Controlling maintenance costs: Why it's crucial to get your superintendent on board

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With owners and operators facing rising costs in the face of falling revenues, it's more critical than ever that courses look at the way they do business. One of the largest expenditures for any course is maintenance. Here's how ValleyCrest Golf Course Maintenance Director of Business Development John Crowder, speaking at the recent Golf Inc. Conference at the Camelback Inn & Resort in Scottsdale, Ariz., looks at the changing role of the superintendent in controlling costs.

We've elected to go the superstar model. We pay our superintendents much more than the GCSAA average for an 18-hole superintendent. But we're extremely demanding.

We learned the hard way that a superintendent is really not in the grass-growing business. He's in the customer business. He's in the member business.

When that mind-set clicks over -- and some get it, but some don't -- he becomes much more valuable. He becomes a member of your management team, one of those four superstars running the property and he becomes a guy you can afford to pay more. But until that happens, he's still part of the old way of doing things.

In terms of looking at the traditional model, what we have in our industry grown accustomed to requiring of superintendents and what we have allowed superintendents to say they need to do the job, there's a disconnect there.

Another speaker, Don Rea, owner of Augusta Ranch Golf Club in Mesa, Ariz., urged operators to reward superintendents who work to hold down costs.

The best thing you can do is to involve the superintendent with whoever is running the facility, build a friendship with them. How many golf courses actually incentivize the superintendent by giving him a bonus if the golf course makes a profit?

The superintendent has the biggest budget, so if he's under budget maybe he should get something. But does he also get something when the golf course makes money? Is he fully vested in the property?  Because if he is, then he's going to make different decisions, and he's going to save money without you watching, because he cares about the facility. 

That doesn't happen by edict.  That doesn't happen because you tell him to do it, it happens because you've built a relationship. You know the names of his kids and you've driven the course with him three times a week. He knows when you're telling him and you look him in the eye and you say, "We're struggling right now."  So he saves a little bit more.  Just subconsciously, because he knows it hurts you. Then he knows also that when the good times come, you're going to give him a little extra money.

The relationship between you and your superintendent, if you're the operator of that facility, is the most important relationship. Ultimately you will save money if he's vested in it.

What's your opinion? What kind of relationship is necessary between the owner or operator and the superintendent? Should a superintendent be rewarded for holding down costs?




Superintendents control the major portion of any facilities budget. It is extremely important to work with your superintendent to define ways to control cost that will not compromise your standards. Being a 5 star property and home to a PGA TOUR event, the FBR OPEN, it is sometimes difficult to exceed the guests expectation and yet still control costs. I think that our team, lead by Jeff Plotts, does an outstanding job in this area. Our main focus has been the number of staff we use and how we use them, the training to show them how to work smarter and more efficient is the key. Difficult times call for difficult decisions and this is one of them. You have to have an individual who buys into the objective and sees that this is going to beneficial for his team. My personal opinion is that your management staff has the most opportunity to grow and improve their value in these tough times. Allowing them to be resourceful and giving recognition is key to the results not to mention incentives for achievement.

Great comments from everyone. Its critical that superintendents treat what they do as a addition to an art and science.

There is no question that having a highly qualified and experienced superintendent managing the maintenance operation is the best investment that any course can make. Forming a close working relationship with this individual should be second nature for any owner, club official, or senior manager. I could not agree more that when this relationship is in place, the club will get the absolute maximum out of the allocated budget with the least negative impact on the quality of the golfing experience. Kudos for John Crowder and Don Rea for standing up for the superintendent and also to my friend, Bill Grove for backing them up.

The Agronomy team at our clubs represent possibly the most essential department at the club. They are capable ,competent businessmen and in most cases GCSAA certified Agronomists.They manage more money, people and expensive assets than anyone else at the club.Although seemingly a cost center only department, they are one of the most critical marketing areas ,and an indirect revenue driver.Course conditions are a calling card at our clubs, and it is worth the investment for us to have the best we can find. It is a function of communicating with them that it is effectively their family money with "need to have" components only. "Prudently Pristine" is the goal. Dick Hyland Lyle Anderson Golf Scottsdale Az 602 980 2399

With clubs and courses closing their doors and with high fuel and fertilizer prices driving up the cost of maintenance, it has never been more critical for Superintendents to put on their business manager hat! The days of “if you build it, they will come” are long gone, and we have asked our Superintendents spearhead a campaign of “do more with less,” and they are succeeding! With regard to bonuses, our Superintendents are incentivized based on the overall course’s financial performance, not solely based on the financial performance of their area of responsibility. In other words, we do not want to send the message that practices shouldn’t be completed which are critical to the health and long term success of the course in order to earn a bonus. We want our Superintendents to properly care for the asset and to be creative while doing so with the ultimate goal of making the entire course financially viable. They have tightened their belt, and are carrying out remarkable savings plans which are paying dividends for our customers and our owned clubs. In addition, we ask them to take part and provide input to all departments at the course. They hold a wealth of knowledge; most have seen many courses…successful and otherwise, and they can contribute to more than the maintenance department.

The inevitable realization that maintenance costs are the new "bottom line" in long over due. The golf course product is only as good as the investment made to produce the product. The remainder of the operation is a by-product service industry which requires no science only hourly labor and service oriented General management. John Crowder has opened the door to taking the industry in a psitive direction for profitability while producing a better product.

Repair rather than replace! Maximize the life of every piece of equipment on your facility. In tough economic times it is more important than ever to insure an aggressive and thorough equipment preventive maintenance plan is in place and that the maximum usable life of equipment is achieved through execution of this plan. Maintaining an inventory of commonly needed spare parts reduces equipment down-time and wasted labor.

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