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Budget 101: Learn as you go along

Years ago, during one of his numerous budget hearings at Atlanta Athletic Club, Ken Mangum was told by an accountant that the club’s maintenance cost per hole was the highest in the area.

“Really?” the veteran turf pro asked.

“Yes,” the accountant responded. “Our cost per hole is too high.”

“Well, let me ask you this,” Mangum said. “What are the utility bills at your house?”

“About $ 500,” the accountant answered

“Well, that’s too high,” Mangum said.

“How do you know? You don’t know how big my house is.”

“Exactly,” Mangum said. “Why don’t you do us a cost-per-acre and see how we come out? Because we have the most fairways, we have the biggest, longest golf courses around, so naturally, with our high standards, our cost per hole is going to be higher. And you don’t know what those standards are, you don’t know how big other courses are, you don’t know anything.”

Mangum still hears about courses turning to the cost-per-hole metric to measure maintenance efficiency and he still feels it could not be more off. “You have to know how big the hole is,” he says. “You have to know how many bunkers you have. Do you have an equipment lease in there? Do you have utilities? Every budget is different. People want to prepare budgets, it comes down to line item by line item.”

Mangum is more than four decades removed from studying under Dr. Gene Nutter at Lake City Community College — since renamed Florida Gateway College though it will always be LCCC to Mangum — and five years into retirement, but he remains as sharp as ever about all those those line items. Let’s listen in.

I wouldn’t spend money just to be on budget. Nor would I spend money not to be on budget.

I had a great GM who said, “Don’t ever not do something because you’re afraid of going over budget. Come and ask me. Explain it. We’re not locked in on a number so much that we want to sacrifice something.” So, we didn’t have to play the game quite as much. Because sometimes you would have a good summer, you would have years when you didn’t use everything, and you would roll that into next year, and you just have to explain that. And you have years when you get a lot of rain, a lot of heat, a lot of humidity, you get more disease, more weed pressure because of that, or you have a storm — we call those non-budgeted items. You can’t plan for things like that. You can’t budget for things like that.

As far as budgeting, I try to base things on standards. I want to ask, whether it’s the green committee or whatever, “What do you want the golf course to look like when you step on the first tee? What do you want to have done before you play golf?” Because that drives your whole budget. The other question is, “Do you want go off the No. 1 tee only? Or do you want to go off 10 as well — a two-tee start?” Because that complicates everything. If you tell me that you want the greens walk-mowed, the holes changed, the bunkers hand-raked, the fairways cut with a triplex mower, the intermediate rough cut, the cart paths blown, pinecones picked up, the ball-washers serviced, the drinking stations serviced — if you want all that done, I’ll show you the manpower and the equipment it takes to do that. And it’s really interesting when you pose that question to people, because they say they want it all done, and then you price it out and they go, “Hmm, maybe that’s not what I want.”

It all boils down to being able to communicate effectively. Whatever your budget is, you have to be able to explain it and communicate to people. They have to understand what you’re asking for and why you’re asking for it.

You’ve got to be comfortable in front of people, explaining things and giving presentations. That’s not the easiest thing.

We probably bought 95 percent of yearly stuff off the EOP. Our hope was we didn’t use everything and then we would take that off the program for next year.

When you do a renovation, there will be an impact on your budget. You have to be prepared for those kinds of things.

Renovations are some of the toughest budgeting years because people will see we have a renovation coming: “Well, you won’t need your people.” That’s what they say. What I did was show them all the things my people would be doing. We would try to do things on both ends of the renovation. And then the minute the sod goes down, it’s yours. As soon as they put grass on one hole, you have to maintain it. I was able to illustrate what our people were going to do. And then you pose the question: “What happens if we let people go and we can’t get them back? Because you do want people to maintain the golf course once it’s done.”

You always want to have a great mowing plan. To me, one of the best things you can do for a golf course is to have a consistent mowing plan and pattern every week. I don’t think there’s anything you can do to make the golf course look better — and showing people what it takes to do that.

One of my favorite stories is from a club in Macon called Idle Hour. I had a very interesting green chairman, his name was Duck Swann — you don’t forget that name. Well, Mr. Swann was the only American to win the British Senior Amateur Championship. He was a very good player. He came to me one day and said, “Ken, how much will it cost us to overseed the golf course?” “Well, are we talking about fairways, rough?” “The whole golf course, rough and everything.” “Let me get some figures and pricing, and I’ll get back to you.” I get to back to him in a few days, and let’s just say it was $ 30,000. And he said, “Good, let’s do that.” “Mr. Swann, we don’t have that in our budget.” “That’s OK. Just do it and I’ll take care of it.” “Let me get this straight. You’re telling me to spend $ 30,000 that’s not in my budget and you’re going to take care of it.” “Yep. We’re going to surprise ’em.” And we did, and he did. Occasionally you’ll get people like that. Wonderful guy.

You learn as you go along, because every club is a little different.

Matt LaWell is Golf Course Industry’s managing editor.

Golf Course Industry

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