Every penny counts

As costs increase for all businesses, Simon Olver looks at cost-effective ways to keep golf courses in the best condition possible

The cost of living, and doing business, is going up. The cost of maintaining golf courses is also rising significantly – from the price of fertilisers and fuel to wages. This impacts greenkeeping budgets and without equally significant rises in fees, we must economise.

There are some really simple ways to reduce costs, which I’ll touch on. Beyond these, there are also incredibly innovative ideas out there, which with the right planning and resources will see clubs reap rewards.

The simplest and cheapest place to start is with a comprehensive recycling programme. Gathering and composting materials – clippings, cores, old turf, bunker sand – into designated areas creates a free, nutrient-rich product which is ideal for divot mix or your next tee box build. At Ganton, we do this on a major scale and overall this small effort to organise our waste has saved us tens of thousands of pounds on divot mix alone.

The cost of fertiliser has spiralled recently. If you haven’t already, investigate and understand what is in your expensive, ready-to-use drums and whether you can work with the agricultural straights instead for a fraction of the cost.
A small amount of knowledge can be incredibly useful as while there are times when you need the technology in golf-specific compound mixes, mixing products in-house and using straights will produce the exact same result. Think about what you’re trying to achieve, while bearing in mind grass doesn’t know how expensive your fertiliser is.

Also look at your team and whether there are skills which can be utilised to reduce contractor costs, or if there’s a willingness to undertake training. A new member of my team is a skilled carpenter and has already saved us thousands by making our course furniture in-house.

We’ve also invested in training so we can work with the irrigation system at a very high level. This training saved us more than £20,000 over the last 2 years alone. The number of skilled greenkeepers in the workforce has fallen in recent years, so look to bring in people with additional skills which may be useful and/or a willingness to learn.

Some other areas which can reduce costs, which I’ve discussed before, include: naturalising areas which are well out of play; removing obsolete bunkers; and analysing mowing patterns to make routes efficient.

Now is the time to review your strategy and look for efficiencies in internal and external labour, machinery, materials and products.

In the short term, simple programmes can be put in place at little to no cost while in the longer term we must, no matter our budgets, look at reducing our use of chemicals and water as regulatory change is coming and we must move to a longer-term strategy of golf course presentation and holistic greenkeeping, improving sitewide ecology and adapting to grass species which require less input, rather than the cut it low and spray it approach of the past.