for a new superintendent at a Billy Casper Golf-managed property takes four to five weeks, says Bryan Bielecki, vice president of agronomy.
“It varies, and we’ll wait a little longer for the right person,” Bielecki says. “With the resources we have as a management company, we can move people around to cover a course until the person we want can leave his present position and come on board.”
Vienna, Va.-based Billy Casper Golf manages more than 70 properties.
Usually, an owner, general manager of a property or a high-ranking executive within a management company will serve as the point person for the hiring process, often involving a head professional, director of golf, assistant superintendent and, especially at private clubs, members into the process.
“We make it a collective decision when hiring a new superintendent for a course,” Bielecki says. “I often get the facility’s general manager and regional manager involved because I want to be sure, from a personality and communication standpoint, the person I hire will be able to work well with his team. And its always important to get input from members at individual clubs about what they would like to see improved at their course and what’s important to them.”
At an equity ownership club, the green committee might be involved in some part of the process, usually toward the end, and at a privately owned club that’s run for profit, one is normally dealing with the general manger and owner, says Dave Wasenda, owner of Appliedgolf, a management and consulting company, and general manager of Knob Hill Golf Club in Manalapan, N.J.
The three-year-old, private Hollow Brook Golf Club in Cortland Manor, N.Y., involved the club’s board of advisors in the process.
“The candidates were interviewed by the general manager and the board of advisors before their selection,” says general manager David Fleming. “A Plotkin test (to measure personality characteristics) was requested of each of the final candidates, and the field was reduced to the top three. A final selection process was conducted with the general manager and the board.”
Club members are becoming more demanding these days. According to a poll of more than 800 golf course superintendents conducted by the GCSAA, 66 percent of superintendents interviewed said golfers have increased expectations of their courses. This attitude has been a key factor in increasing course maintenance budgets and superintendents’ responsibilities.
“We always say we have five businesses at Great River: the learning center, golf services, food and beverage, the retail operation of the pro shop and the superintendent’s business of growing grass,” Sciarrillo says. “If you don’t have a great golf course, none of the other businesses really matter. So it’s vital you have the right person to run that business.
“Our superintendent, Sean Flynn, is out there at 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. with his crew syringing hot spots,” he adds. “We’re asking a lot from him, considering he’s been at the course since 4 a.m., but that’s the type of person we looked for. One with a great work ethic, and someone who wasn’t going to delegate the work. We have enough bosses around here.”
Northbrook-Ill.-based KemperSports is looking for hands-on people to be superintendents, people willing to get out there and work with their crews, says executive vice president Jim Stegall.
“Clearly, the person has to have the agronomic skills and a clear understanding of the type of environment he or she will work with,” he says. “But we also want somebody who is staff oriented, interested in developing and maintaining good relations with superiors and is a good team-builder.”
When looking for someone to fill its superintendent position – now occupied by Tim Hetrick – Hollow Brook looked for expert knowledge in the field of agronomy and experience with growing and maintaining grass in the Northeast, Fleming says. Leadership, budget and planning experience was important, too.
“We wanted a self-starter,” he says. “We needed someone who could communicate effectively with his staff, members and the board advisors. We also felt it was important to find a person with interests outside of the superintendent position. We needed an all around person with many interests.”
Naturally, having a solid background with the types of grasses one will be asked to care for is always a plus, although not having worked in a particular geographic region before doesn’t necessarily rule a candidate out.
“Obviously, having a working knowledge of the types of grasses that you’ll be caring for is a plus, but we aren’t afraid to take someone with one season’s worth of experience in a particular region who has the right skill sets over someone who has worked with all types of grasses in all seasons but isn’t the type of person we need on other levels,” Bielecki says.
Superintendents are often asked to work long hours, perhaps every day of the week during growing season, so there are special circumstances they must be made aware of during the hiring process.
“Our course was built in an area that had many environmental and government restrictions because of a wood turtle habitat on the property,” Fleming says. “There’s also a creek running through the course that’s a source of drinking water for the local community. Along with these restrictions, we had others that involved limiting the amount of trees that could be taken down during the construction phase and a strict monitoring of our pesticide and fertilizer levels by the appropriate agencies.”
Also, technology plays an increasing role in the life of a superintendent, so it’s no surprise employees look for that type of experience.
“Technology is playing a larger role in the jobs of all department heads, and the superintendent is no different,” Stegall says. “We expect our superintendents to be as effective as possible to drive efficiency and quality. That person needs to stay up on the latest technology and have the ability to use that technology for staffing and project management.”
Search for the one
Management companies aren’t afraid to promote an assistant to a superintendent position if the person meets all the criteria they’re looking for. Management companies such as Billy Casper Golf and KemperSports often have a large file of resumes they can access, but that doesn’t stop them from advertising an opening with a state or national superintendents organization.
