Archive for the ‘Course Management’ Category

This is the second post in a two-part post on greens fees from an interview with Brandon Evans, General Manager & PGA Certified Golf Professional at Village Greens of Woodridge (and self-imposed “Director of Fun and Entertainment”).

In this post, we talk about the breakdown of greens fees and cart fees.

CGN: What’s the first thing course management looks at when determining the cost?

BE: Like nearly any other business, what price do we charge to maximize both revenue and customer satisfaction/value?

Some courses try to earn revenues on a volume basis, while others may want to keep the amount of play a little lower but achieve a slightly higher revenue-per-round figure. Each course walks a fine line between price and perceived value. When the perceived value side of the equation tips in one way or the other, changes are made to the pricing. Perceived value could be determined by a number of factors… weather, time of year, time of week, time of day, pace of play, customer service, course conditions, cleanliness of bathrooms…etc.

CGN: Does popularity, difficulty, course type, grass type, location, average rounds per day (etc, etc, etc) have an effect?

BE: All of the things mentioned above. Difficulty of the course can be a double edged sword… some people want to say they played the PGA Tour course in their town, or the course with water on 15 holes, but after losing a dozen balls and shooting 15 strokes above their average, the novelty may wear off. Village Greens of Woodridge happens to be in a great location and we receive a ton of play because it’s so convenient to get to our facility… one of our biggest strengths.

CGN: What percentages of the costs go into course management, course maintenance, course employees, etc?

BE: It’s all over the board. I have seen budgets from dozens of courses in Chicago and very few are similar. However, labor will typically take up 30%-60% of a budget, maintenance excluding labor about 15%-40%, debt and capital expenditures from 0% – 15%.

CGN: How about cart fees… is there a science to pricing those?

BE: Yes. A fleet of golf cars can cost several hundred thousand dollars, amortized over the 5-10 year useful life of a car. Factor in gas or electric costs, maintenance and repair, and daily labor to clean and store the cars, and you arrive at a cost-per-car expense. Some of these expenses are obviously fixed expenses, while others are variable.

On the revenue side, a course considers the percentage of riding vs. walking rounds (or average cart rentals per day), competitors pricing, desired profit level, and a few other components to arrive at an appropriate price to charge.

While greens fees are all over the board, riding car fees are fairly homogenized in Chicago, usually around $10 for 9-hole and $16-$20 for 18-holes.

Since I play so many different courses in the Chicagoland area, the one thing that I’ve always been curious about is how courses set their greens fees. I’ve played many courses that have a wide range of pricing, and there’s one thing I’m sure of: the price of the greens fees for the course does not always match the quality, beauty, or challenge of the course.

So I reached out once again to Brandon Evans, General Manager & PGA Certified Golf Professional at Village Greens of Woodridge (and self-imposed “Director of Fun and Entertainment”). Brandon was nice enough to offer some insight into the art and science of pricing greens fees.

This is the first post in a two-part post how golf courses set the price of their greens fees. In this post, we talk about how greens fees are developed and what determines the value of a course.

CGN: Let’s just start with the general question at hand… What exactly goes into the cost of the greens fees?

BE: Each course has a different philosophy and method to arrive at a schedule of fees. Some courses have a pretty static set of fees, while others utilize more of a ‘dynamic pricing’ method on a week-to-week, or even day-to-day, basis.

When establishing fees, courses need to balance dozens of things like meeting operational, debt, and capital expenses, course design, playability, customer service, conditioning levels, amenities, prestige, demand for play, competition, profit motives, location, population/clientele demographics, consumer perception, and more.

Setting fees used to be 80% ‘art’ and 20% ‘science’. Today, with the data and tools available to us, it’s quickly becoming 100% science. In my opinion, the golf industry will likely follow the hotel and airline industry in switching over to daily and/or weekly dynamic pricing models. Even some Major League Baseball teams, like the White Sox, are utilizing dynamic pricing. Dynamic pricing is the science of factoring all of these internal and external factors into a pricing structure that satisfies both operational objectives and consumer demand.

Ultimately, we’re trying to find the right price for the right person at the right time on the right day in order to maximize play, revenues, and customer satisfaction.

