“In God we trust … all others must bring data.” That was the belief of professor, author and management consultant W. Edwards Deming. There’s no evidence that the late Dr. Deming, who is known as the “father of quality,” spent much time on golf courses. But his advice certainly seems timely and relevant for today’s golf superintendents.But Deming’s admonition does raise questions for superintendents who want to use data when making decisions about new and more efficient methods, replacing outdated capital assets and equipment, and managing their workers. Which data sources can they rely on? How should they best harvest the information they uncover? And how can they leverage the data to its greatest effect?

Curate Trusted Information

Golf is awash in expert opinions, but often lacking in reliable research and well-supported information. Don’t confuse the two and bet the future of your course and career on other people’s opinions. Here are reliable data sources:

  • National Golf Foundation: The NGF has developed a reliable profile of market facts about local-market supply and demand. Subscribe to NGF publications and maintain data regarding rounds and local-level golfer participation.
  • Sports & Leisure Research Group: At the PGA Show each year, SRG President Jon Last provides an annual projection of golf trends by category and developed from multiple surveys of golfers, as well as an omnibus study of sports enthusiasts. Tap this source to provide directional guidance for macro trends.
  • Club Benchmarking: Ray Cronin and Russ Conde have spent a decade developing private and public golf facility profiles. The research is a comparative data treasure trove. Use the information to develop captive reference groups for courses in their competitive set, then compare the local to state, regional and national patterns.

Create Your Own Agronomic Plan

Every superintendent should present an annual agronomic plan detailing the fertility, pesticide, water-use and preservation practices that will be implemented in the next year to meet playing-condition objectives. A sound agronomic plan is grounded in solid data that reinforces the superintendent’s own knowledge and experience. The agronomic plan should consider the following:

  • Local weather. Refer knowledgeably to predicted weather patterns since it profoundly influences on macro-growth trends for golf participation.
  • Define your scope of operations. The first casualty of golf facility management is correct information. See that the annual agronomic plan sets forth clear and consistent expectations, standards and scopes of operations.

Put the Data to Work

When making a case for capital needs and prioritization, connect local-market characteristics to your operational intentions. U.S. Census Bureau data – a useful baseline of free, local market data – indicates population growth by social and economic categories that should be matched to the characteristics of those who use your facility.

When making market decisions concerning private clubs, pay attention to annual household income, household net worth and educational levels. Most private clubs recruit members who possess the discretionary time and money to participate. Highly educated people show a preference for club membership.

For daily fee and public courses, heed proximity and drive-time convenience from the facility. With some notable exceptions, most daily fee courses draw from a small radius around their locations. Drive-time measurements indicate most golfers prefer less than a 20-minute one-way drive to their preferred course.

Whether public or private, facility managers should closely monitor consumer-confidence trends, an economic indicator that measures the degree of optimism consumers feel about the overall state of the economy and their personal well-being. Golf tends to prosper when consumer confidence is trending favorably. The Conference Board is a reliable source of the ebbs and flows of consumer confidence.

But heed this note of caution when it comes to research and data. Do not rely only on single sources of information. Experienced superintendents know the danger in falling in love with the first piece of research that supports their view point. Perhaps the only thing that is more dangerous is not remembering Dr. Deming’s advice to bring the data in the first place.