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As surely as spring has given way to summer, it will soon be time to update your agronomic plan for the coming year. The importance of the plan is accentuated in current times because of the dynamic and fluid conditions in which superintendents are now working.

Preparing the plan raises questions that might not have been asked in previous years: How have golfers’ expectations evolved throughout the pandemic? What are the consequences of increased competition for tee times? Should we expect continued excessive wear and tear on the course? Or will play plateau as more people return to their offices? And, most urgently in a labor-stressed market, how are you going to get the work done?

As superintendents update their agronomic plans for 2023, there are five important categories on which to focus:

Labor. No one category is changing more rapidly or dramatically. Three subsets of labor costs need to be updated:

  • Base salaries and wages. Across the U.S. economy, labor costs have risen substantially. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, wages increased 3.4 percent in 2022; Experian is advising workers to seek a 7 percent increase from prior year wages. Superintendents should budget on the high side of inflation and compensation growth ranges. Wage increases are sticky and seldom decline. Give them in good spirits and live with them.
  • Employee benefits. Most employers these days — in competition for top-performing employees and fearful of their loss — are being more generous with benefits, especially with family health and medical coverage. Families come first for your employees, followed by paid leave and mental health support.
  • Variable benefits. Be prepared to adjust benefits to matters of greatest importance to your team. It could be something as simple as free beer after hours. It could be new uniforms. Listen to what matters to the crew and respond.

Maintenance practices and standards. Review your golfers’ expectations and usage of your course. Everything is changing as more people find more time for golf. Use of practice facilities have increased dramatically.

Target greens for short-game focus and enhanced tee surfaces for practice demand innovative approaches to routine care and upkeep. Schedule adequate time for mowing, topdressing and cultivation needs.

Evaluate your 2022 practices and results for effectiveness and conditioning. Then take one more step: Ask your team members for their suggestions to make the course even better, more reliable and more efficiently maintained.

Pesticide calendar. Based on the previous year’s results and NOAA weather predictions for 2023, update your plans for pesticide needs and applications. Monitor changes in regulations and suppliers’ application guidance to ensure that your standards will meet upcoming conditions and requirements.

Irrigation plan. Drought conditions in many locales are bringing increased attention to water consumption, even in those places with plenty of water. Golf courses are considered extravagant water users in some quarters. See that your irrigation system is as technically advanced as your budget allows and is responsibly configured for usage. Make sure a capable and attentive technician supports your system.

Administrative requirements. No agronomic plan is complete without a comprehensive review of administrative areas. We consider these three steps vital:

  • Budget update. Update your budget and provide explanation of any line item with more than a 10 percent change. Take time to analyze these variances and explain them to your accounting manager and manager.
  • Risk assessment. Coordinate with your manager to have a site and standard practices evaluation conducted by your club’s insurance provider. Insurance experts can identify areas where risk and costs may be lowered for yourself, your team and your employers. Similarly, representatives of your local fire department and health-care providers may provide insightful and actionable guidance.
  • Special project costs. Additional labor required for emergencies such as flooded bunkers or broken irrigation, or the additional costs due to deferred capital spending, can wreak havoc on a plan. Stuff happens. Be prepared.

Henry DeLozier is a partner at GGA Partners, trusted advisors and thought leaders. He is currently Chairman of the Board of Directors of Audubon International.