Golf Course News

Courses face cost-cutting pressure

Courses face cost-cutting pressure

Overbeck, Andrew



An uncertain economy and flat or declining rounds played numbers have placed increasing pressure on the bottom line at courses across the country.

According to a Golf Course News poll, 56.3 percent of courses will see maintenance budgets for 2003 remain the same, while 25 percent will see them drop (See page 8).

As more budgets come under pressure, superintendents are forced to produce the same turf conditions with fewer resources.

“You have to cut costs but you still have to keep the course green and clean,” said Sam Hocutt, superintendent at Pawleys Plantation in Pawleys Island, S.C. “We cut costs this year by watching our insecticide use closely. Because of the drought we didn’t have as many mole crickets so we were able to use half rates and save the other half for next year. We controlled army worms by doing a two-ring perimeter around the fairway instead of spraying the whole fairway.”

James McNair, superintendent at Orchard Valley Golf Course in Aurora, Ill., anticipates a budget similar to last year’s.

“We had a slow spring because of weather but revenue was up in August and up significantly in September and October,” he said. “Overall our play was down two percent.”

While he plans on having more of a capital budget to buy some new equipment this year to replace 10-year-old greens mowers and other aged machinery, McNair got through this year because he had a good mechanic.

“Sometimes it is Band-Aid and Duct tape,” he said. “It puts a greater load on the equipment technician but we do the best we can to keep things running around here.”

Cutler Robinson, superintendent at the private Bayville Golf Club in Virginia Beach, Va., is part of the 18.7 percent that will see a budget increase next year, although it is a modest one.

“We will have a small increase of three to four percent,” said Robinson. “We are doing well and we filled our membership to its limit of 300 members a year ago. Our play and revenues have been similar to projected and our expenses have been similar to projected.”

Robinson said he has been able to balance the budget because of lower payroll increases and good price competition on chemicals, fertilizers and other supplies. Specialty chemicals and equipment have gone up in price, Robinson noted.

However, Robinson also said there is a reluctance to modify the budget once it has been put in place.

“If I have a new idea or a new product that we didn’t consider in the budget process, I don’t bring it up,” he said. “Before, I may have mentioned it, but right now it isn’t even an option.”

That said, Robinson has done his part to trim costs out of the budget.

“We have been converting our out-of-play roughs to native grasses that don’t take as much water,” said Robinson. “It helps with the drought and it means we don’t have to mow out-of-play areas. It reduces our cost per acre from $2,000 to $500.”

In the short term, superintendents seem to have a handle on managing constrained budgets. However, in the long-term some worry about events out of their immediate control.

“Things are closer to normal now,” said Hocutt, “but if we go to war with Iraq then I’m pretty sure we’ll have a new scenario because there will likely be a cutback in golf. You have to look into the future when planning a budget. Gas recently went from $1.27 a gallon to $1.47 a gallon so now I have to redo my budget and plan for around $1.50 for gas.”

Copyright United Publications, Inc. Dec 2002

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