Golf Course Superintendents Weigh-in on Issues

The professionals responsible for the playability of the nation's golf courses are offering their opinions on how to increase golfer participation through the 2005 Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) Leadership Survey.

Conducted at the 2005 GCSAA Education Conference and inaugural Golf Industry Show in Orlando, Fla., and on the GCSAA Web site, the computer-based survey questioned more than 860 golf course superintendents on trends in golf and golf course management.

“These surveys mine a wealth of valuable information from golf course superintendents,” GCSAA president Timothy T. O’Neill, CGCS, said. “The responses also reveal the breadth and complexity of management issues these professionals face on a daily basis. Golf courses are financial, recreational and environmental assets to communities and golf course superintendents enhance the value of the facility in all three areas.”

Growing the game

Thirty percent of superintendents polled said they have implemented alternative golf course set-ups and/or events to attract new or nontraditional golfers and have achieved a 70-percent success rate. The most popular include night golf, short course, par-3 events and alternative routing.

In defense of par?

Concerns have been raised that the latest and greatest technological advances to golf equipment are challenging the integrity of the game. As golf ball/club technology continues to evolve, some courses have been renovated or remodeled to compensate for the changes in distance and accuracy. But is this just an isolated trend, or are more and more facilities following suit? Twenty-one percent of superintendents said that they have recently undertaken a course renovation or remodeling solely to compensate for changes in golf ball/club technology or intend to. Feedback from golf course industry professionals indicates the renovations were occurring at old courses that had never undergone such work or had not done so in a considerable time.

Where the wildlife is

Golf courses are located in diverse settings and provide invaluable wildlife habitat. Golf course superintendents not only manage the golf course for playability; they also foster environmental stewardship on the course. In this year’s survey, superintendents were asked if they have added or subtracted wildlife habitat at their facility in the last five years. An overwhelming 52 percent said they have added wildlife habitat, with 14 percent of those adding a significant amount (six or more acres) and 38 percent of these adding a small amount (less than six acres). Of the 14 percent that have added six or more acres, 40 percent have added more than 10 acres. Of the 38 percent that have added less than six acres, 71 percent have added two to six acres.

Golfer etiquette

Sixty-four percent of superintendents identified the failure to repair ball marks on the putting green as the most common breach of golfer etiquette. This finding was consistent with the 2000 survey, which also cited unrepaired ball marks as most common breach of etiquette. Not fixing divots also was a concern of superintendents, as 36 percent cited it as the second most common breach of etiquette. Not raking bunkers was third at 28 percent. As for golfer feedback on course conditions, interestingly enough, 26 percent of those polled said the most common complaint from players were unrepaired ball marks, a variable golfers themselves can control. In 2002, the survey indicated golfers complained more about slow greens, with unrepaired ball marks ranking second.

Eye of the storm

Conditions were ripe last year for a busy and destructive hurricane season. Fifteen named tropical systems, including nine hurricanes and six major hurricanes, slammed into the eastern seaboard in 2004, leaving in their wake an estimated $45 billion in damage, the costliest hurricane season on record in the United States. Florida was hit the hardest, as four hurricanes struck in a span of six weeks. Golf course superintendents were asked about the effect the hurricane season had on their courses. Four percent said their course was directly hit by a hurricane, while 32 percent said their course was somehow affected by hurricane-related weather. Of those who indicated they were directly hit by a hurricane, respondents estimated an average of nearly $900,000 in damage expense plus loss of revenue in U.S. dollars, with the highest clipping $9.8 million. And golf courses may not be out of the woods yet. The National Hurricane Center has predicted another bruising Atlantic hurricane season for 2005, with as many as 15 tropical storms and up to nine of them hurricanes. At least two tropical storms are expected to reach the U.S. coast.

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