2022 – The Year of Awareness

We’ve just started the new year and we’re already faced with challenges that will undoubtedly require way more awareness than ever before.  There are a few specific areas that are going to need some extra attention this season in order to have a successful 2022.  Let’s look at a couple of them.

Operational Budgets

Since the pandemic began, we all have seen an unprecedented boom to the number of rounds being played across the entire industry and throughout the country.  For the most part, we, as an industry, have been fairly successful in sustaining this increase.  Yet for many facilities, there is a distinct hesitation in operational budgeting to reflect the growth.  It’s been reported that many golf management companies are using 2019 results as the baseline numbers for 2022.  This approach of using 2019 business results seem to be indicating an expectation that the current market will significantly soften this year.  If the trending uptick in play continues, then the facility will look like a rock star…on paper at least.  While this type of performance looks great on a P&L statement, it's going to create a real issue from the maintenance perspective. 

Even if a facility uses the same revenue to expense percentages from 2019, it will eventually lead to a shortfall in the maintenance operation budget.  Here’s why…everything has gone up in price…I mean literally everything.  Between all of the soft goods, such as fertilizer and pesticides, to the hard goods, like equipment parts, the approved maintenance budget should reflect the current and anticipated costs for 2022.  I would also argue that no maintenance crew workers in 2022 are working for 2019 wages. 

On a positive note, most courses and facilities have indicated that they are increasing greens fees and membership costs in 2022.  While this will certainly be helpful (and appropriate), it’s doubtful that this increase will be sufficient to keep up with the rising cost of goods necessary to keep the course in expected condition for the full season. 

While I have no “magic button” to address this situation, sometimes simply being aware of potential future issues will ultimately help you be prepared to successfully navigate them and come out the other side in much better shape.

The New Golfers

I’m betting that all of us have found new golfers playing our courses that we’ve never seen before.  With a push to get the younger generations to take up the sport, the NGF has reported that the majority of our realized increased rounds have come from these key demographics.  That’s a great sign for the future IF we can keep them coming back.  That’s the real challenge that we face.  One essential element of doing that is being able to address their emotional concerns surrounding the game: specifically, the environmental sustainability aspect.  This phenomenon goes well beyond our industry.  Younger generations have an honest, emotional connection to becoming as environmentally friendly as possible.  It’s been proven time and time again that they will not participate or support businesses who do not actively support this cause. 

You’ve probably seen some small changes; things like healthier food options at the course.  The days of a greasy hot dog simply aren’t cutting it anymore.  These types of changes are fairly easy to implement.  Unfortunately, the golf course itself presents a much more daunting challenge. 

Historically, we all know that the golf industry has been an easy target for environmental groups to attack.  Putting greens are, without a doubt, the most aggressively maintained pieces of real estate on the planet; from the amount of fertilizer used to all the various pesticides applied annually.  Ultimately the entire golf course comes under scrutiny, which quite honestly isn’t anything new to us.

What might be new to us is how we should be communicating with this new group of golfers.  To be clear, I’m not advocating a wholesale switch in agronomic practices geared towards a golfer’s view of sustainability.  Rather I’d suggest that developing some basic talking points on the environmental benefits for the products and practices that you’re already doing.  Having this type of information ready to go will go a long way with golfers questioning how you’re maintaining the course.  I would further suggest that all of these talking points come back around to ultimately providing high quality playing surfaces for them.  At the end of the day, golfers who want an environmentally responsible course to play, also want quality playing conditions and overall experience.

To illustrate this, I’ll leave you with a bit from one of my favorite comedians, Lewis Black.

“And every golfer in this room knows that the following is true, that they could hit a ball, and it could end up behind the oldest and most beautiful tree in North America, and their first thought would be "if I had a chainsaw, that prick would be down."