There is no denying that golf is a global sport. It ranks tenth in the world, just behind rugby, with 450 million fans worldwide. Golf experienced enormous growth in the UK in 2021, with 79% of member clubs and 88% of proprietary clubs reporting growth compared to 2020, as per a survey by Hillier Hopkins in conjunction with the UK Golf Federation.
However, golf is a tough business because profit margins can be lean and customers are difficult to please. Every golf member demands a well-maintained, pristine golfing environment. It takes formidable resources to accomplish that. Maintenance is clearly at the core of any golf course ensuring that its fairways, greens, bunkers and other areas are at the required standard year-around, not to mention its clubhouse and other facilities.
Here are 5 tips for running golf course maintenance at optimal levels.
1. Know all your maintenance needs
Golf courses are maintenance-intense and, as such, all maintenance requirements need to be understood and properly accounted for. Not only are there equipment and tools needed to perform golf course maintenance, but they, in turn, need to be properly maintained in order to ensure their efficacy and sustained asset life. These include equipment for:
- Mowing: including walk-behind, ride-on, triplex, multi-headed machines, or hand-pushed reel cutters;
- Cultivation: including aerators, power rakes, sod cutters and dethatchers; and
- Top dressing: including sand applicators, blowers and vacuums.
Other important maintenance-related equipment includes personal protective equipment (PPE) for maintenance workers, as well as transportation, such as light to heavy-duty golf carts and other utility vehicles.
Once all maintenance-related equipment and inputs have been comprehensively identified, only then can maintenance needs be properly prioritised. A maintenance schedule that doesn’t assess and prioritise all maintenance needs will be compromised.
2. Understand the risk profile of your golf course
A golf course risk assessment process should be comprehensive, incorporating all areas and activities, and should include this (non-exhaustive) list of categories and sub-factors:
- Natural risks – flooding, lightning strikes, and other localized inclement weather, such as fog.
- Course-related risks – greens, fairways and related areas, water sources and waterways, pathways.
- Employee-related risks – work with hazardous equipment, chemicals, and outdoor physical work.
- Member-related risks – on-course medical emergencies, use of motorised equipment.
- Course management and facilities – water usage, electricity, petrol/diesel consumption, waste generation, club facilities.
A risk profile can then be compiled based on whether risks were high/significant, medium or low. The maintenance program must be risk-driven. For example, a high risk of serious slips and falls in a pathway with a steep gradient may warrant more frequent inspections and maintenance measures to ensure the safety of members and staff alike.
3. Have the right maintenance people
There is a dramatic maintenance skill shortage worldwide, including in the golf industry. In the United States, it is acknowledged that a leading challenge for golf course superintendents is the severe lack of a course maintenance labour pool. Finding the best maintenance team possible has become a bigger headache for greenkeepers and course management.
Retention of golf labor has always been difficult. The work can be physically arduous and the hours long. Furthermore, workers have been lured to similar industries that pay higher wages, such as landscaping, construction and home repair. Therefore, every effort must be made to attract and retain maintenance staff for golf courses, which should include:
- Rigorous on-boarding, training and up-skilling
- Flexible work schedules
- Open communication channels between maintenance workers and all management
- A commitment to providing a good work-life balance
- Opportunities for personal development based on employee needs and preferences
4. Have the right maintenance infrastructure
It goes without saying (but we’ll say it anyway) that the maintenance team needs the equipment to do their job, which in turn needs to be properly maintained at all times. However, there are other tools that can enhance the maintenance function beyond the equipment needed to maintain natural features and the built environment.
‘Equipment’ should also include the required software solutions that enable sound maintenance planning. A computerised maintenance management system (CMMS) facilitates the sound and logical planning and streamlining of all maintenance tasks and processes. A CMMS can easily schedule proactive maintenance work. It accomplishes this by taking into account all aspects of the golf course, including – critically – all significant or ageing infrastructure. It can collate work requests and generate work orders, organise maintenance worker schedules, monitor and forecast inventory levels, track maintenance work in progress, and a host of other tasks that comprise maintenance.
5. Be prepared for any eventuality
Golf courses can be hit by a multitude of unforeseen events besides bad or extreme weather events. The COVID-19 pandemic proved how maintenance can be negatively impacted by unforeseen, major events that are even global in scale. Even the best-run golf courses in the UK were left scrambling with a host of practical issues and unforeseen challenges in preparation for the ending of the ‘stay at home’ rule on March 29th, 2021.
The golden rule now for golf courses: be prepared for the unforeseen, highly disruptive events, be they pandemics or other ‘black swan’ events.
Golf has seen a resurgence in popularity and memberships due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That is the upside. The downside is that maintenance costs and challenges, including a critical labour shortage, continue to be highly significant risk factors for most golf courses. Risk-appropriate and smart maintenance management are more needed than ever.
After earning a Bachelor’s degree in Communications, Erin built the custom social media analysis division for the world’s largest PR measurement firm working directly with clients like Boeing, Johnson & Johnson, and GLOCK. From there, Erin landed in computer vision startups working on products like facial recognition for loss prevention and breath detection for medically-fragile newborns. As VP of Marketing for Limble CMMS, Erin and her team get to share with maintenance teams around the world the good news that there is an easier way to manage–and get credit for–their amazing work.