Golf has been a major pastime in the U.S. for decades. As a $70 billion industry with roughly 24 million Americans playing each year, the sport is an undeniably popular leisure activity, and is played worldwide.
Since the start of the global COVID pandemic in March, 2020, the golfing industry has enjoyed increased demand in response to lockdown orders and restrictions. In fact, compared to the same period in 2019, roughly 75 million additional rounds were played, as golf is one rare activity that enables social distancing and outdoor social interaction at the same time. This is why, as a golf course owner or manager, it’s more crucial than ever that your course is well-maintained to ensure guest satisfaction.
In this blog, we’ll outline everything you need to know about optimizing course maintenance techniques and strategies to keep players satisfied, and coming back to your course in the future.
Golf course maintenance is best defined as taking action to properly maintain and manage a golf course so that all resources work as expected for public use. It may include repairs, mowing, cart availability, aeration, pest management and extermination, to name a few.
Regular maintenance is conducted by a full-time, onsite maintenance crew. During the golfing season, seasonal or part-time workers are usually added to the maintenance crew to help maintain the course. Because golf course grounds are so extensive and require constant upkeep and attention, it makes the most sense to keep a steady maintenance team on hand to fix and oversee any sudden issues that pop up on your course. Daily maintenance is a requirement for most courses, especially when it comes to morning duties (prior to opening a course for the day). Such tasks typically involve cleaning, landscaping, and manicuring the grounds in preparation for the day and for guests; this is one of the biggest reasons why a part-time maintenance staff may make the most sense for your course.
Of course, before you decide on a maintenance plan for your golf course, it will be useful to understand the costs of the most common and essential maintenance actions.
Among many other attributes of golf course maintenance, caring for the greens will be a top priority. Due to labor costs and equipment, they are also the most thing expensive part of maintenance. Mowing, rolling, and even hand-watering turf are all necessary to ensure your grounds remain appealing and suitable for players. Think about it: if the most popular courses see about 60,000 rounds played annually, there can’t be anything more pressing than proper landscaping and groundskeeping for a well-manicured golf course.
Unfortunately, costs for groundskeeping add up. To secure the kind of maintenance we’re talking about, you can expect to pay upwards of $500,000 per year. Of course, the location of your golf course will have a lot to do with maintenance costs and upkeep (depending upon scenery and exclusivity), with Hawaii being the most expensive state in which to maintain a course.
To further break it down: labor cost, equipment cost, and at least an average-sized maintenance staff should all be factored into your budget—you can’t get by without these things. Common golf course maintenance positions typically include a golf superintendent, several assistants, a groundskeeper, an equipment technician, irrigation technician, and spray technician. A decent-sized staff will help you prevent issues that may cause downtime, as well as maintain your course and recover more quickly from any problems that arise.
Some of the most essential (and costly) items that you’ll need to factor into your budget include: mowing equipment, fuel, fertilizers, fungicides, and sand. You can reference the chart below for a more comprehensive look at your potential budget:
*Provided by golfcourseindustry.com
If you’re just starting out in the golfing industry and are hiring a crew from scratch, it’s important that you understand the roles of essential personnel. The average size of the maintenance team at a golf course is around 28 people (9 full-time, 16 part-time, 3 other). Your maintenance team who will oversee golf course maintenance and upkeep will likely include:
- Golf Superintendent—perhaps your most invaluable employee, a golf superintendent will manage the labor, time, and financial resources needed to care for the grounds of your course. Also referred to as greenskeepers or turf managers, golf superintendents will also oversee the rest of your staff, enforce course or club rules, and ensure that your business is compliant with local, state, and federal regulations. The average golf superintendent makes roughly $50,006 annually, depending upon experience.
- Assistant Golf Course Superintendent—an assistant golf course superintendent will report to your Super, and assists in the overall maintenance of your grounds. Common duties include turf management, irrigation, and fertilizer and pesticide application to ensure optimal playing conditions for guests, and may step into the Super’s role in their absence. A typical salary for an assistant superintendent is $38,366 annually.
- Golf Greenskeeper—the golf greenskeeper is essentially the “gardener” of your course. Your superintendent or assistant super may oversee landscaping and turf improvements, but it’s the greenskeeper’s job to deliver. Common responsibilities include laying sod, planting trees, seeding turf, maintaining bunkers and sand traps, and other similar activities. A golf greenskeeper’s typical salary is around $25,875 annually.
- Equipment Technician—the primary role of an equipment technician is assisting in maintenance and repair operations. He or she may be responsible for adhering to a preventive maintenance schedule, ensuring that your facility is compliant with OSHA guidelines, keeping updated and detailed records of repairs and maintenance, and more. The average salary for an golf equipment technician is $41,180 annually, but may be higher or lower depending upon experience and education.
- Spray Technician—spray technicians are exactly what they sound like: personnel who are responsible for applying herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers to your grounds to maintain an attractive golf course. They typically report to the superintendent for their spray schedule, and must have knowledge of proper chemical mixing and storage to keep your facility compliant with county, state, and federal laws. A spray technician’s salary is approximately $41,116 per year.
- Irrigation Technician—the counterpart of the spray technician, an irrigation technician is typically charged with operating and maintaining all irrigation equipment for your course, including sprinklers, controllers, piping, and central control. Irrigation technicians might also oversee maintenance and repairs for pumping stations and booster pumps, as well as maintain pond aeration systems. An average salary for this position is about $33,154, depending upon experience and location.
