Know the numbers as you prepare for early order programs

By |  September 21, 2021 0 Comments

When most people look at a spreadsheet, they see rows and rows of figures, column upon column of numbers, all in crisp black ink.

Not so for two Georgia superintendents, Tommy Hewitt, director of grounds at Windermere Golf Club, Cumming, Ga., and Gary Wilder, senior director of agronomy for ClubCorp, LaGrange, Ga. For them, a spreadsheet tells the story of where a golf club has been and where it’s going.

Hole No. 10 at sunrise at Windermere GC. (Photo courtesy of Tommy Hewit)

Hole No. 10 at sunrise at Windermere GC. (Photo courtesy of Tommy Hewit)

“It gives you a better snapshot at that moment of where that club is at versus year’s end. You see the peaks and valleys of memberships, expenses, revenues and things of that nature,” Hewitt says.

By looking at the basics such as number of rounds played per year, acreage of a course and man-hours needed to maintain a course, Hewitt and Wilder, along with Jay Abbott, senior vice president of agronomy for ClubCorp, created a product that would help measure one golf course against another.

How it began

It all started back in 2019 when ClubCorp had a new COO who wanted to analyze the labor dollars for each course.

“He made the comment that he really wasn’t concerned about how many employees you had. It was all about the number of man-hours,” Wilder says. “A lightbulb went off that I had done a comparison like this about 12 years ago, and I looked through my files on my computer and eventually found something. Obviously, it was not near the scale of what we did this go around, but it was a similar comparison.”

From there, Wilder got Abbott and Hewitt involved, and Hewitt went to work building his spreadsheets. All in all, ClubCorp has about 175 country clubs around the country, and Hewitt says about 130 clubs were involved in the initial survey to more easily compare golf clubs within ClubCorp’s system to one another.

“Going back to the beginning of time, we’ve always gone back and forth, being within a management company, ‘This guy has got more money than me. Why? Why do I only have this?’” Hewitt says. “You never were really comparing apples to apples. It was always comparing apples to avocados. You never had the ability to get everything in place to say, ‘Alright, course A, you get X amount. Course B, you get X amount.’ It was getting everything in line to see if there were any outliers of how we categorize clubs and if there were any things that we were really missing, good or bad.”

After a couple hundred hours and countless stacks of spreadsheets, a complete product was finalized.

“It took months and months to go through it, but we were really just looking at ways to compare properties’ dollars per acre and dollars per hole in both expenses and labor,” Wilder says. “Tommy did an outstanding job on building this thing, and we all kicked it around and kept improving it and fine-tuning it. I’m sure we’ll be doing more of that in the future.”

While the spreadsheet saga originally started off by only comparing a few items such as acreage and types of greens, it soon snowballed into comparing dozens of items such as square footage or acreage for the greens and tees and fairways and roughs, natural areas, clubhouse and driving range.

Knowing the numbers can help figure out how many man-hours are needed to maintain each area of the course. (Photo courtesy of Tommy Hewit)

Knowing the numbers can help figure out how many man-hours are needed to maintain each area of the course. (Photo courtesy of Tommy Hewit)

“The more I started thinking about it, I thought, we already have a lot of this GPS data from all of our clubs,” Hewitt says. “Once we had that, and it was then rolled into (the spreadsheet), I could break down how much money each club was spending toward maintaining those areas and then how many staff members each club had.”

For example, if the average wage in one state was $10 per hour and a club employed 15 people, but another club in a different state paid an average wage of $19 per hour, it’d be easier to see why one club paid so much more money for essentially the same product.

“You can look at all the clubs as a whole and see the average dollars spent per hole, per 18 holes. We have multiple 36- and 54-hole properties, and we can compare those. We can compare clubs and geographical regions,” Wilder says. “It was almost mind-boggling when you started thinking about it, all the different comparisons you could make. You try to understand your business a little bit better.”

Wilder says the project also helped reveal which clubs weren’t spending the dollars that they should be.

“It was a tool to help us get more resources because a lot of times, people would look at a property and say, ‘Gee, this isn’t quite the condition of this piece of property or this other particular club,’” Wilder says. “In the long run, I think it’s going to help us justify more resources, so we can bring all clubs up to standard.”

All in all, Hewitt says it leveled the playing field for different courses and showcased standout clubs.

“It tempered expectations because it gave a realistic view of why X club is so good and why, at this other club, the superintendent might actually be doing a better job because he has fewer resources,” Hewitt says.

Early order

For superintendents looking to take on a project of this scope, Abbott notes that it will take time to put everything together, and Hewitt says it’s important to know all of a course’s details.

“It’s surprising sometimes when you talk to people, and many of them don’t know how many acres of fairways, bunkers or linear feet of cart paths they have,” Hewitt says. “You’ve got to have those facts before you can do this, and they need to be accurate. If you’re putting in the wrong stats and just guessing at the areas, it’s not going to produce accurate results in the end.”

Both Hewitt and Wilder say using this type of program will help figure out what items to purchase when thinking about early order programs because the spreadsheets serve as a ready-made tool to determine what products will likely be needed the following year.

“At any point, you can know your numbers, and you can walk into a meeting with your greens committee or your corporate leadership and talk to them in a language they understand. It’s going to greatly help your cost no matter what you’re asking for because you can explain to them your why. You can show the value of your club,” Hewitt says. “Typically, they might not understand grass and turf and the environment, but they do understand dollars and cents. It gives you the ability to mathematically have that conversation with them about economics.

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About the Author: Sarah Webb

Sarah Webb is Golfdom's former managing editor. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Wittenberg University, where she studied journalism and Spanish. Prior to her role at Golfdom, Sarah was an intern for Cleveland Magazine and a writing tutor.

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