A growing number of events are focusing the attention of decision makers on the principles of sustainability; or as to how golf facilities can engage in a more positive manner with economic, environmental and social pressures. Three recent events attended by The R&A have proven testament to this growth in interest in a more integrated management approach:
These events brought large delegations of club and course managers together to assess and evaluate the manner in which golf can adapt to meet changing pressures.
Always high on the discussion agenda was the issue of the current global economic downturn and the impact this is having on golf facilities world-wide. Many clubs are experiencing financial difficulty, with some even being forced to close as a result. Meanwhile, those which manage to stay afloat are being forced to undertake a dramatic analysis of their business models.
For many, cutting budgets is becoming an utmost necessity, yet the fact remains that providing golfers with an enjoyable and value for money product is an essential key to survival.
Delegates at the ILI event were given a first-hand insight into the solutions that Portmarnock Golf Club, the host venue for the forum, had used to tackle the problems they themselves were facing. After identifying that the integrity of the playing surfaces needed to be addressed, the Club made the decision to invest in cultivating the right grasses, combined with an improved drainage system. A transition to fine fescue dominated surfaces has been achieved over the last decade and the return on their investment has been considerable, in the form of reduced management costs and improved links playing surfaces that are available for golfers all year round. A common theme coming out of the event was that measuring business performance, as a central component of a club policy, was a critical factor for gauging on-going effectiveness of strategies. More information and guidance on measuring performance is available from The R&A evidence fields.
The theme of this year’s GCMA Conference was ‘Changing Times’; a pertinent title in light of the changing nature of the pressures facing club managers throughout the UK. The concept of change was reflected throughout the speaker-led sessions, with particular emphasis on environmental compliance, law, marketing, membership and resourcing. The environmental sessions, which featured as a central component of the itinerary, addressed a number of important issues for the club manager, including:
- making the correct grass selection decision and the impacts this will have on future management costs and the quality of surfaces that can be offered to customers
- how simplifying and streamlining maintenance programmes enables greater cost efficiency and improved economic performance
- how taking a proactive stance on issues such as water management, pesticide use, biodiversity, energy efficiency and waste management enhances the reputation of a facility, offering considerable marketing benefits and opportunities.
The CMAE event in Portugal attracted delegates from all over Europe but it was the serious downturn of golf tourism on the Algarve that repeatedly arose as a key issue of concern. Despite these difficult times, there were still positive examples to be seen from clubs which had proactively engaged with the new challenges they are facing. Jorge Papa, the CMAE Board Member from Portugal, described how, at the resort he works for, engaging with the ISO 14001 Environmental Management standard helped identify areas of best practice by which efficiency savings could be realised. This has since resulted in a significant reduction in their annual water use, achieved through allowing their Bermudagrass fairways to go dry and firm at the peak of summer when golfers tend to avoid the high temperatures – nearing an average of 30 degrees Centigrade through July and August. Playability was successfully retained, but thanks to the reduced growth rate associated with less water availability, the mowing, fertiliser and pesticide requirements were all significantly reduced. This translated into direct savings in operational costs. Jorge also reported a simultaneous 15% increase in revenue which could be attributed to the improved health of the turf over the remainder of the year, and the associated increase in the availability of the course for play. These benefits all stemmed from making the correct irrigation decisions.
These three recent events all signal a trend of increasing attention being paid to economic, environmental and social issues pertaining to the effective management of golf courses. Balancing these variables, while still delivering attractive and affordable playing surfaces for golfers, is fast becoming one of the priority issues for decision makers around the globe.