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The numbers are staggering.

Between them, legendary turf pros Ken Mangum, Matt Shaffer and Roger Stewart prepared more than 100 budgets worth at least … $100 million? $200 million? A quarter of a billion dollars? No matter what that exact number is, it certainly includes a couple commas.

The trio shared a trove of stories, tricks, tips and general advice about their budget seasons for the current generation of superintendents and agronomy directors, some of which is included on the next two pages. For far more wisdom (and some wit), search “Budget 101” on golfcourseindustry.com.

Ken Mangum

I had a great GM who said, “Don’t ever do something because you’re afraid of going over budget. Come and ask me. Explain it. We’re not locked in on a number so much that we want to sacrifice something.” So we didn’t have to play the game quite as much. Because sometimes you would have a good summer, you would have years when you didn’t use everything, and you would roll that into next year, and you just have to explain that. And you have years when you get a lot of rain, a lot of heat, a lot of humidity, you get more disease, more weed pressure because of that, or you have a storm — we call those non-budgeted items. You can’t plan for things like that. You can’t budget for things like that.

I try to base things on standards. I want to ask, whether it’s the green committee or whatever, “What do you want the golf course to look like when you step on the first tee? What do you want to have done before you play golf?” Because that drives your whole budget. The other question is, “Do you want go off the No. 1 tee only? Or do you want to go off 10 as well — a two-tee start?” Because that complicates everything. If you tell me that you want the greens walk-mowed, the holes changed, the bunkers hand-raked, the fairways cut with a triplex mower, the intermediate rough cut, the cart paths blown, pinecones picked up, the ball-washers serviced, the drinking stations serviced — if you want all that done, I’ll show you the manpower and the equipment it takes to do that. And it’s really interesting when you pose that question to people, because they say they want it all done, and then you price it out and they go, “Hmm, maybe that’s not what I want.”

It all boils down to being able to communicate effectively. Whatever your budget is, you have to be able to explain it and communicate to people. They have to understand what you’re asking for and why you’re asking for it.

You’ve got to be comfortable in front of people, explaining things and giving presentations. That’s not the easiest thing.

You learn as you go along, because every club is a little different.

Matt Shaffer

I always say the best superintendents in America are the guys who don’t have any money, because they can’t afford to make a mistake. One spray mistake will chase their ass right down a whole budget cycle.

We don’t really have our industry quantified very well. How much does it cost for every inch of green speed on bent, Poa, Bermuda? What are the repercussions financially to drop your fairways from three-quarters to a half-inch? A guy just starting a job probably doesn’t know. My advice for a young guy just starting a job: find the oldest, crustiest, successful superintendent in the area and call him. “Mr. Williams, can I talk with you? I’m trying to do my first budget and it’s critical. I need some insights.” Buy him lunch, you’ll learn a ton. That guy’s had his shield up for 40 years. It’s tough when you’re young.

A superintendent ought to set up their staff like the clubhouse sets up theirs, and I don’t think you’d ever lose this argument. They have a GM, you have a director of grounds. They have a clubhouse manager, you have a superintendent. They have an executive chef, you have an equipment manager. They have a maître d’, you have an equipment tech. And just keep on going, and if they have a wait staff of 60, you can go one better and say, “I only have a crew of 30.” But I don’t think guys think that way.

Politics are impossible to teach.

Don’t get emotional over this. Treat it as a business deal.

You have to treat that money like it’s yours. You have to be able to manage the money, and I think it’s particularly difficult when you’re young. You just don’t know what you’re doing.

It’s all about the money.

Roger Stewart

The best budget philosophy is one of transparency. I think if you’re going to ask for a large sum of money, make sure you know exactly how that money is going to be used. Don’t try to hide anything, thinking that you’re going to get this approved and use it on something else later. That can backfire. Be as transparent as you can. Don’t be afraid to explain how that money is going to impact your ability to provide the very best playing conditions, which in turn translates into potentially more revenue for the club. Stand up for what you believe. Make sure you’ve done your homework. Make sure you’ve put effort into those numbers in the budget so you feel comfortable going in and justifying it.

Just being prepared is a tactic. Make sure you’ve done as much as you possibly can to justify, in your mind, why you’re asking for what you’re asking for. I wasn’t always successful. It’s not like I walked in, gave a 30-minute presentation and everybody said, “Done! Let’s go home!” That did happen more than once but it wasn’t that often.

It’s not about who’s on top at a club. That’s not what it’s about at all. What it’s about is being able to be at the table, and being respected at the table — whether it’s a budget presentation, or a meeting with the golf committee, or preparing for a member-guest.

