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Wrapping Up the Season

Don Barclay
Ivey Eminent Teaching
Professor Emeritus Ivey Business School


Superintendents are in the midst of covering greens, preparing the golf course for next spring, perhaps planning a family vacation, and thinking about how the year unfolded on the course – both the expected and unexpected. In this context we suggest that you also need to review how things went from club business and department management perspectives. To help with this, Beyond the Turf wants to wrap up its season by reviewing some of the key learnings shared with you in 2015.

Were you able to influence the direction in which your club is heading? Did you manage to work your way through the club’s financials to get a better handle on where things stand? Were you successful in retaining and rewarding your best people? Did you successfully navigate your way through conflictual situations with either club members or staff? Were you able to sell your ideas as to what needs to be done on the course, even though some of these ideas did not appeal to members in the first instance?

To frame our wrap up, I want to review things that have changed; things that have not changed, and the implications for this. Let’s start at the Global level.

The World and Canada

The world has changed in 2015. The outcomes from the upcoming Paris conference on climate change will impact the golf industry in unknown ways. China, positioned as one of the countries where golf will grow, has seen a reversal. Course development has stopped and clubs are closing. Egypt was described by The Globe and Mail as a “new golf destination". Not so perhaps after the plane crash this month.

Canada has a new government and new Ministry of Environment and Climate Change that are likely to review regulations that impact water access and Integrated Pest Management.

In Ontario, this year’s annual report from the Environmental Commissioner’s Office highlighted upfront that golf courses and others are not paying enough for ground and surface water-taking permits. They claim that only 1.2% of water quantity management costs are covered by these charges. In addition, they report that not enough public input is solicited before permits are granted.

But, so what? How does what has been discussed in Jeffrey Gandz’s Beyond the Turf article in May reflect on this? The key notion here is that Superintendents have to take time on a regular basis to do an “environmental scan". They have to size up what’s happening in the Global Environment of Business (GEOB) and think through what these changes might mean for resources available to the golf industry, changes required in club strategy going forward, and the need for innovation, creativity and productivity. Then you have to carefully but forcefully communicate these implications to key stakeholders in the club and beyond.

The Golf Industry

Some things have not changed. Golf is still in a holding pattern with the number of new participants about the same as those exiting the game in Canada. More courses are closing than being opened. On the other hand, rounds played in Canada are up 4-15 % this year, depending on region with the West seeing the bigger growth. One result of this holding pattern is Adidas attempting to sell off its unprofitable TaylorMade division.

One area of dramatic change is on the environmental side of the business. Water will be the next resource constraint. You think that the threat of pesticide bans has occupied the industry’s attention. Watch out for this one. As discussed above, Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner has water in its sights.

What have also changed to some extent are industry responses to different demographics, people’s frustration with difficult courses, time to play, and costs to play. For example, footgolf is taking hold. The Canadian FootGolf Association (CFGA) has been launched with over 30 courses participating. The odd 12-hole course is being developed. GolfBoards and larger cups are making the game more appealing to the younger crowd.

Another industry response is seen in the lobbying priorities of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America for 2016 (USA Today, November 5, 2015). These are:

  1. Changing golf’s image from one of an elitist sport to one of an economically important collection of small businesses.
  2. Showing how golf is proactively addressing the water usage issue.
  3. Pushing regulation of golf clubs from the federal level down to the local level as is the case with any other small business.
  4. Having disaster relief funds available to golf courses.
  5. Keeping the PGA Tour regulated as a non-profit organization.

Research in the industry is expanding from agronomic research to research that can assist with the viability of the industry. A new partnership has been formed between the US Golf Association and the University of Minnesota to tackle golf’s challenges and foster innovation. The areas to be addressed are: the game’s cost, the time it takes to play, and golfer enjoyment. Now that’s different!

Repurposing golf clubs seems to be catching hold. York Downs in Markham recently sold for $412 million with each member receiving $200 thousand. The course is expected to close in five years. The Clublink gem, Glen Abbey, home of 26 Canadian Opens is likely going to become a housing development. Both of these sales are the result of burgeoning demand for suburban housing in the GTA. Calgary’s Harvest Hills has also been sold for development.

But again, so what does this mean to Superintendents? Vigilance is the key word with you looking over the horizon beyond the turf to analyze the Political, Economic, Social and Technological (PEST) tends that may have implications for your club’s direction. Review Jeffrey Gandz’s article in Beyond the Turf, Eyes Over the Horizon; Feet on the Ground (March). Don’t assume that your General Manager or Board have all the insights. You are part of the management team and it is one of your responsibilities to be forward looking.

Your Club

OK, so with everything changing around me, surely I can take some solace in me and my club being on more solid ground. “No solace" and “Yes solace". The “no" part comes from revisiting my Beyond the Turf article on Creating Value (April). Given all the changes, your club may need to revisit its value proposition and strategy to deliver unique value to a changing marketplace. Now is a good time of year to do so such that changes on the course next year can be made in the context of any change in strategy. No sense putting in black tee boxes if the strategy calls for a shorter, more playable course to attract new members. My course, The Oaks, has redone all fairway and greenside bunkers under the guidance of Tom McBroom. The intent is to make the course more challenging for low handicappers and less challenging for higher handicap players, enhancing enjoyment for all.

The “no" part is also reflected in David Kuypers’ piece on Risk (June). It’s hard to argue that changes in 2015 will not have an impact on environmental and operational risk at your club.

How about the “yes"? I believe that it is fair to say that ‘good management is good management’. This applies within the turf department, and as the turf department interacts with the rest of the club. The challenges change, the answers to questions change, the needs of your staff change over time.

But, good questions don’t change and good management practices at the core don’t change. Understanding the financial picture of your club with Mary Gillett’s guidance (August); coaching your people with Lyn Purdy’s insights (September); and turning enemies into allies helped by Michael Sider in October all hold true in the context of change.

The Wrap

It’s been a pleasure to work with Superintendents across Canada by sharing insights in Syngenta Greencast’s Beyond the Turf 2015 series. If these ideas have helped you or if you have comments, let David Kuypers (david.kuypers@syngenta.com) or me (dbarclay@ivey.uwo.ca) know.

Remember, keep your eyes over the horizon and feet on the ground!