As of this writing, almost the entire world is on quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone is being advised to stay home, at least until the situation improves. Economies are feeling a slight pinch too, which has led to a growing level of anxiety amongst our industry.
Still, amidst this chaos, it's business as usual for some companies. Golf course maintenance in some countries in particular, is an industry deemed essential by governments because of its massive impact on the environment and the economy. As a result, they are being asked to resume operations.
This past weekend I had a great chat with Turf Assistant #turfassistant co-founder Ron Wilson that inspired me to write this article. Regardless if your course is in operation or not, we'd like to discuss how you could rethink your entire agronomic process. As a business owner, balancing safety with efficiency is imperative, while also maintaining enough financial flexibility. Right now managing and maximizing every resource must be your top and possible only priority. There's no time, money or crew to be thinking of a sexy golf course.
Here are some tips that we hope will help.
Prioritize Your Labor Force
First and foremost, let’s get one thing straight – You need your workers just as much as they need the salary. Currently, nothing is more important than your employees. They know the ins and outs of your entire operations process, not to mention best practices. And with companies several being forced to run on a skeletal workforce, this makes every single person that much more valuable.
While working, ensure that each one is well taken care of. Encourage everyone to take breaks, eat on time, and practice proper hygiene to keep their immune systems up. Provide medical equipment like surgical masks and latex gloves to combat the spreading of this virus.
Of course, be sure to practice social distancing. When distributing tasks, make sure there is enough space between your employees. We would recommend assigning a specific area for them to cover. Furthermore, strictly enforce the habit of thorough hand-washing and constant sanitizing. The COVID-19 has an incredibly high transmission rate. It is in both your best interests that they are working, rather than resting at home, or worse, confined in the hospital.
We also recommend laying out a clear work schedule. Assign personnel to specific areas and hold them accountable for tasks. This will keep them busy while reducing interactions, leading to higher productivity. After all, studies have shown that employees who feel engaged, motivated, and needed often perform better. At this point in time, you will need all hands on deck. Ultimately, teamwork is the key here to success. So help each other. Get through these trying times as one unit.
Analyzing and Prioritizing Physical Resources
As we've mentioned earlier, you'll be faced with many challenges throughout this ordeal and one of the most pressing issues is the lack of tangible resources. Assets you had plenty of before have now suddenly turned scarce. Your team will have to maximize everything, which includes supplies like chemicals and fertilizer, gasoline, mowers, etc.
Begin by doing a quick inventory of all materials thinking at least three months ahead. This should provide a clearer picture of the current situation. Then, analyze your entire operation plan and see where you can stretch and save.
Identifying the bare necessities and keeping discipline is remarkably tricky. Aside from having to deal with so many moving parts, there's also the chance that supplies are over wasted, and this isn't something you need right now.
One way to streamline everything is to ask yourself – what will benefit my golf course without sacrificing the overall quality? Remember, right now we just want to minimize maintenance that will keep things running. Right now we shouldn’t care if our greens are running an 8 or a 12 on the stimpmeter. Prioritize only the absolute essentials to maintain a high-class golf course at lowest breaking point. The question is: How long can my golf course hold its breath?
At this point, here are a few specific areas you may want to consider focusing on:
1. Greens – Triplexes can do the amount of work in half the time of a walk-behind mower. This may be slightly more expensive initially, but you save so much more money, energy, and resources in the long run.
2. Fairways – Have you ever considered switching your striping techniques to half-and-half patterns? Honestly, there isn’t much difference; both look clean and well-kept. But the latter takes less effort, gasoline, machine and manpower to do. If you need to cut costs, this could be a potential area to do so. As a golf course architect, I have never supported the stripes since they take away from the natural contours and shadow effects one cautiously designs.
3. Rough Areas – In resort and park land courses this area is arguably the biggest on a golf course that requires maintenance. And as you can probably guess, it also costs more. So instead of maintaining rough, why not contemplate naturalizing some areas? By allowing some more areas to go natural, you would save resources. Here’s a couple of examples where we have done up to 35% savings by changing the landscape and reducing overall footprint of the golf course with a more aesthetic, strategic and ecological design.
(Picture before and after of a conceptual case study)
4. Bunkers – While greens will need to be maintained near daily, bunker management can be scaled back drastically. In addition, just like with greens, a Sandpro can replace the hand ranking and increase efficiency very quickly. If your course is currently closed then you can forego raking and edging but be sure to continue to monitor bunker drainage and overall health.
5. Course Amenities – Course amenities like water coolers, ball washers, etc add additional daily overhead to your operations. Consider foregoing these amenities for the time being in order to focus efforts on higher priority areas of the course.
6. Consult your irrigation superintendent and reduce time frames as much as your grass can afford. This will save energy and water consumption. In desperation times only water tees and greens.
(Pictures of Cabo San Lucas Country Club with new responsible concept)
Implement A Golf Course Maintenance Operations Software
If you don't already have one, I would recommend utilizing maintenance operations software. One of the best options to consider is Turf Assistant. This is perhaps the most crucial step because it ties together everything we mentioned earlier and it prepares you for the future of maintenance, one we will not be able to over-do anymore. After this experience all eyes will be watching you and your maintenance process.
There are a list of operations software to choose from, the bottom line is choose the best to keep things organized and help you to create a plan of action and forecasting costs to ensure the plan fits within your budget. This will automatically collect data and build reports across all areas of your operation to ensure the plan is being executed to perfection.
Focus on saving time and money, improving course conditions and helping find a balance between work and life for your staff. On the courses where we are using Turf Assistant I can access all this remotely and communicate from anywhere (office, home or six feet apart) with mobile apps. Workers can clock in or out using their mobile phones, not to mention receive instructions. This is specially remarkably valuable at this time when face-to-face interaction isn't advised. Most important is to be sure your software can translate your instructions to Spanish and viceversa.
For many of us in business, we've grown accustomed to doing routines a certain way. This trying, albeit difficult, is pushing us to re-think our golf maintenance process. The circumstances have only highlighted the importance of remaining efficient, systematic, and determined. In these times of Covid19, it’s better to see the grass greener on the other side.
About Agustín Pizá
Agustín Pizá is an architect with a masters degree in Golf course architecture from the University of Edinburgh. Member of the American Society and European Institute of Golf Course Architects. Pizá Golf is an award- winning golf design firm.