The more forward thinking clubs will have had a course policy document in place for some time, to establish and maintain those standards expected in the daily maintenance of the golf course.
Billy McMillan, in this article, reviews its value in the face of modern day golf course management and suggests how we may develop it into a more accepted and modern day working document
It could be suggested a course policy document is restrictive, idealistic and whimsical. I say "could be" because I have been told that it is just that and, "in modern day thinking, pretty useless and plays little or no role in modern day golf course management".
Harsh words to my ears, because it was always my intention to have in place a vision for the development of the golf course going into the future; to outline those greenkeeping values of quality that we all hunger for. It was forward thinking in the sense of development and safeguarding qualities, so yes, I have always taken the view that it was a useful working tool.
It has been supported, in its production, by all the major golfing bodies here in the UK and been sold as a starting point for course improvement at golf clubs up and down the country. Something I have wholeheartedly agreed with but, being frank, it's had its day, I think.
It would be foolish to persist with a document that bears no relationship to changing times and the reality of golf as a business. So, what is the alternative to this dated and out of touch document?
It's not complex and has been the case for some time now that modern day golf course management has had to evolve and develop around the reality of the business that we are involved in. It should reflect the current economic facts and deliver qualities to establish a security of tenure in the longer term.
Might I suggest that the reality of a course policy document in modern terms leaves little to be desired? It smacks of isolation and doesn't reflect the reality of 'inclusion' to other departmental areas of the club.
The reality today is that we are all inexorably entwined in our club's management team. We play a part, don't we? And a major part, it must be said, because firstly our membership come to the club to play golf, and it should never be the case we undervalue the jewel in the club's crown that is the course itself.
The reality is rather than a course policy document, we need a 'club policy document' that not only reflects the golf course but, more importantly, takes a holistic overview of the club's business. There should be, within its pages, a merging of departmental areas of your business and, of course, have a common and up-to-date language of terminology.
Frankly, height of cut margins, grass species dominance and cutting frequencies, however important, no longer form the bones of a working document for the club. They are, in fact, daily working policy reflecting current aspirations in the development and conditioning of your golf course. Growing grass is the easy part of this equation; more important is how these values can be supported within the business opportunities at your club.
Any modern document will have to be flexible enough to react to change and absorb market forces that prevail at any time. For some time now, I have taken the view that greenkeeping is a business. Not, as has been the perception, a past-time of a few individual well-meaning incumbent course managers.
The club has a vested interest in a holistic overview of the whole business. This has to be managed and driven for the betterment of the club.
So, what do we call this new and revolutionary document that will cover the club's policy and deliver all that we require to develop the business?
It's a no brainer to be honest, and not complex. When dealing with a business, it needs to be structured and planned; it should encompass these simple values and will bring the historic course policy document values into the modern era.
I suggest that a viable way forward is to adopt something that has been commonplace for ever in the wider world, and develop a business plan.
A well-structured and phased business plan will ensure success, of this I am sure. It should be an inclusive document that not only covers the greenkeeping department but also includes and reflects all other departmental areas of the club's business.
Like any good business plan, it will cover short, medium and long term strategy for your business. In its production, objectives will be set and tasked to individual departmental areas of the business, so be prepared for some hard work.
It will identify finances and investments that are not only required but, more importantly, realistically achievable. It will take an overview of the whole business at your club and identify weaknesses and strengths that currently prevail.
Everything that currently happens at your club is up for review, tasking everyone involved in the management team to forecast potential growth and improvement.
No dreaming and, with a candid honesty, time spent in developing a viable business plan is crucial to its usefulness going forward. It should always have realistic and achievable objectives.
- Firstly, you need agreement, from the club, company, your line manager and individual managers within your business
- Agree to share the responsibilities among those individuals and task each other in moving things forward
- Yes, there will be a bias to your departmental area that you will be tasked with, however, it should always have the benefit of forming part of and be complementary to the overall business plan
- There will be opportunities to merge those departmental strengths across the board and mitigate out any weaknesses at the same time; this will ensure benefits for everyone concerned
- Timeframes should be set and agreed for everyone to deliver their part of the production of this new document
- In simple terms, take an overview of what currently is in place and project forward your plans for the continued development of the golf course. This will have the reality of a merging of minds and expose helpful productive and achievable targets, for the overall business at your club
- How long do you plan for? Of course, you need to secure your place for the long term. But, realistically, a five year business plan should be a target to aim for
- The hard work is in formatting the first document. However, after that, it will take the form of an annual review and placement of another year's plans tagged on to the end to maintain its five year projection
What should this plan include, but not be restricted to?
