The calendar has turned to a new year and while, for most of Canada, the turfgrass is dormant under a blanket of snow that in no way means that superintendents, assistant superintendents and equipment technicians are taking a complete hiatus from all things related to the golf course.
For many, this marks a busy time for planning, budgeting, determining staffing programs, updating their education and renewing relationships with suppliers and colleagues.
As part of that planning process, it is a time to look ahead and estimate, guess or otherwise figure out what challenges the year will bring and how best to prepare yourself to cope with those challenges.
The weather is the single most influential factor that the superintendent and the course management team deals with each and every year. It is also the factor that is least liable to be influenced by any member of the golf facility team.
Keep that in mind as the year goes on and understand the impact that weather can have on turf that is being mowed to an unnatural height and then subjected to heavy foot traffic, high humidity, high temperature and often too little or too much water.
Keep in mind what you are asking for and the many influences that control what can be done with the turf at any point in time throughout the year.
What does 2011 have in store when it comes to maintenance, equipment and construction expenditures on Canadian courses? It may seem pessimistic but I suspect more of the same.
In 2010 salaries were flat, on average, across the country. The average superintendent salary was $74,104. Average rounds played were down, as were operating expenditures. Equipment expenditures and construction spending were both up over the previous year and over the five-year average.
Those numbers would suggest that equipment companies and those involved in course renovations were willing to provide better opportunities to facilities in order to stay busy while members were hoping that they could reduce maintenance costs in order to balance the budget.
For 2011, I suspect that it could very well be more of the same.
Further reductions in maintenance budgets are likely as golf courses try to find new members and generate new revenues in an economic environment that lacks confidence. Further reductions will be difficult without a change in expectations.
Equipment companies should be expected to continue to offer discount pricing and competitive packages to attract buyers. Now may be the best time to look at new equipment when your facility may be tempted to hang on to that worn out mower for one more season.
The potential for breakdown, expensive and time-consuming repairs and lost productivity and performance should be a definite consideration in that decision-making.
Staffing will continue to be a significant concern. Salary costs as a percentage of operating costs increased by one per cent on average in 2010, while operating costs decreased by eight per cent. That probably means that salaries were either held at 2009 levels or reduced.
This will continue to make it difficult for courses to attract reliable, skilled labour and this has a cost, both real and in terms of morale and productivity.
In addition, the existing supply of equipment technicians grows another year older and closer to retirement, creating what many would call a critical shortage in which the supply is aging and the training programs at the entry level are being cancelled due to low or no registration.
This year will see a renewed focus on appeals to employers to consider the use of apprentices to begin the renewal of the supply of technicians to meet increasing demands that will result from pending retirements of those that entered the profession in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s and for which golf may be a second career.
The issues of golf course sustainability, pesticide use and water and nutrient management will also occupy substantive space on many golf association and golf facility agendas in 2011.
The golf industry has a tremendous story to tell with respect to its environmental value and integrity, but much of the non-golfing public and a large number of golfers continue to see the industry as a game played by the segment of the population that they would label as wealthy.
That makes the industry an easy target for those who purport to want to protect the environment, often with no scientific knowledge or evidence to support their claims.
It is imperative in 2011, and probably for many years to come, that the entire industry work together to ensure that golfers, politicians, interest groups and the general public have an increased awareness of golf’s value economically and environmentally and its contribution to overall sustainability.
Whether it is recognition of the natural habitat that golf courses provide in urban and rural Canada, the impact of golf courses relative to reduced CO2 levels or the impact of golf courses on improved water quality, it is imperative that all segments of the industry speak in unison about its value.
Hopefully, this is the year that the message begins to resonate across the country.
Golf, like many other sectors needs 2011 to be better. I am hopeful and cautiously optimistic that economic recovery will continue its slow climb, that Mother Nature will smile upon Canada from coast to coast and that the 26 per cent of Canadians that claim to play golf will each decide to play one more game in 2011 than they did last year and that they bring a friend.
Ken Cousineau is executive director of the Canadian Golf Superintendents Association