CGN: So what kinds of things determine if it’s a $30 course, a $60 course, or a $100+ course?

BE: Initially, a number of factors like those listed above. Ultimately, the consumer decides the price/value of a course.

There are some great courses 80 miles away from civilization that can’t get people to make the drive for $35, and then there’s Pebble Beach who has a six month waiting list at $500 per round that people fly in from all over the world to play. As Pebble Beach is an extreme example, most people place an emphasis on design, conditioning, and amenities as a starting point for formulating a pricing opinion.

It’s also important to note that nearly all courses have a different pricing structure for Saturday mornings vs. Monday mornings… the course doesn’t change in two days, but demand for play does. As such, nearly every course already uses some form of dynamic pricing in order to entice golfers to play their course.

We’re starting to build models that will tell us, for instance, that if it’s 80 degrees and sunny on a Monday in June, we can likely meet demand while maximizing play and customer satisfaction by charging $40 from 8:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m., $45 from 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m., and $35 from 11:00 a.m. – Noon, etc. As such, a ‘$100 course’ may also be an ‘$80 course’ or a ‘$60 course’ depending on the time of day/week/year and the consumer demand during that period of time. Not every course operator/owner agrees with that philosophy, and there is much debate over the pros/cons within our industry right now on the topic. Some courses would prefer to remain a $50 course, for example, regardless of the day or time.

This is the forth post in a multi-post series on golf course maintenance from an interview with Brandon Evans, General Manager & PGA Certified Golf Professional at Village Greens of Woodridge (and self-imposed “Director of Fun and Entertainment”).

In this post, we talk about ball marks, divots, and other golf course maintence issues.

CGN: Are there any other things you’d like to say in regards to what players can do (beginners and non-beginners alike) to help keep the course in good shape? What are some things players do that you [as a course manager] really appreciate? I’d imagine replacing divots or filling them in with divot mix is a major one.

BE: Most courses are ‘judged’ by golfers on the condition of the greens more heavily than other areas. If left unrepaired, a ball mark could take 2-4 weeks to resolve the damage on it’s own. In my experience, 1 out of 5 golfers repairs their ball marks. Therefore, I ask each of our regulars to try to fix 4-5 ball marks on each green when they play… I tell them the ‘Putting Gods’ will be watching and be more kind to those who fix ball marks. If a golfer only did one thing, replacing ball marks would be on the top of the list. The course benefits, but the golfers benefit more.

There are differing opinions on replacing divots. When you take a divot, you haven’t killed the grass… the roots will regenerate the foliage. Replacing a divot is beneficial in leveling the surface and may prevent someone else from having to play from a hole, but a ‘dead’ divot will sometime impede the new growth from the roots (divots don’t regenerate from the ground down). That’s why some courses offer sand or divot mix… it levels the surface and allows the new shoots to come through.

Divot mix is tricky, and some courses have stopped using it. Some courses have bent grass tees, blue grass fairways, and blue/rye roughs. When divot mix is filled in a portable container, it may contain blue grass, but an unknowing golfer may take a divot on the bent grass tee, fill it with blue grass divot mix, and think they did good. Instead, they just introduced an undesirable grass into an area it doesn’t belong. If there is divot mix on a par 3 tee box, using it is greatly appreciated, as the course will have mixed the right blend.

The other often overlooked maintenance issue most amatuers aren’t aware of… in a greenside bunker, the highest part is often closest to the green. After hitting a shot, golfers often try to climb out of the bunker at the highest point, closest to the green, often damaging the edge of the bunker along the way. Entering and exiting a bunker at its lowest point is not only more beneficial to the course, but more comfortable for the golfer (even though it may require a bit more raking).

This is the third post in a multi-post series on golf course maintenance from an interview with Brandon Evans, General Manager & PGA Certified Golf Professional at Village Greens of Woodridge (and self-imposed “Director of Fun and Entertainment”).

In this post, we talk about cart rules and the factors that effect general cart traffic.

CGN: Speaking of motorized carts, let’s talk about that 90 degree rule. Courses try to enforce it, but more times than not, players don’t adhere to it. How exactly does that rule help you? How long do the side effects of players not adhering to the 90 degree rule effect the quality of the course? What other motorized cart rules can you try to enforce?

