Spring has a way of soothing a savage beast tormented by a long winter and bad economic news, which is why we asked the current question on the GNN Poll on our home page.
“I think the mood is always fairly positive this time of year,” said Ken Cousineau, executive director of the Canadian Golf Superintendents Association. “I think people are excited about the season starting up. They want to assume the best at this point.”
Cousineau tends to talk to or hear a lot from his members at places such as the recent Canadian International Turfgrass Conference and Trade Show in Halifax and he knows that, as a general rule, superintendents have had their current budgets affected by the slow economy.
“Certainly, people indicated that they had been asked to either redo their budgets or they were being told that their budgets would be altered by a percentage of some kind,” said Cousineau.
How far that goes depends on how good April and May is to golf in Canada.
“I think April and May, everybody sees those two months as being pretty critical to the season and, if the weather cooperates, then that could set a very positive tone or not so positive tone for the entire year,” said Cousineau.
“I think from a superintendents’ standpoint, I’d be surprised if they haven’t all been asked to look for reductions and I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re having discussions at the club level about what they can do less of without it having a significant impact on the golf course or the quality of playing conditions.”
“This will be a dynamic situation this year,” he added. “If April and May aren’t reasonably good, I would think that there will be another request to the superintendents saying, `Okay, we’re now at a level that’s different from where we thought we thought we’d be in January, so we need to look for more.’”
So, the reduced budgets that the green crews are already working with could face even more cutting if a bad spring hits and the general consensus is that those reductions will be made to the staff, which accounts for up to 60 per cent of an overall budget, according to Cousineau.
“We haven’t heard too much on the equipment side yet in terms of whether people are being limited there,” he said.
“In one-on-one conversations, the superintendents are indicating that they are reducing their staff,” he added. “The course that maybe had 20 staff when they were fully staffed in the summer is maybe going to try and get by with 15 or 16. That’s kind of the anecdotal thing that we’re hearing.”
Golf courses may elect to postpone hiring until later into the season or decide to hire fewer students part-time in the summer. Cousineau always stresses that how golf facilities deal with budgets varies on a course by course basis.
What happens with the weather in the short term may have a long term effect on superintendents’ budgets. Making do with less could set a precedent for when the recession ends.
“It’s a possibility. If you’re running a business, you can’t help but think along those lines,” said Cousineau. “If we were able to provide a product that was competitive within the marketplace and we were able to do that on a budget that was 10 or 15 or 25 per cent less, why can’t we do that on an ongoing basis?”
Whether the marketplace in which a golf course operates will accept slower greens or longer fairways remains to be seen, according to Cousineau.
“I think a lot of it is driven by the competition within your market area,” he said. “Are the conditions at those courses substantially the same or are they somewhat different than the conditions you’re offering? Therefore, are you providing a competitive product?”