“Typically, when we start the process, we try to find someone in the local area, and that’s done through the GCSAA’s local chapters or our network of general managers,” Stegall says.
Appliedgolf will post a superintendent position with a local superintendent chapter to get worthwhile leads.
“Many times we find that an assistant superintendent who’s looking to move up will get a letter from his current boss recommending him or her for a head superintendent position,” Wasenda says. “They’re a loyal bunch and work effectively to get one another promoted. Sometimes the person that fits the bill perfectly is working as an assistant and can slide easily into the head superintendent post.”
Management at Hollow Brook placed ads in golf course periodicals and worked through headhunters who deal with finding and recommending qualified superintendents. The club also called regional chapters of the GCSAA and ran an ad for the position on the association’s Web site.
“We also received a great deal of interest in the position from people who heard about the opportunity from suppliers and companies the club had done business with throughout the year,” Fleming says.
Advice for candidates
It’s crucial for candidates to be prepared and thorough when submitting an application and interviewing for a superintendent position.
“I received some applications that had 20-page booklets attached detailing their philosophy of course maintenance and pictures of projects they had undertaken at their courses,” Sciarrillo says. “That kind of information helps in the process because you get a good handle on who the person is and what they’ve done.”
Williams advises candidates to be prepared and demonstrate organization and leadership from the first contact until the conclusion of the hiring process.
“Research the company and/or management before the interview,” he says. “Know what issues exist so you can offer solutions for them.”
Cutler Robinson, director of golf operations at Bayville Golf Club in Virginia Beach, Va., recommends candidates research the facility, tour it and talk to the architect, builder, staff and managers.
“Have a prepared portfolio that’s short yet thorough,” he says.
Stegall likes the approach offered by Williams and Robinson.
“I’m looking for somebody who’s open minded and can demonstrate good problem-solving skills. I want them to talk about the challenges they’ve had and how they went about solving issues. I like to see candidates who’ve done their homework on the property they’re interviewing for.”
Wasenda says it’s a good idea for the candidate to walk the course before the meeting to find out if there are any questions he has about the facility.
Sometimes, you might find that after the person sees the course, the equipment and financial allocations the club makes toward maintenance, they might make a decision the job isn’t the right opportunity for them. You always want it to be the right fit for both sides.”
One of the biggest turnoffs for those conducting the interviews is talking about money right away.
“If money is one of the first things a candidate wants to talk about, I’m not interested,” Sciarrillo says. “I’m going to give somebody a fair wage, but I want someone who’s passionate about the job first and knows that the money and benefits will come.” GCI
John Torsiello is a freelance writer based in Torrington, Conn. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Knob Hill Golf Club in Manalapan, N.J. has clearly defined itself as a semi-private golf club that welcomes golfers with open arms.
The 10-year-old Mark McCumber-designed course has always been raved about for its playability and interesting routing. But after a decade of marketing Knob Hill as a rather private destination, new management was determined to make the club stand out as one of the area’s premier semi-private facilities. Consider the change made.
“We’ve been really aggressive with our marketing, and our membership total is up by 40 this season,” says Dave Wasenda, the club’s affable general manager and COO. He works for the appliedgolf management group, which was hired by the owners to change Knob Hill’s image and standing.
“We are now a semi-private club where the public is always welcome,” says Wasenda, who resigned a position as general manager and COO at one of the region’s premier clubs to come to Knob Hill. “We have relaxed our restrictions on tee times, so non-members can have access to the golf course more readily.”
New management has eliminated the initiation fee for new members, adjusted annual dues, and waived the monthly food minimums. Several attractive packages have been put into place, including one that allows individuals 55 years of age and older to play unlimited golf Monday through Friday for a very reasonable fee.
“We have much improved golf course conditions, thanks to our new superintendent John Hutchinson,” says Wasenda. “We have a new restaurant and bar open for lunch and dinner and that’s going great with manager Jay DelliSanti and new chef Bob Mehnert. And we have improved banquet facilities for parties and outings.”
A new fleet of 72 golf carts arrived in July to further enhance the visitor’s experience at Knob Hill.
The club’s golf course has never been an issue. While on the relatively short side, McCumber incorporated a number of man-made hazards, in the form of ponds and bunkers, to create one heck of a good test of playing ability.
The par-fives are almost all reachable in two. But McCumber placed a great deal of risk/reward in his design. Take the 495-yard seventh for instance. Big hitters can reach in two. But there is danger all around the putting surface with water lurking just in front and in back of the green. Even a lay up requires great care.
Number eight is a solid par four. The 386-yard bends to the right and the tee shot is over three small lateral water hazards. The approach is to a small green fronted by more water.
