An article written by Forrest Richardson and Bill Yates, adapted from Club Management Magazine ©2009 all rights reserved

Now is the time to pull your staff together, work as a team, and get “back to basics” to solve today’s problems. In a recent golf industry survey, 58.6% of golf course owners and operators, and 65.8% of golf management company executives, believe that rising operations costs will be a critical issue in the coming year. Some predictions suggest that larger operators may have the resources and expertise to offset the rising costs of doing business and still maintain quality while smaller operators may be the hardest hit. This does not have to be the case. Golf courses — large or small — that attack the issue with energy and insight will be the ones that survive and thrive. You and your staff can quickly learn how to reduce costs while increasing quality and revenue, with minimal investment and outside assistance.

Senior managers at private clubs, resorts, or public courses are universally driven to deliver two things: profitability and quality. Members, owners and paying guests expect it. When it comes to profit sheets and playing experiences, nobody’s willing to compromise. This tells you that when the day-to-day costs of operations increase, and your budget, your products and your services begin to suffer, there is only one response. Get busy, reduce costs, and improve quality.

Why is lowering cost and increasing quality “The Odd Couple?” Because the traditional reaction to rising costs is to cut costs, and when costs are cut there is a perception that quality will suffer. Likewise, you might assume that increasing quality will cost a bundle…with more staff, more expensive ingredients, more water and fertilizer, more everything. Here’s why neither of these assumptions is true.

Your annual infrastructure costs such as staffing, overhead items, services, and operating consumables are specifically budgeted and appear as individual line items. But the step-by-step processes and methods you employ in using those line items to produce products and deliver services (i.e. how work is actually accomplished) are not specifically budgeted. And yet it is precisely those processes and methods that actually determine the size of each line item budget. If you change the process, the method or the way resources are deployed and utilized, your budget will have to change. With this in mind, if we pay attention to the way every single resource is deployed, and look at how each one can be done better, we can decrease the cost of doing business. At the same time we can increase the quality of our products and services. If you think nothing at your club can be done better, just ask your staff. The people inside the clubhouse and those out on the course are a goldmine of information about your day-to-day operations. Give them the tools and the voice to improve and streamline the service delivery processes and watch them unlock thousands of dollars in annual savings. You already know how to give them the voice. Our job is to show you how to give them the tools.

“But our quality is fine!”

Your services, the golf course itself, and every amenity at your club may be great. But could it be better? Are you sure that quality is consistent? The club that has no room for improvement is a rare bird, and rarer still is the club whose quality is consistent…every hour, every day, and in every area. It is essential to appreciate that it is consistency that drives customer loyalty, and it is customer loyalty that drives revenue. The power of consistency is key to seizing and holding on to a market. And in tough times it is market share that may well separate success from failure.

Your customers are pretty much like you and us. We will return over and over to a restaurant that predictably delivers the taste, the ambiance and the service we enjoy. Generally, we buy from companies that provide consistency in the products we like. The sad story of many U.S. automakers who lost out in the 1980s to Japanese manufacturers should be an eye-opener to anyone in the business of products and services. Why did they lose out? Because of lack of consistent quality.

One way to check the consistency of your quality is to experience your operations as your clients do. As a manager, you may be too close or too far from the day-to-day delivery challenges, customer interactions, and customer feedback in each of your departments. Recognizing inconsistent quality is not easy in this case. In the 1980s people had to ask if a car was built on a Friday or a Monday in order to avoid buying a car that might turn out to be a lemon. This bit of trivia sounds funny until you realize that the same thing could be happening at your club. How many of your customers are avoiding starting times later than 10:30 to avoid a slow round? And remember, the five-hour rounds will cost some customers the same as the four-hour rounds that other customers are enjoying. You are forcing all of your customers to become selective buyers of good quality or lesser quality rounds. In nearly all golf clubs we find that the inconsistent quality of the playing experience – pace of play being just one aspect – places you in danger of losing repeat play, revenue and reputation.

Get back to fundamentals

By adopting a back-to-basics philosophy of continuous improvement and quality consistency, and by sharing it with your staff, you empower the people who know your operations most intimately. The engagement and motivation you foster causes employees to think and act in terms of delivering top-of-the-line services and, ultimately, bottom-line results.

To address today’s challenges, here are some steps you will want to take: Adopt a “take action” mentality and share your philosophy with your staff. Build a sound management and staff partnership that attacks today’s challenges together.

Using small cross-functional teams, focus your staff on analyzing each of your service delivery processes and then begin to eliminate waste. Your teams will discover new ways to save time and money and streamline the process of delivering your services.

While engaging in cost reduction activities, begin to define specific ways to use the improvements to better market your facility to expand your market share and build customer loyalty.

Train your clubhouse, golf and course maintenance staff to frame all of their thinking and actions in “continuous improvement” and “quality consistency” terms. Build a culture of cross-thinking where every department considers every other department whenever making a major decision, purchase or policy.

Give your staff the tools, the language and the opportunity to effectively package their improvement ideas in business-focused terms, and invite them to formally present those ideas to you. The tools needed to formalize your quality thinking are easy to learn and implement, and the results are ongoing.

Share with your staff, your members and your customers the many benefits your actions will bring directly to each of them, such as:

  • Reducing operating costs – saving of thousands of dollars annually by increasing the utilization of your staff, facilities, information systems and equipment
  • Creating smoother, streamlined, more hospitable service delivery processes that make using your facility more user-friendly and more comfortable for your clientele and your staff
  • Reducing training time for new or seasonal staff
  • Increasing quality and consistency of service delivery through improved information and service delivery practices
  • Increasing your member/customer’s perception of value for time and money spent
  • Building customer loyalty and more frequent use of your facilities
  • Generating more revenue, adding memberships, and improving retained earnings or profitability.

Once you and your team start working together, you will begin to unlock all the improvement ideas your team members have silently accumulated over their years of service. Your improvements in revenue, quality and consistency will be maximized with the help of a golf course architect and a management consultant/trainer, who can strengthen your internal team. These professionals can work with you and your staff to quickly identify and accumulate cost savings, provide technical insights and best practices, and guide future planning solutions for your course and your day-to-day operations.Every golf course can benefit from having such resources on call, even if only for a once-a-year checkup to discuss your course, its health, your operations, and your current challenges. This external assistance will ensure that you create internal quality improvement champions who will carry on your back-to-basics philosophy and make your cost reduction and quality improvement projects sustainable.