No matter where your course is located, the next few months are going to be demanding. As I write this in late April, about half of all United States courses are open for play. That number is likely to increase steadily by the end of spring.
The ability to reopen the economy locally or nationally will depend upon the development of a three-stage public health program that starts with comprehensive testing, includes antibody testing and monitoring, and ultimately produces a vaccine. Anything less than that and the reboot will be partial at best.
We’re in it for the long haul. For superintendents, this will be a very trying time. Instead of thinking of it as the most difficult you have faced, consider it the most important. If you adjust and innovate, this should also be the most rewarding time of your career. Here are 10 things to do to help you adapt.
1. Get involved in facility finances, not just in budgeting your own department. That means learning about food and beverage budgets, dues, initiation fees and capital investment.
2. The smart clubs will not simply slash but use this time to rethink their entire operations. Moving forward will require some creative thinking about distance spacing in the restaurant and bar, and whether it really pays to rely on offering full-service sit-down meals that traditionally lose money on every cover served. Many facilities are discovering the value of take-out service: low labor costs, less food spoilage, more camaraderie among appreciative golfers and community residents. We are going to see a big shift in how facilities structure their F&B.
3. The same goes for dues. The smart clubs won’t just slash fees because of cutbacks in clubhouse services. We’ll see more creative financing of initiation fees. Clubs should also resist simple dues cutbacks and rely instead on rolling over a percentage of the monthly fees as credit for continued membership next year. That creates more of a sense of ownership in the club rather than a transactional, customer bargaining relationship with your members.
4. Superintendents also need to plan for a new range of responsibilities. Who is going to police “social distancing” among golfers or cart use and traffic? All facilities will need to develop policies and protocols for handling these issues – scripted responses by staff, delineation of responsibility and hierarchies of authority for making tough calls. Superintendents need to be a part of that conversation because they and their staff will be on the frontline of any monitoring.
5. For superintendents with smaller crews because of furloughs, make sure you communicate to your staff about what their concerns are and what their opportunities are for advancement. Encourage them to develop new skill sets and to become familiar with different machinery. Don’t be afraid to learn from them. Make sure they understand the importance of the new morning rituals of sanitizing – and that they understand the need to protect each other as well as golfers.
6. Leave some blank space on the whiteboard every morning. Decide every day what you are not going to do. Golfers grateful to be playing at all will accept less than pristine conditions. Single cut the greens instead of double cut and roll. Rake bunkers every other day. Let the rough grow a little. Get used to less than perfect. It’s going to be part of the new normal anyway.
7. Use your newfound free time to reconnect with former colleagues, old professors, turf professionals you admire and friends you have not spent enough time with. The payback here is so rich both emotionally and vocationally.
8. Keep in touch with former employees who have been let go. Let those you want back know you want them back. Given the generosity of the federal unemployment benefits supplement in many states, some of them will be making more now than they did when they were working. That won’t last. Make sure you stay in their plans.
9. Make use of educational resources. Spend time with what’s being offered by the GCSAA, CMAA, USGA Green Section and various turf and facility consultants. Encourage your staff to participate. Include decision makers at your facility, whether they are board or green committee members or folks sitting on the municipal golf committee.
10. This is a great time to get away from the facility. There’s less pressure to perform and a lot more time and need to be home. Sure, your golf course needs you. But your family needs you more. And you need them more.