The 15th is a nice, 194-yard downhill par-three with water on the right, and 16 is another short, 489-yard, par-five that begs heavy hitters to reach in two. But again there is a large pond waiting on the right side of the green.
Number 18 is a superb finishing hole. It’s a beefy 472 yards uphill to a green that has bunkers left and right.
Wasenda says new management is focusing on making Knob Hill “the place to be” by making members and guests feel like part of a family. They also are appealing to the business communities in the Freehold region and a number of new housing developments that have sprung up in the area in recent years.
“The golf options in this area are many with some very good municipal courses. Our advantage is that we have a great new golf course, and just as important the resources to give our members and guests a unique and memorable golf experience before, during and after their visit.”
Knob Hill Golf Club
Difficult economic times force superintendents to rethink pesticide use.
Article Written By John Torisello
Golf course superintendents are an imaginative lot, adept at squeezing every last penny out of their annual operating budgets, whether that means coaxing an old mower through one more season or timing chemical applications to weather conditions to maximize efficacy.
Stung by last year’s high fuel prices, superintendents and course managers have been in a savings mode for at least 12 months, if not longer. With the onset of a deepening recession and anticipation of less revenue because of a possible decrease in rounds in 2009, turf managers will be looking even closer for ways to save money.
Brian Long, superintendent at Doublegate Country Club in Albany, Ga., has a mandate from ownership to cut his maintenance budget by $100,000 this year. He plans a $20,000 reduction in the fertilizer and pesticide line items.
“I feel I can have this reduction without really changing my pesticide program,” he says. “I just plan to watch my spending.”
The economy will affect Paul Brandenburg’s operation dramatically.
“We’ll definitely purchase less control products this year,” says the certified golf course superintendent at Furman University Golf Course in Greenville, S.C. “We’ll become more curative and less preventive. I will cut down on pesticides when possible. I anticipate more spot treatments rather than broadcast treatments.”
One of the cost-saving measures Brandenburg instituted this year was to take advantage of early order programs that allow him to receive discounts on pesticide purchases. He’s already stocked for the entire year. Others, such as Brian Powell, CGCS, at Old Chatham Golf Club in Durham, N.C., purchased pesticides early but will delay their delivery until he needs to use them.
Accepting higher thresholds
Because of the questionable state of the economy and a resulting tighter budget, Gari Scherting, superintendent at Palm Valley Golf Club in Goodyear, Ariz., plans to accept higher thresholds when it comes to pests on the course. He’ll cut down on pesticides, and that relates to his IPM program.
“From what I hear from other superintendents, some are cutting way down on applications and say they’ll basically worry about the outcome rather then using preemergent chemicals. Others say they’ll continue with applications but will be more efficient with what they use,” Scherting says.
Jeffrey Connell, superintendent at Columbia Country Club in Blythewood, S.C., agrees acceptance of higher thresholds for pest incursions will have to be tolerated in light of the current state of the industry.
“These times will allow for higher thresholds,” he says. “These levels will be tested, and the lines of communication between golfers, management and superintendents will be tested as well. You’ll have to address the issue before it becomes a visual problem for the course.”
Informing paying customers what’s happening on the course and why, as well as what they can expect regarding daily conditions will be key to establishing a realistic set of expectations among golfers.
Targeting specific areas of the course that have had pest problems previously will help superintendents spot treat more effectively and avoid widespread damage.
“The use of mapping and GPS hot spots, or target areas, on the course and treating just those high priority areas, while letting others tolerate higher disease and pests, is something we may have to do,” Connell says.
Cutting back carefully
While economic realities call for a bit of tough love for their courses, superintendents and managers are hesitant to alter their IPM programs significantly.
“If you view turf quality as an infrastructure component, it would be shortsighted to take such a risk there,” says Bryan Bielecki, vice president of agronomy for Billy Casper Golf.
BCG is looking to save small percentages of money on several line items, so, in aggregate, the company isn’t compromising or risking large-scale impacts.
“The cost to recover is just too high from a material and client perception standpoint,” Bielecki says.
The superintendents who report to Dan Evers, regional director of agronomy for Casper’s Mid-Atlantic region, monitor turfgrass conditions vigorously, observe the weather and time pesticide applications to help reduce the number of plant protectant applications, thus saving money.
Dave Wasenda, owner of appliedgolf, a management and consulting firm that operates eight facilities in New Jersey, Maryland, South Carolina and Indiana, also is hesitant to tinker with IPM programs and pesticide purchases.
“The economy has made us rethink our strategy with our overall operation of the golf course; however, pesticides are something we really don’t want to fool with in the big scheme of things,” he says.