What are you providing your crew members? Not just what are you paying them, but what are you providing them? Can they get good health insurance? Do you have any kind of retirement plan? And then you have to look at the pay scale. Do you want to be a minimum-wage employer? And what does that mean? Generally, being a minimum-wage employer is reflective of the caliber of applicants you’re going to get to fill those jobs.

It’s easy to look at a golf course just as an expense.

Tartan Talks No. 52


Tom Marzolf knows the inner workings of only one golf course architecture firm. It happens to be one of the more successful firms of all time. And, no, he’s never seriously considered leaving his role as a senior design associate for Fazio Design to begin his own firm.

“If you have something great going on in your life, and it’s positive, and it’s fun, and you’re enjoying it, don’t mess it up,” Marzolf says. “Enjoy each day. Keep it going.”

Marzolf reveals his zest for working alongside the team developed by the legendary Tom Fazio in a fast-paced Tartan Talks episode. Upon graduating from Virginia Tech, Marzolf went on a calculated job-hunting scavenger hunt, visiting 32 golf course architects in six weeks. He started his career drafting plans for Fazio and has worked on more than 80 courses in his nearly four decades with the firm. Marzolf discusses numerous projects on the podcast, including the recent restoration of Seth Raynor-designed Fox Chapel Golf Club in suburban Pittsburgh.

Enter bit.ly/TomMarzolf into your web browser or visit the Superintendent Radio Network page on Apple Podcasts and Spotify to hear the podcast.

Course news

Whispering Pines Golf Club reopened after extensive construction led by Texas golf course architect Chet Williams. The course was entirely re-grassed with Zeon Zoysia in the fairways and rough and TifEagle Bermudagrass on the greens. All greens were completely rebuilt, including several that were totally redesigned, and all tee boxes were leveled with several new tees added. The course’s bunkers were also rebuilt, with some eliminated and others added. … PGA WEST restored more than 50,000 square feet of TifEagle greens at the 18-hole Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course. … PGA National broke ground on a redesign of its Squire Course by Andy Staples. … Rees Jones will oversee a redesign of Westchester Hills Golf Club in White Plains, New York. …

Firestone Country Club will remove 18 bunkers and renovate the remaining 51 on its renamed Fazio Course. …Quicksands, the 14-hole Gamble Sands short course designed by David McLay Kidd, is growing in and is scheduled for a spring 2021 opening. … Eisenhower Golf Course in Annapolis, Maryland, will also reopen in spring 2021 after an Andrew Green redesign. … Part of a $33 million renovation, the Dan Yates Putting Course opened at Bobby Jones Golf Course. The 9-hole reversible design features TifEagle Bermudagrass greens. … Anchorage Golf Course will host the 2022 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur, the first time the USGA has taken one of its championships to Alaska.

Industry buzz

Forrest Richardson is the new president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects and will serve until the next annual meeting in October 2021. Richardson opened Forrest Richardson & Associates in 1988 and has worked around the world ever since. Richardson gained an interest in golf course architecture when he pedaled his bicycle to the offices of Arthur Jack Snyder, a former ASGCA president, at age 12. The two later worked together on Pointe Resort at South Mountain in Phoenix. Richardson has written five books, including “Routing the Golf Course” and “Bunkers, Pits & Other Hazards.”

As part of the Community Values of Golf Courses project, researchers at the University of Minnesota and Michigan State University quantified the environmental benefits of 135 golf courses in the Twin Cities metropolitan area as compared with five other land uses: natural areas, city parks, suburban residential zones, urban residential zones and industrial parks. The USGA-funded research demonstrated that properly managed golf courses provide the greatest amount of cooling among land uses, are more supportive of pollinators than urban residential or industrial areas, and retain more nutrients from stormwater runoff than suburban or urban residential areas.

Correspondingly, the conversion of golf courses to residential or industrial use would sacrifice associated environmental value afforded to communities and could result in reduced biodiversity and increased temperatures and nutrient transport to surface and ground water. A summary of preliminary conclusions is available in the USGA Green Section Record.

Quarterly retail golf equipment sales topped $1 billion in the third quarter — just the second time sales have hit the ten-digit mark, according to the independent market research firm Golf Datatech. The official figure, $1.002 billion, trails only the second quarter of 2008, when sales hit $1.013 billion. Golf equipment sales for the year were up 42 percent over the same period in 2019.

People news: Toro CEO and president Rick Olson is the chairman of the board of directors of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute for 2020-21. … Dr. Greg Armel joins SePRO Corporation as vice president of research, regulatory and innovation. … Nick Strain joins Primera as vice president of business development. The company also named Rachel Boehm director of cooperative services, Cheryl Kuenzel director of analytics and Morgan Cothern cooperative services associate. … Patrick Collins is the new director of finance operations for Bernhard Company.