Before railroads spanned North America there were no time zones. As railroads began to shrink the travel time between cities, from days or months to mere hours, local times made scheduling a nightmare. Railroad timetables in major cities listed dozens of different arrival and departure times for the same train, each linked to its local destination. How could someone plan ahead or run the railroad on time when there were so many different times in play?

The solution was a uniform time-keeping system developed and introduced by the powerful railroad companies, which agreed to divide the continent into four – and eventually five – time zones that closely resemble those in place today.

Managing a golf course is a little different from running a railroad. But there is a similar need for uniformity and consistency. As with most things with lots of moving parts, multiple stakeholders and outside influences beyond your control, a smooth-running operation starts with a plan. For golf course superintendents, building a dependable agronomic plan requires extreme focus in two important areas: standards of excellence and standards of measurement.

Standards of Excellence. A baseline understanding is necessary to describe which standards of care and upkeep will be achieved and sustained. Establishing dependable standards requires several sub-plans:

  • Mowing and Cutting: Describing how the greens, tees and fairways will be kept is a top priority. Good plans describe frequency, intended cutting heights and mowing patterns. Photographs help laymen understand the look, fit and finish the superintendent expects. Because of the manpower and money required, the mowing plan is the foundation of an overall agronomic plan.
  • Cultural Practices: Aerification, verticutting and other mechanical programs reflect the facility’s course philosophy; that is, how management wants the course to look and play. Implementing this philosophy to achieve the desired results requires precise description and illustration of each practice that management and crew understand completely.
  • Irrigation: The efficient and sustainable use of water is mission-critical in most locales where water use regulation is commonplace. A good plan shows water usage by day as measured in gallons and dollars.
  • Fertility: Increasing regulation demands that golf courses execute thorough planning and reporting of consumption and usage of all chemicals, especially pesticides and fertilizers. The agronomic plan is an ideal platform for superintendents to demonstrate their knowledge, expertise and commitment to sustainability.

In addition to these examples of sub-plans, superintendents must consider an arboreal plan to include the planting, feeding, pruning and removal of trees on and adjacent to the golf course. Describing how lakes and streams will be kept, preserved and cleaned is another important element of a comprehensive agronomic plan.

Standards of Measurement. In each section of the plan, superintendents should describe in words and images how standards of excellence will be maintained. These standards must be measured to be effectively managed because, as we often hear, things that get measured get managed. Here are three metrics to consider:

  • Units of Consumption: A sound agronomic plan describes the volume of all consumables, including time and distance. This is where superintendents really shine. Demonstrate your scientific training and make it easy for your controller or finance committee to understand the depth of your knowledge and measurements that are most important to agronomic success.
  • Cost per Unit Consumed: Connect consumption units to the budget with easy-to-follow calculations. Run the numbers and show how they were calculated. As all who do the work know, the granular consumption is where budgets either work or do not work. Use the measurements to educate those who supervise or opine on your work. Examples of cost-per-unit references are gallons-per-day for water, man-hours for the tasks required, and kilowatts consumed for running pumping and irrigation systems.
  • Labor Costs: More than half of a typical golf course budget goes to labor. This segment is one that is escalating significantly. Describe the work that is being done, the cost per hour of the worker and the overhead calculations for benefits. The more thorough the detailed backup, the more powerful your argument.

Henry DeLozier is a principal in the Global Golf Advisors consultancy. DeLozier joined Global Golf Advisors in 2008 after nine years as the vice president of golf for Pulte Homes. He is a past president of the National Golf Course Owners Association’s board of directors and serves on the PGA of America’s Employers Advisory Council.