BE: Cart rules generally fall into the scatter (go anywhere), rough only, 90 rule, fairway only, cart path only, or no cart rules.

Scatter and no carts are obvious. Rough only may be applied when a course doesn’t have continuous cart paths, wants some cart revenue, but it’s pretty wet and they don’t want golfers to damage the more important fairway turf. They’re usually acknowledging that some damage will take place in the rough, but the cost/satisfaction/benefit ratio is positive and the rough can be fixed. Some courses have excellent fairway drainage and/or divert the stormwater into the rough, so they’ll mandate fairways only because the turf there is drier and less likely to become damaged. Cart paths only means you could damage numerous areas of the course and the course invested in all of those cart paths so the golfers are going to use them and not damage any of the turf. 90 degree rule usually means it’s wet in the fairways, but severe damage isn’t imminent and we’re trying to keep satisfactions levels somewhat high. However, wet turf is more susceptable to compaction, and compaction is bad for turf… so the less traffic we have in the fairways, the better. 90 degree rule is the hardest to police because we’re not necessarily restricting fairway access… we’re simply ‘hoping’ to get as much cooperation as possible from our guests to minimize turf wear and tear.

Of course, there are other factors for each of the above than just stormwater… balancing traffic patterns to avoid overuse in some areas, chemical applications that need to dry or settle, high levels of play when grass is weak or susceptable, turf disease or conditions favorable for disease, recent aerifications, etc. could all have an impact on where the course would prefer carts to go and not go. For instance, pythium is a disease that can wipe out the turf on a golf course in 48 hours. If disease is present or favorable, having carts transfer the disease from one area of the course to another so multiple areas become infected isn’t in anyone’s best interest.

This is the second post in a multi-post series on golf course maintenance from an interview with Brandon Evans, General Manager & PGA Certified Golf Professional at Village Greens of Woodridge (and self-imposed “Director of Fun and Entertainment”).

In this post, we talk about water drainage and general course management in regards to the up-keep of the course.

CGN: What other things can happen that will change the normal activities that players do during a round of golf (in regards to the up-keeping of the course)? For example, I’ve played on courses that received a heavy amount of rainfall, and all that was done was not allow motorized carts. That’s understandable, as the course managers don’t want to turn the fairways into a mud pit. At what point do you make that call to not allow motorized carts?

BE: Every course is different, and every course has different drainage characteristics. For instance, some golf courses (typically municipal courses like Village Greens of Woodridge) actually serve as stormwater retention for neighborhoods and businesses surrounding the property. Therefore, when we get rain, we’re often taking water on 24 hours after the rain stops, and sometimes golfers don’t understand why the course is still closed or carts aren’t available even though it’s sunny and 80 degrees and the rain ended 24 hours earlier.

Some courses have very expensive and elaborate drainage systems to get water off the course quickly so as not to interrupt business operations. Private country clubs and high-end public courses (like Cog Hill #4 “Dubsdread”) have great drainage systems and you wouldn’t know it even rained 3-4 hours after a one inch rainfall.

Other things [that could change the normal activities] are aerification of greens, tees, and fairways, topdressing, chemical applications, and simply letting a course ‘rest’ for a day (like private country clubs do on Mondays).

Every course weighs those actvities which are required for acceptable turf conditions vs. budgets vs. rounds played vs. customer satisfaction, and tries to blend it all together at times when weather is favorable. It’s a delicate decision to weigh short term financial gain, customer satisfaction, and long term course damage/restoration, and there’s often no clear cut answer. Additionally, some courses allow different people to make the decisions… a grounds superintendent’s job is to keep the turf as nice as possible, and they’ll obviously be much more conservative in their decision making. Golf managers are charged with generating revenues and are the front-line for customer service issues, and they’ll be more aggressive in decision making. This is often why golf pros and superintendents don’t get along at some facilities… there’s always a ‘winner’ and ‘loser’… and this routine takes place 100+ times per year as conditions constantly change.

What’s CGN?

I'm a golf noob. Living in Chicago.
Playing every course in Chicagoland.
There's a lot.

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