Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Predicting the Future on the Golf Course During an Epidemic

While browsing social media it is apparent that there are many different approaches being taken to manage courses during the #Covid-19 outbreak. I have also received many questions from other greenkeepers about why I have cut back so hard so quickly. This post isn't designed to suggest that one approach is better than another but is more of a place to discuss the various options and how they might play out in these uncertain times.

Right now there is a LOT of uncertainty. Will we be allowed to maintain our golf courses? Will we be allowed to open up? When can we open back up if we are closed? Will anyone have money to golf if we are open?


No one has the answers to any of these questions because at this time, we simply do not know. In the coming year, a lot of courses are going to go out of business and it is my hope that the number of courses that close is a low as possible.

In SAR, part of what I do is predict the future. It's pretty easy to do actually. You plan for the worst case (assuming your experience and situational awareness allows you to understand what the worst case is) and hope for the best. It's why we often call for a helicopter early (if appropriate) rather than waiting until later when it's probably too late. Get the resources (or lack of resources in golf's case) rolling early just in case. You can always call the helicopter off if things change and it's not needed. I can't count the number of times we have saved time, resources and probably lives but using a helicopter with only a few minutes of daylight to spare (we can only fly in the day). A delay of even a few minutes in these instances would mean that someone might die.

The same is true for managing a golf course. The quicker you adjust for the worst case scenario, the less likely it will be that your course succumbs to the challenging economic times. We can always ramp back up very quickly if the situation changes where we are located.

My approach as mentioned earlier has been to cut back HARD and prepare for the long haul while hoping and being ready to act quickly if we are able to open up sooner. This allows me to budget and ensure that our club stays in business if the worst case situation happens (assuming the worst it can get is golf gets closed for a season, fingers crossed). If we slowly reduced maintenance at this time but eventually had to stay closed for the rest of the year we would have spent valuable resources now that we will need later on this year assuming no more income. I am also lucky that the grass growth here doesn't really start for another month so I need to preserve any spending until it is absolutely needed. Nice to have is not an option right now. In times of high uncertainty we need to drop down to NEED to have only. You'll be surprised how little you actually need to maintain a golf course.....mostly just mowing and hopefully low mowing because you didn't over fertilize this spring.

I have already been though similar challenging times after the 2008 financial collapse had my previous course ran out of money halfway through the season. I had to adapt quickly or go out of business. The things that I learned ( and shared on this blog) during that time allowed my course to survive the difficult times and thrive when things improved.

If you rely on green fees to stay open and do stay open, you might risk having higher expenses and lower income due to the restrictions placed on most facilities that are allowed to stay open. This might be tolerable in the short term but if this drags on you will quickly exhaust your resources when you might need them most this summer!

Lots of people are arguing about what essential maintenance consists of. Here are two questions that I think will help you make that decision for yourself. While some might be mandated by their governments others will be mandated simply by economics.

How long will it be until you go out of business if the situation doesn't change or gets worse? 

You absolutely need to know this!

How can you prolong that from happening with decisions you make TODAY?

There are many situations that golf courses will fall into during the next year from almost no impact to being forced to close for the rest of the year( or time). It's not useful to discuss all the various scenarios that might play out other than the worst case and the best case and either way, you need to know the answers to the questions above.

Right now the optimist in me puts the worst case scenario at being closed with no income for the rest of this year. This is part of the reason we closed down. To weather the storm  and reduce the uncertainty and be able to act quickly and hopefully be around to golf another day.

So while many have criticized me for acting too strongly too quickly and staying locked down tight I hope you understand the thinking behind this and I hope that maybe it can help others avoid bad things for their golf courses. The hope is that I'm totally wrong and in a few weeks when we are presented with less uncertainty we can slowly start ramping back up to get golfers out enjoying the course again.

Take care.

Mowing my grass off



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