Because companies like Billy Casper Golf and appliedgolf oversee, own or manage numerous courses, they benefit by having superintendents order pesticides as a group to obtain discounts on large purchases.
There can be a Catch-22 logic when looking for ways to reduce operating budgets. For example, if Jedd Newsome’s labor budget was reduced, he’d have to look at changing how he cares for The Ranch Golf Club in Southwick, Mass., where he’s superintendent.
“That would probably bring more pesticides into use,” he says. “This is what many people don’t understand. If we have thatch and we’re limited in labor, we have no way to remove thatch effectively without disrupting play. So what’s the situation if I can’t remove thatch and it breeds disease? Spray, of course. One fairway application can cost between $7,000 and $8,000, and that costs more than half of what I pay a laborer for the season.”
Newsome believes it’s vital for superintendents to communicate such concerns to ownership to avoid having to use more pesticides in the long run.
Ben Ratzlaff will continue to spray pesticides preventively on the greens at River Oaks Golf Course in Cottage Grove, Minn., four or five times this season but spot treat as needed in the fairways and elsewhere.
“You have to be careful before you make any big changes in your pesticide program,” Ratzlaff says.
The last thing Scott Ledet wants to do is curtail his preemergent pesticide program.
“I’m going to keep doing what I’ve been doing since the course opened 10 years ago,” says the superintendent at Gray Plantation Golf Course in Lake Charles, La. “You cut back on your preemergents, and it ends up costing you more in the long run to fix the problem. While I may tolerate a few more pests on our driving range, I won’t on our greens, tees and fairways.”
Ledet plans to keep it old school, which means using less expensive products whenever possible, putting up with a few more problem areas away from the main playing surface and cleaning up eyesores when they occur.
Powell believes spending less on chemicals is simply a matter of good business.
“The majority of superintendents I speak with are always looking for ways to spend less money and be more efficient in their operations,” he says. “That alone dictates using pesticides only where needed and only when no other effective alternative exists.”
One way to reduce the amount of pesticides used preventively or curatively is to reduce the amount of area that’s highly maintained.
“We just won’t be managing the rough areas farther out from the fairway,” Ledet says. “You tolerate a few more problems out there than you used to.”
Superintendents will use generic pesticides as another way to save money.
“I’m not 100-percent sold on generics, but I’ll research the companies,” Long says. “I’ve used generics in the past, and they’re a good way to cut costs, but you have to be careful because some may not be worth the savings.”
Superintendents at Appliedgolf-managed properties have used generics but that doesn’t mean all products used are generic.
“We always ask our superintendents to talk to their peers and compare notes,” Wasenda says. “If a good report on a new or generic product is made, it’s usually tried.”
But some superintendents are hesitant to opt for widespread use of generic pesticides, even in the face of budget restraints.
“I’ll consider buying generics but probably won’t,” Brandenburg says. “I feel a brand loyalty to the companies that did the original research and development.”
Powell agrees, citing the larger chemical manufacturers still do a lion’s share of the research or research funding.
“It’s important our industry supports them, so that advancements that lead to more efficient products continue to come to market,” he says.
The harsh realities of a deep and long-term economic recession and fears about what that might mean to the golf industry worry managers. Communication and collaboration at all levels of management and staff will be important to a golf course’s physical health and fiscal viability during the next several years.
“Almost everyone I talk to has had their budgets reduced,” Newsome says. “They all do their best to educate boards and owners about the ramifications of doing so. It is a tough time, no doubt.”
But the situation may be a blessing in disguise.
“Expectations (for course conditions) have gone through the roof,” Newsome says. “We have 20 handicappers complaining because the bunkers aren’t consistent. We’re all going to be forced to cut somewhere, which may not be a bad thing. Maybe some of the lofty expectations will come back down a bit. Greens will always be a priority, but some other areas may fall to the wayside a bit.”
Furman University Golf Course’s motto for 2009 will be, “Concentrate on the basics: good greens, good playing surfaces and customer service,” Brandenburg says, adding that mantra will go a long way toward smoothing any irritation or concern golfers feel when encountering less-than-perfect course conditions.
Yet Wasenda cautions course owners and managers not to cut too deeply into maintenance budgets. He acknowledges the reality of difficult economic times and that many businesses are anticipating declining revenues, which means adjustments in expenses.
“Adjust the improvements budget before the operating budget,” he says. “Nothing is worse to a superintendent than making improvements with not enough money to maintain the standards of the core playing surfaces.
“My best advice for owners and managers is to be realistic with your superintendent from the start, or as soon as you know things need to change. If there’s a financial crunch, manage the entire number of the budget and not the details like pesticide purchases.” GCI
John Torsiello is a freelance writer based in Torrington, Conn.