Current condition review
- This will require a taking of stock and task each department to identify their own unique strengths and weaknesses
- In greenkeeping terms, it should involve all playing surfaces of the golf course, hazards, woodland, waterways and golf course furniture. It should involve a complete overview and reflect an honest appraisal of the current situation on the ground
- Current course performance should be identified within this heading as it will form a useful baseline for development
- Current thinking is to call this kind of thinking "benchmarking" - not just your greens but, more importantly, the whole course should be addressed
- It will determine not only strengths but weaknesses as well that will have to be managed going forward
Staffing and welfare
- This should establish current staffing levels and working conditions
- It will need to have a common thread to the overall staffing policy. Holiday entitlement, sickness policy and structure, roles and responsibilities will be identified within this part of the document
- It is commonplace these days that all staffing issues within the business portfolio fall under the club's general staffing heading for management purposes; however, they will still have to be managed day to day by the heads of their own department
Standard Operational Procedure
- Every task, from opening the workshop to locking it up at night should to be written down - include every operation carried out on the golf course
- Therefore, in the event of absence or sickness, everyone else has this knowledge and information available to them at all times
- Another useful side to this part of the document is that it can be used as a training aid to induct and train all staff employed within the business
- If well catalogued, it will help in setting and maintaining standards, so I would urge you to keep these information templates as simple and clear as possible
Health & Safety
- Within the greenkeeping department we have some very unique issues but, hey, that's also true of every department within the overall business
- You will be tasked with identifying those issues that are relevant to your department and manage them
- A weakness that I have seen over the years is departmental differences in recording such detailed information, different systems for logging and recording can be difficult to manage. So, this would be a fantastic opportunity to merge those systems of record keeping into one concise working system in everyone's best interest
- The same can be said of many recording systems, so take the opportunity to not re-invent the wheel here and adopt a common system across all departmental areas. Doing it once, and properly, makes economic sense but also delivers a practicality in its management thereafter
- Merge a common thread into your management policy. Take the opportunity to share, adopt and use the best overall system currently available at your club
- Budgets not only need to be formed but managed also. They will include day to day spending for all materials required within your department. They will include your departmental wages and those capital investments that have been identified to support continued on course development
- It will take agreement from your club's finance department to determine the final figures. Be prepared for some negotiation
- The biggest changes we have to accept as greenkeepers is not only are we managing this fund, but realising that we have a role to play in fund generation as well
- Tight financial controls are paramount to the success of any business, not only will you be expected to manage these funds but also control them because, unlike income and revenue, costs can always be controlled in times of difficulty; a simple fact that is sometimes forgotten
- A record of all the club's machinery and equipment is required to be in place at all times
- It will include all the working equipment within your department
- It has to be a working part of any document as it will be used to establish things like insurance premiums and depreciation figures that change year on year
- They also form part of the club's assets and have a direct correlation to final annual accounts
- It should involve a replacement programme of equipment. It should also have a continued development that takes on board modern thinking and complementary additions to your fleet of equipment that you need for the future
- These are the working tools of your department; necessary equipment that will determine success or failure in your daily performance
- Take the view that they are an investment in your business and not as is commonly referred to a 'wish list'.
Development & Improvements
These never stop and can be determined after you have completed your current condition review. It could be that you identified some items that need further development or investment.
- Continued on course development
- New greens, new tees
- Additional drainage
- Upgrading your irrigation system
- Development of maintenance base
- Bunker refurbishment
- Meeting legal requirements and current standards
This list will be very site specific, detailed and unique to your club and business. The examples I have highlighted are a theme because they are for you and your club to best determine.
They could be small investments, but is normally the case that they are and should revolve around major capital investment items, that have to be budgeted for, in the medium to longer term, as they will require time and accrual of funding to become a reality.
If identified properly, they can then be planned for in a phased way and be accommodated into the future plans of your business.
They will need to be prioritised, but also have in mind a realistic development plan for your business. It starts simply, where your weaknesses have been identified, as they will contribute to improvements that will secure your well-being as a business.
Another great place to start is on those items that will deliver a big return for a little investment - every manager loves those!
Your historical course policy document can and should be brought up to date, it should have a common language that is understood by your management team and employers.
It should be an all-inclusive working tool for change that not only identifies problems but, more importantly, has the benefit of producing solutions to them.
The real skill will be taking those good values in your historical course policy document and incorporating them into your modern, up to date business plan, which has a relevance to every part of your club's business.
So, take stock, as this will be the bedrock for moving forward. Secondly, take your information and produce a document that will make a difference to your club's business, not only identifying your business potential, but securing it into the future.
It's just business at the end of the day.
Golf Course Management Consultant