Keeping a handle on agronomic budgets

Veteran superintendents share tips that can help ease budget woes and keep golf courses in tip-top shape.


Dodge Riverside Golf Club
Dodge Riverside Golf Club in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Photo courtesy of Dodge Riverside Golf Club.

Editor’s note: The following article was supplied by Landscapes Unlimited. All product claims, research cited and other information is directly from the company.

The ways to stretch turf management dollars without compromising quality are countless. There is a science and an art to setting a realistic annual agronomic budget without shooting too high or low.

Joe Neumann, a 10-year GCSAA member and golf course superintendent at Dodge Riverside Golf Club in Council Bluffs, Iowa — operated by Landscapes Golf Management — has plenty of experience-based insights to share on this topic:

  • Add “no mow” areas for a naturalization feel and save on fuel and mower wear and tear.
  • Take advantage of early order programs and associated discounts.
  • Consider creating a sod nursery.
  • Strip broken irrigation heads for parts for heads which are still in working order.
  • Conduct as much tree work in house as possible with safety considerations at a premium
  • Trade off-peak golf for third-party services.
  • Fix mowers at the shop with parts taken from equipment fleet vs. outsourcing.
  • Seek end-of-year and phasing-out deals on chemicals and supplies.
  • Regularly focus on problem areas along the course so they don’t get too bad and costly.
  • Use recycled scrap metal money for rewards to staff for exceeding goals.
  • Send staff home at 11 a.m. on Fridays, so they don’t interfere with the slew of golfers.
  • Mulch branches from storms for use around cart path edges to reduce damage from carts.

Jeremy Ranch Golf & Country Club
Jeremy Ranch Golf & Country Club in Park City, Utah. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Ranch Golf & Country Club.

Ben Timmons, a 21-year GCSAA member and golf course superintendent at Jeremy Ranch Golf & Country Club in Park City, Utah, another Landscapes Golf Management property, shared his advice on an administrative approach to safeguarding the money side of agronomy:

  • Put chemical and fertilizer plans in writing and tick off each application (planned and actual) for the year with a corresponding dollar figure. Real-time record keeping is a treasured discipline.
  • Plan for the unexpected. For example, if you didn’t quite plan enough chemicals to control dandelions, get “double herbicide budget” on the ledger for next spring. If you don’t mark it down, Vegas odds are you’ll forget it. While we are at it, a 5% to 10% contingency is helpful in the event of adversity.
  • Keep accurate inventory with current pricing. This saves time and frustration by not spending hours upon hours — rife with guesswork — to research per-unit costs.
  • Scrutinize budgets regularly and adjust as data dictates. At year end, use the 12-month accounting as a baseline for development of future budgets.

How much is enough?

So, how much is the proper, responsible budget for your unique golf course?

The first inclination is to mathematically engineer a spend formula based on yardage or surface area. Often a more prudent, optimization approach is obtaining and analyzing members’ and guests’ demographic profiles and opinions, through surveys and other resources, feeding into what constitutes acceptable and exceptional conditions. They’ll also rank areas along and peripheral to the golf course and property at large which are most important, and those which look and play the best and worst.

There will always be feedback you’ll want to hear and some which is hard to take. This isn’t about you and building a monument for yourself. So, put the ego aside, and listen to and constructively learn from those whose hard-earned money and satisfaction drive business profitability and, in turn, dictates your compensation.

Moreover, studying golfers’ play histories, handicaps, per-hole scores, pace of play, seasonality and other data allows you to focus on meaningful initiatives and not go overboard on items secondary to members and guests.

Folks, that’s how to keep agronomic budgets honest with low margins of error.

Todd Styles is a freelance writer based in Reston, Va.