Black Oak Golf Course

6 Ways to Regain Control of Your Golf Course

Get the golf course players want and your club needs

Black Oak Golf Course Regains Control
Black Oak Golf Course provides conditions players expect.

General Manager Randy Jensen was frustrated with the conditions of his golf course at Riverview Golf & Country Club in Redding, California. Maintenance standards weren’t being practiced, shortcuts were taken under the premise of budget limitations, their course maintenance equipment was aging, and member satisfaction and play were at an all-time low. They needed to take back control of their course, and Randy was on the hunt for a solution.

This is a scenario many clubs across the country are experiencing. Sometimes it feels impossible to get the course you want within your budget or surprises and missed course maintenance deadlines become a headache for other managers at your club. There are a number of circumstances that can lead to a loss of control of your course operations. For example, Kristen Swain, Partner at Black Oak Golf Course, a daily fee course in Auburn, California, shared that superintendent turnover left their golf course with dismal conditions that were not up to par for their players.

Both the Riverview and Black Oak stories have a happy ending. They were able to make their comeback by regaining control of their golf courses and once again are providing course conditions players expect. Here are tips from Randy, Kristen, and our golf course experts at BrightView on things club managers and owners can do to regain control of their golf course.

1. Define and document your course maintenance standards

Knowing where you want to go is the first step to getting there. Course maintenance standards should convey the vision and mission of the club along with detailed standards for every element of the course. Defining the standards that are right for your course may require conversations with your board and greens committee, a market analysis, or a player survey. The end goal is providing course conditions you know your players want. This is an important document that remains constant regardless of superintendent turnover or changing of the guards on boards and committees.

2. Create a detailed annual agronomic plan for your golf course maintenance

The fourteenth green at Riverview Golf & Country Club
The fourteenth green at Riverview Golf & Country Club

Your golf course superintendent can create this. An annual agronomic plan is essentially a scope of work your superintendent is accountable to complete by specified dates over the course of the year to achieve your golf course maintenance standards. It includes every component on the course—tees, greens, fairways, roughs, bunkers, etc.—and all inputs and cultural programs. Annual and scheduled events and tournaments should be accounted for and the plan should be flexible to accommodate priority shifts and unexpected situations that may arise whether it be a programming change at the club or a weather event.   

3. Plan for the long-term

Take the time to think about your vision for your club. How might it evolve over the next 5 or 10 years? What are the basic infrastructure and equipment needs you’ll need to maintain over time e.g. renovating tee boxes and bunkers or auditing and updating your irrigation system? Sometimes it’s too easy to get wrapped up in the fires of today, we forget to think strategically about the future. When that future planning happens, you can chip away at manageable pieces over time rather than get hit with a big budget item when you least expect it.

4. Invest time in your relationship with your superintendent

The relationship between the general manager and superintendent is critical and important to nurture. Spend a couple of hours a week with your superintendent touring the course together. Talk about the status of special projects for that week and month, issues that have come up, feedback that may have come in from players, upcoming events and what needs to be done in advance, the impact of course work that’s planned and when communication needs to go out to players and members, etc. Spend one hour with just your superintendent and bring your golf pro for that second hour later in the week so you can get the technical and player perspectives.

5. Encourage a culture of communication at your club

The first green at Black Oak Golf Course
The first green at Black Oak Golf Course

When a tournament is planned, a wedding is scheduled, or you’re hosting a special event, your entire team has work that needs to be done to support it. Department heads should meet regularly to discuss what’s happening in a given month so they are aligned on their roles and can make adjustments to planned activities that need to move to accommodate the event. Make sure your team is open to communicate and collaborate and revisit roles for those who aren’t.

6. Know that you don’t have to do it alone

For Randy at Riverview and Kristen at Black Oak, outsourcing golf course maintenance was their solution for taking back control of their course. BrightView Golf Maintenance provides all of the above and more for the two clubs. Randy has found tremendous value in having access to shared equipment, economy pricing, and a Ph.D. agronomist. He had a turf issue that would ordinarily take weeks to resolve that the superintendent could troubleshoot in minutes with the help of Dr. Todd Bunnell at BrightView. Leaders at BrightView Golf Maintenance add a layer of accountability with the superintendent and they’re always looking out for the goals and standards of the club and its members and players. Randy shared, “BrightView is working within the same budget constraints we’ve always had, but they’re able to deliver the course we want and so much more. I have more control of our course operations than I ever had.”

Riverview and Black Oak are getting used to hearing compliments on their courses and they’re seeing players come back. At Black Oak, Kristen was thrilled to hear a player comment, “The course is looking good. I’m going to tell my friends that Black Oak is back!”