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MEMBER ALERT: Your golf course superintendent has been asked to post this story where you can see it as it addresses an important issue in course maintenance.

I recently sat in on a green committee meeting at a private club. At one point, a member criticized the superintendent for not being able to get things done, to the detriment of the course. It went something like this:

Committee Member: “Why aren’t the bunkers in better shape and raked more often?”

Golf Course Superintendent: “We don’t have enough labor and it’s difficult to find good people to hire.”

CM: “That can’t be true. People are looking for work due to the high unemployment caused by the COVID-19 situation.”

GCS: “Well, that’s not exactly the reality.”

CM: “I listen to the news, there is high unemployment — people should want to work here. Lack of labor is just an excuse. Why can’t we get people to come to work here?”

Courses are struggling to fill positions at all levels. Every facility is asking for patience from golfers and to be tolerant of the postponement of some vital and meticulous maintenance practices.

But hiring for a maintenance crew is always difficult. Think about what it entails: physical labor, low pay, long hours and tough conditions. If your course is paying $12 to $13 per hour for the work described above, why wouldn’t someone opt to earn $15 an hour at the local grocery store — in air conditioning and heating, no less. Add in the trickle-down effects of COVID-19 and here’s what’s happening:

  • A course missing four crew members loses at least 160 maintenance hours per week.
  • That’s a minimum of 640 hours per month.
  • Due to the difficulties of acquiring labor or removing “non-essential” labor from the staff, the number of long-term employees drops, some of whom could transfer to the golf course staff.

And you wonder why things aren’t done to your satisfaction?

Say you live in a “desirable” location that has even seen a recent influx from urban areas due to COVID-19. Yes, it may be a great place to live for working executives and retirees maintaining a certain economic level. Those less affluent, though — the potential labor force—probably won’t find it as attractive or affordable. They’ll probably face an extended commute to find affordable living. And they’ll need enough money for gas, food and rent to come to work at your course.

This “desirable” area is also likely experiencing a boom in construction, which often seeks day laborers who are paid in cash, under the table. And the local big-box stores and grocery chains offer higher wages, indoor comfort, worker’s comp, medical coverage, maybe even a 401(k).

Some other realities:

The Latino work force has long been a staple on crews because they are hardworking, willing to put in long hours and share camaraderie. But in these politically-charged times, citizenship issues have thrown a wrench into their availability. Some of that labor is transient, following the work in summer, returning home for winter. Some is limited by the availability of a driver’s license and vehicle: If one worker has a license and drives four others every day, fine. But if he contracts COVID-19 or loses his license, the superintendent may be down an additional four bodies for the duration.

Another barrier is the mandatory drug test. Once they see that in an ad, some don’t bother to respond. Interns could be an option, but the same challenges arise, including affordable housing.

What’s the solution? Superintendents continue to get creative by looking into unusual sources of labor like veterans, those on work-release programs or younger retirees.

The situation also demands flexibility in coordinating and scheduling labor. Consider shorter or stacked shifts and work-share programs.

You members can help, too. Put your business experience and contacts to work looking for possible employees.

More important, exercise patience and some degree of compromise. Give your superintendent a break: They don’t want the golf course looking shabby, either. And they certainly don’t want to disappoint you — the customer.

Tim Moraghan, principal, ASPIRE Golf (tmoraghan@aspire-golf.com). Follow Tim’s blog, Golf Course Confidential at www.aspire-golf.com/buzz.html or on Twitter @TimMoraghan.