R ecently, I zipped up to the Michigan Turf Conference to see a zillion friends who attend that great event every year. While there, I did a talk about what we saw in 2016. The year behind us was, to borrow an old movie title, a mix of the Good, the Bad & the Ugly.
Overall, it was GOOD. Budgets were up 10 percent over 2015 and capital spending increases with investments in renovations, irrigation and equipment. 2016 was the first year of double-digit growth since the recession and, according to our study, 2017 budgets grew at a nice 6 percent clip.
We saw another year with about 180 closures which is actually GOOD. Golf courses supply continues to slowly deflate as the majority of complete shutdowns continue for properties being converted to other real estate use or for poorly planned “anchor” courses that were part of housing developments. I see no reason why the supply shouldn’t continue to trickle down for the next 5-10 years until we get supply and demand right.
The fact that golf is back in the Olympics is GOOD. The future of the Olympic Golf Course in Rio looks very UGLY. Reports are emerging that the facility is failing – perhaps by design – and it will likely be another example of Olympic construction folly. That’s no reflection on the design or the fantastic job done by Neil Cleverly and his crew to build and condition it … it’s simply what happens in the midst of an incredibly corrupt process.
The course presented by John Zimmers and his team at Oakmont was not only GOOD, it was fantastic. Conditions were outstanding despite a nasty rainfall right before the event kicked off. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again … it was the best conditioned golf course I’ve ever seen.
That said, the USGA shot itself in the foot in a very UGLY manner with the Dustin Johnson ruling. It all worked out fine in the end but it once again sent a message that a crazy obsession with rules obscures the fact that golf is a game that is supposed to be a fun pastime that allows you to enjoy nature and stay fit. It’s GOOD the USGA issued a rules change last month that will (hopefully) prevent similar crap in the future.
I can’t say enough GOOD things about the entire Ryder Cup, but particularly about Chris Tritabaugh’s groundbreaking approach to prepping and hosting this event. Chris (and his sister Emily) opened Hazeltine’s agronomic program to the world through social media that was compelling and fun. Many superintendents have helped raise the image of the profession when the spotlight of a major championship was shined on them … but none more so than Chris.
Bunker renovation and upgrading practice areas was 2016’s biggest trend. It’s more than GOOD to see facilities proactively investing in areas that increase their members’ and customers’ enjoyment of the course instead of making it harder or longer. Better bunkers pay for themselves over time and new practice/fun areas add an important dimension (and revenue opportunity) for clubs that were getting stale. The strong facilities will survive by providing the best product, not beating their golfers to death.
The Assistant Crisis
This problem is getting UGLY folks. It’s amazing how quickly we went from way too many turf grads to way too few. Finding ways to attract bright young people – whether they’re college-bound or not – has to be a top priority. And it starts with better compensation for hard-working assistants.
As I write this, we’re a few weeks from the inauguration of our first golf course owner/chief executive. It may be GOOD for the industry, particularly in terms of a more reasonable approach to regulation and taxation. What might be BAD is continued immigration restrictions that would limit affordable labor in the U.S.
The Turfhead Issue
I hope you agree it was GOOD! I’m in awe of how many great articles we packed into the issue. We’ll be doing it again this December so start thinking about contributions.