- General Maintenance Technicians—the title “general maintenance technician” is a catch-all for general maintenance workers on a golf course. A few common responsibilities for golf course maintenance staff include troubleshooting and repairs around the facility, answering and responding to maintenance calls for assistance, completing any maintenance and repair tasks assigned by the superintendent, and monitoring the use and inventory of spare parts, equipment, and all maintenance supplies. A typical salary for a golf course maintenance technician is approximately $24,000 annually, depending upon experience and location.
A lot goes into running and maintaining a successful golf course. A few of the most common—potentially daily—tasks for course upkeep include:
- Mowing putting greens—in warmer months especially, and depending on grass type, putting greens are mowed nearly every day. Using a triplex rather than a standard mower can help save time while completing this extensive task.
- Rolling putting greens—greens should be rolled frequently to improve smoothness; in fact, you may want to consider rolling in lieu of mowing. This can help reduce turf stress and save time while still providing high-quality putting experience.
- Raking bunkers—bunkers should be raked at least a few times per week, though evaluated on a daily basis to ensure optimal conditions. The good news is that this time-consuming task can be completed more efficiently with a mechanical bunker rake.
- Moving tee markers—tee markers should be assessed regularly to determine whether they should be moved. If there is severe wear, some tees may require divot repair.
- Mowing tees, approaches, and fairways—mowing is the name of the game when it comes to golf course maintenance! Like mowing putting greens, it’s equally important that tees, approaches, and fairways are all trimmed regularly to keep your course presentable and well-manicured.
- Fertilizing rough grass areas—Rough grass areas have minimal mowing, but they do require their share of fertilization and watering.
- Maintaining trees in high traffic areas—Most tree work occurs in the winter months, but during the other months, check for weak and hanging limbs on trees that are in high-traffic areas such as walk-paths and clubhouses.
- Emptying trash cans—all golf course trash cans should be emptied and cleaned on a regular basis. This will reduce the likelihood of littering or the overflowing of bins, both of which will diminish your course’s natural beauty.
Most regular golfers look forward not only to playing, but to the tranquility of golf course scenery, as well as the benefits of belonging to a club (if you course offers club membership). To provide exclusive benefits for your members, however, you’ll need to perform routine maintenance and inspections. Doing so will increase your odds of running a successful course with satisfied golfers.
A few benefits of regular golf course maintenance include:
- Happy members and routine customers—there’s no getting around the fact that a beautiful, well-kept property works wonders for establishing a satisfied clientele who will keep returning to your course. No matter where you’re located, clients will always have other options for golfing, so keeping up with maintenance will put you in the best possible position for attracting routine customers.
- Positive ROI—by conducting routine maintenance, the results of a highly-functional facility will likely increase your total returns, since they will make up for any associated costs of repairs, inspections, or maintenance equipment. The resulting positive ROI will be an indication of the efficiency and advantages of your maintenance investments.
- Competitive with other courses—in order to get (or retain) any business, your golf course will have to be on par—no pun intended—with others in the area. Assume that your competition invests in regular maintenance, and take the time to ensure a great experience for your own customers.
- Water conservation—a well-run maintenance team can reduce water usage (and costs) around your facility. You can also take water conservation measures by conducting irrigation audits, measuring soil moisture, and exploring alternative water sources.
It’s probably clear by now that you shouldn’t skimp on proper maintenance if you want to establish a successful golf course. That said, you should absolutely consider ways to reduce your overall maintenance costs. Here are a few simple ways to ensure a great golfing experience for your guests at a lower cost to you:
While it’s not advisable to skimp on essential staff for your golf course, it is important to hire an experienced personnel who can run your facility as effectively and efficiently as possible. Their expertise will significantly reduce the likelihood of costly errors stemming from inexperience. It’s especially advisable that you hire a seasoned superintendent and assistant superintendent to ensure your course operations run smoothly.
Some facilities may choose to abandon regular preventive pest or disease-control programs for plants. While this could result in substantial cost savings in the short-term, weeds and other unsightly growths may become that much more unmanageable in the long run, resulting in expensive elimination measures. Keeping up with a regular treatment program will ensure that your course remains appealing, with well-maintained landscaping.
After mowing, grass clippings are often collected and removed from a course, though this removal process is fairly expensive. Instead, consider scattering clippings over your fairway, which can act as a natural fertilizer as it biodegrades. You’ll save dollars on clipping removal and fertilizer—plus, you’ll have a beautiful fairway to show for it!
Rather than mowing grass constantly, consider increasing the frequency of rolling your course. Putting greens that are rolled may improve player experience, with fewer inputs. Ultimately, any time a course is freshly rolled, it will increase surface smoothness and increase green speed—both of which your players will appreciate.
As serene as trees are, they may also increase maintenance costs. The more trees you have on or around your course, the more you’ll need to invest in trimming, pruning, and leaf removal with the changing seasons. Other associated costs include removing debris, controlling pests, and trimming turf around trunks. Keep trees on your golf course to a minimum, and consider removal for trees in undesirable locations.
Accessories such as ball washers, tee caddies, and more all add to your expenses. Purchasing, installing, and upkeep of these items result in extra expense and labor. Consider going without these accessories, if possible, for a more streamlined and affordable maintenance program. Odds are, your customers won’t miss them too much if your course provides a high-quality playing experience.
There are lots of high-valued equipment at a golf course that needs to be regularly inspected and maintained. Equipment includes mowers, rollers, aerators, utility vehicles, and golf carts. Having a preventive maintenance plan in place for all your high-valued equipment will not only reduce the likelihood of an equipment breaking down, but will also increase the equipment lifespan. This will allow you to properly budget and plan for equipment replacement only when it is necessary.