My View

Data recording for golf course management

Daryl Sellar of the AGCSA shares his views on measuring to ensure results on the golf course.

By Daryl Sellar

To manage you have to measure  
2nd January 2013
Assessing progress,Managing for healthy grass,Meeting energy needs

Regardless of what sector of the turf industry I find myself working in, the issue of cost versus quality underpins many problems, plans and decisions.

Increasingly I hear the need to “manage” costs, while the expectations on playing surface quality continues to increase, either from end users or the needs of health and safety legislation.

The issue of cost versus quality underpins many problems, plans and decisions.

Within the golf industry, the issue of quality is usually a personal interpretation, and may be influenced by a number of factors. Golf club history is littered with tales of mistakes being repeated in relation to the course, with decisions based on opinion rather than facts. I see an increasing need to take some of the subjectivity out of the assessment of golf course needs, and to take heed of the saying "to manage you have to measure".

As we become increasingly accountable for our clubs' greatest asset, there is a need for a business approach to course management, and to increase the objective assessment of some fundamental course quality objectives (CQOs). The Course Superintendent/Manager not only has an integral role to play in establishing these CQOs, but should in fact drive them as their training and knowledge sees them best placed to do so.

Examples of CQO data that I have been collecting and find beneficial to decision making include;

  • Turf quality, density and colour (serve as visual indicators of the success of programs in place)
  • Thatch levels (easily assessed and significant in sustaining turf health and playing surface quality)
  • Root depth and health (indicators of success of soil management programs)
  • Water consumption/area/year (can be benchmarked against industry best practice and highlight need for changes to scheduling or infrastructure)
  • The escalating cost of water requires diligent management of water
  • Soil moisture, temperature, salinity (live monitoring of the impact of irrigation and cultural practices, as well as assist timing of applications)
  • Playing surface areas (ensures accurate planning of purchases and time management)
  • Bunker areas (highlights the proportion of time consumed for the area occupied)
  • Time management by task (informed decisions can be made regarding priority activities on the course)
  • Maintenance costs by item (accurate tracking of expenditure trends, including compliance costs)
  • Maintenance costs by area (identification of expensive areas of course management)
  • Weed populations by percentage (provides trend lines to be produced against realistic CQO targets based on fact rather than memory).
Monitoring Poa annua ingress

These can often be done simply by trained staff, with the frequency varying between monthly to quarterly. However, there is an increasing amount of technology available to make this process easier, and provide more precise information.

I also record green speed weekly (generally), but this information is not made available to members or committee. This data has been collected to determine the speed range that is most favourable to the majority of our members and guests, while being sustainable in terms of turf quality and available resources, and is used for our own benefit to modify programs in an effort to maintain speeds within this range.

The collection of data can be used as "triggers" for important decisions. The right information can help to illustrate escalating problems, or even better, predict them before they occur.

Personal examples of this have been in relation to bunkering and thatch. Having undertaken some significant investment in the club and course in recent years, Glenelg Golf Club has committed to a strong debt reduction scheme. This has resulted in a reduction in course staff numbers, which in turn required a review of bunkering throughout our course due to its demand on human resources (approximately 25% of available hours to maintain less than 2% of the property).

Modified, maintenance-friendly bunkering
As we had good records of the time required to manage our bunkers, I could calculate we needed to lose 800-900m2 of bunker area to offset the reduction in staff levels, and in consultation with Crafter and Mogford (Course Architects), we were able to achieve this without compromising their design integrity while improving maintenance efficiency. It became a simple business decision, based on facts.  

Thatch measurements are some of the easiest to record and most relevant to course management in general. Excessive thatch levels can seriously compromise turf health, irrigation efficiency and playing surface quality. The routine measurement of thatch can be a very powerful communication tool, as it can visually illustrate the need for renovation programs to be undertaken, perhaps requiring investment in suitable equipment or contractors to minimise greater problems in the future.
Course Superintendents/Managers need to be encouraged to record data. There is often apprehension and pressure (perceived or real) to get on with more "important" issues such as mowing rough, raking bunkers etc.

If courses are going to be managed effectively into the future, a detailed understanding of relevant information is required to allow better decisions to be made. The collection of data allows Superintendents to establish realistic CQOs (targets), based on their available resources and golfer expectations, and makes course management more sustainable in the long term. Increasingly, we have to justify our actions or plans, whether it is to staff, members, the community or regulatory bodies, and the right data is critical to the viability of our clubs and the game of golf.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not, necessarily, those of The R&A.