Think Big Entering A New Decade

Thinking of big changes in 2020?  Writing for Golf Course Industry Magazine, GGA Partner Henry DeLozier shares four macro changes to consider as the new decade begins.

Golf no longer exists in a vacuum, separate and distinct from market forces that shape other mainstream businesses. Gone are the days when golf club and facility managers could operate without a sensitive finger on the pulse of social, environmental and political changes affecting their business. As we enter the third decade of the 21st century, here are four macro changes to be aware of and to use to your advantage.

1. New solutions to labor shortages

Traditionally, labor costs for golf courses have ranged from 52 to 56 percent of golf course maintenance budgets. With increases in minimum wages and the ripple effect throughout organizational charts, labor costs continue to escalate. Derek Johnston, a partner at Global Golf Advisors, says labor costs have jumped as much as 6 percent.

Operators managed the first wave of escalating labor costs by reducing head counts and outsourcing certain activities to third-party contractors. Now, they are being forced to get more creative to deal with what is by far the facility’s single largest line item. Some have reacted by flattening their org charts, eliminating supervisory positions and restructuring responsibilities for some managers and staffers. As a result, staffing levels that ranged from 19 to 25 employees per 18-hole course are in significant decline.

Labor will remain a primary focus and concern for operators in 2020. Suggestions for managing rising costs are to re-evaluate all operational activities with an eye for possible benefits to be gained from outsourcing; take labor-intensive components of your operation and determine how the work could be accomplished more efficiently; and look at non-golf sectors for solutions being implemented in other fields such as hospitality and manufacturing.

2. Increased environmental awareness

Golf courses throughout North America have embraced opportunities to increase their environmental stewardship. Beekeeping, which sustains the bee population and ensures ongoing pollination; bat houses, which address mosquito infestations; and habitat restoration for butterflies, especially monarchs, whose habitat supports pheasant, quail, waterfowl and many other species; have been introduced at many locales.

Making golf courses and their surrounding grounds environmental sanctuaries is resonating with key market influencers, including millennials and women, who are also prime targets for increasing play and membership. Audubon International CEO Christine Kane reports that clubs as sanctuary communities are on the rise nationwide: “Audubon-recognized sanctuary communities have increased more than 20 percent over the past five years,” according to Kane.

Progressive superintendents and golf managers who expand the reach and impact of their environmental efforts will be viewed favorably by community leaders as well as current and prospective members and customers.

3. Expanded reach of social media

Superintendents and facility managers have become important sources of content relevant to club members and consumers. Photographic images of flora and fauna on club grounds are of interest to members who take pride in their clubs’ beauty and connection to the environment.

Instagram and Twitter can be used to show images sourced by staff members — golf course workers, cooks, janitors, golf professionals — who are alert to opportunities to snap butterfly habitats, wildflowers and all sorts of wildlife that call the club home. Such images are often posted to the club website and distributed to club members and visitors as a means for extending brand engagement.

Gone are the days of the cut-and-paste guidance for how to repair a ball mark. The increased relevance and timeliness of today’s news is attributed to the capability and proliferation of social media.

4. Comprehensive planning

The growth of strategic planning (supported by specialized plans for marketing, communications, finance and membership) is another example of general business’s influence on a more enlightened group of golf managers. Just as most any business relies on a strategic plan to guide its decision-making, golf is recognizing the importance of establishing a clear vision that serves to prioritize programming and investment. Top performers rely on data-based plans to distinguish their facilities not only in overcrowded markets, but also with consumers debating their leisure activities and spending. Those facilities that create market differentiation will prosper in 2020 and beyond.

Become an Employer of Choice

The order of the day went straight to the point: “England expects that every man will do his duty.” In the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar, one of England’s more decisive naval battles, Admiral Lord Nelson called upon the sailors of his island nation to ward off an attack by the combined French and Spanish navies. It was a battle to the finish and one in which Nelson was mortally wounded. When told of eminent victory, among his final words were, “Now I have done my duty.”

Golf course managers today are charged with myriad duties, maybe not with life and death consequences, but critical nonetheless. Foremost among them is the recruitment, training and retention of a qualified and motivated staff. There is no more important role to the financial and operational well-being of courses simply because so many moving parts require near constant attention.

What’s more, the job is getting tougher. The U.S. has more job openings than unemployed people, a situation known as “full employment.” The U.S. economy added 216,000 jobs in April, notching a record 103 straight months of job gains and signaling that the current economic expansion shows little sign of stalling. The Labor Department reported in July that the unemployment rate fell to 3.6 percent, the lowest since 1969.

What we should glean from those statistics is that the war for talent continues unabated across U.S. businesses, making it even more challenging for leaders to build a staff with the highest quality workers. Becoming an employer of choice in your market is now a business imperative. Here are five ways to distinguish your facility:

1. Prioritize. With labor costs representing slightly more than half of operational costs at most facilities, making your course and club attractive to job seekers is a smart use of resources. Start by deciding the selection criteria for each position. Thinking through on-the-job performance standards helps to establish the search criteria for each position. This careful job description serves to focus the employer’s intentions and expectations. Detailed job description and criteria also clarify the opportunity for prospective employees, so they know going in what is expected of a successful candidate.

The process seems simple, but many employers fail to prioritize the time and thought process to describe what is needed from a specific position.

2. Organize. Employees want to know what will be expected of them in the job. An organized approach to describing the position makes sure employer and employee are on the same page, reducing surprises and establishing an understanding on key aspects of employment. Carefully organizing the position description signals that you know what you want and will keep searching until you find the best candidate.

3. Standardize. Your search process is a miniature branding effort. Using consistent and professional formatting, job and benefits descriptions and comprehensive summaries of expected annual income guide prospective employees to you. Remember, you’re not simply searching for someone to fill a position – you’re searching for the best possible fit.

Describe the culture of your team with words that demonstrate commitment and dedication. For most people, work is an emotional relationship before it is an economic consideration. In a December 2018 study of employees’ attitudes, Clutch, a B2B search firm, noted that “workplace values are essential to recruiting, retaining, and motivating quality employees.” In the same study, employees emphasized the importance of fair treatment and compensation alongside ethical treatment. While compensation is obviously important, how people feel about themselves in their jobs is even more valuable.

4. Recognize. To keep top performers, celebrate their successes. To many workers, the respect of their co-workers is highly important. Create a culture that recognizes the efforts and successful performance results of teammates. There are many examples of employee recognition successes, but most important is keeping the recognition fair, transparent and generous. Recognition will prove to be one of your best investments in time and money.

5. Evolution-ize. Create a recruitment and retention process that evolves with the workforce, your club and employees. Most staff members want to work where there is a fresh and invigorating environment. Traditions are extremely important and should be balanced with the need of employees to see change and growth in their jobs and lives.

This article was authored by GGA Partner Henry DeLozier for Golf Course Industry Magazine