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Cheap maintenance

Posted by mynormas on January 28, 2016

“Times are bad and it will get worse this year” I hear that like almost every alternate year but yet here we are. “Really! It will be worse this year!” Ya. Ok! I hear you! Like I heard you in 2008 and 1998 too. “Was the budget amended in 2008 or 1998?” Hmm… maybe you have a point. Maybe your golf course is not that badly hit yet or you think its immune or if someone really wants to buy your hole 5 for the right price, the management would sell it but I’d like to share some ways of saving costs without sacrificing too much quality in golf course maintenance.


The Malaysian government is amending their budget on the 28th January 2016. How many clubs are amending their budgets? How many golf courses have taken another look at their budgets in view of rising costs, reduced demands and increasing competition? You may argue that some golf clubs are closing down so there will be less competition but the existing golf course will be going after the same golfers as you are. Some will take the easy way out and reduce prices though I’ve heard of one golf club that want to increase their green fees.

From experience, many golf clubs will cut their maintenance budget because that is easily the biggest expense for the club. But as golfers paying green fees or as a member paying dues you don’t really want your golf course standard to deteriorate and let it be blamed on the economic situation do you? So you would expect the club – if they don’t want to lose you as a customer – to take other measures to cut costs right? At the same time, you don’t want to pay higher green fees or more subscription too.

Experienced Superintendents will have a few things they can do on the golf course to help on the cut-backs without much disruption on your golf game. Unfortunately some of them will choose from these options after they have recovered from their initial knee-jerk reaction they took or were forced to take.

  1. Clean out the store.

Big club or small club; I have yet to find a golf course store that does not have left-over fertiliser or chemicals. They are left behind because they bought one tonne of fertiliser when what they need for 18 holes was actually 0.8 tonne or perhaps the new guy has a different idea than the previous guy or there is a new trend or for whatever reason; most of the time; those few bags of fertiliser or chemicals pushed to the back of the store can still be used.

Your Superintendent won’t mix different fertilisers or chemicals on one hole or green, though I see no harm using different types on different holes as long as they calculate the nutrients or active ingredient to be more or less the same for every hole.

Always read the label! I almost advised someone to use the herbicide DSMA on greens once, believing it to be fungicide until I saw the label on the sack underneath it. If in doubt; I will prefer to tell the storekeeper to waste it.

  1. Small is beautiful.

Your Superintendent may reduce the areas that he/she needs to maintain. I would not recommend shrinking the greens but there are other areas that can be considered.

Sacrifice the OBs or out-of-play areas.

There are usually areas in the rough that are far enough from play that the maintenance crew can let it go wild. This will cut down on man and machinery hours. Save on manpower, diesel, machinery wear-and-tear and spare-parts. The Superintendent could let it become an ‘environmentally sensitive area’ or just let it become a wild rough. Look at it this way; your Superintendent is training you to hit straight.

For aesthetic value or if there is intention to bring the rough back to normal, once a month they may send a team of people to poison or cut new woody growth (including what Planters call ‘volunteer oil palms’) and creepers. Nothing ruins the ‘natural look’ more than the sight of short oil palms and big-leaf creepers creeping or hanging from trees.  You don’t really want your rough to look like a haunted forest.

If slow play becomes an issue because of ‘lost balls’ then they may do what I did once; put up a “Beware of Snakes” sign. Believe you me; even after knowing its purpose, even after knowing that for the past 10 years no one has seen snakes in that hole, no golfer will dare venture into knee-high rough looking for golf balls when they see that sign. It’s a psychology thing.

Reduce the fairways.

Fairways are a source of expenditure by virtue of the fertiliser and effort required to maintain it. In some areas, your Superintendent may shrink the fairways into rough.

Your Superintendent can’t really reduce the width of your fairways but he can shorten it up to the point where the slope rating measurements are taken, and it is possible to take out the fairways on a par 3. I once took out all the fairways on a golf course par 3s though on one long par 3, I increased the size of the approach since it is cut with the collar-mower. Collar; I cannot not have, fairway; I can. So collar I make slightly bigger, huge fairway I take out. Save money on big fairway mower operating hours and fertiliser.

  1. Use the expensive fertiliser.

What?! Some of you might ask. Well this is where I’m sure your Superintendent will insist – and I would agree – not to cut: slow-release fertiliser. At least for the greens. It comes in many types; polymer-coated, sulfur-coated, polymer-sulfur coated, long-chain methylene ureas, etc and all are more expensive than your normal ordinary routine regular standard fertiliser, some more than others. Believe it or not, using the expensive fertilisers will save money. I have to mention these because this is what management will demand first: buy the cheapest one!

Using cheaper quick release ordinary fertiliser may mean losing the nutrients by leaching or evaporation especially in our weather; these problems are supposed to be taken care of by the technologies of the new slow-release fertilisers. Use expensive fertiliser and more of the nutrients will get into the grass and you can also reduce your fertilizing frequency and amount of fertiliser.

Your Superintendent shouldn’t get into the habit of using cheap fertilisers, they are like cheap vitamins. As I always say; cheap vitamins equals expensive urine like cheap fertiliser equals expensive drainage water; the nutrients comes out with the liquid. Of course, bad fertilizing practices can cause that too but that is material for another article. Contact me for more information about it by emailing me at mynormasATconsultant.com replacing AT with @.

  1. Be more scientific and specific.

If the economic pressure does not let-up and the golf course starts to feel that it will soon need to mortgage hole 14 to the local Ahlong loanshark, there is another way to save on fertiliser cost. Your Superintendent may want to ask you for some money to do soil tests to determine how much nutrient is in the soil and maybe even tissue tests too to determine the connection between what’s in the soil and what’s taken up. He would take another look at plant requirements of the grass. Dr Micah  Woods of Asian Turfgrass Center has released guidelines for minimum levels  for sustainable nutrition that he calls umm… Minimum Levels for Sustainable Nutrition or MLSN  and apply just enough fertiliser the turfgrass needs to avoid wastage.

Amazingly, there are still golf courses that fertilise their greens by “one bag for each green method” or 15 bags for 18 +1 greens (perhaps because some greens are just too small to justify one bag). Measure your greens or at the very least: calibrate your spreaders! Then you can be accurate and consistent in your fertilising.

  1. Get a second opinion

You may see a new person going round your golf course poking and scratching on the grass. This may mean that your golf club has hired a consultant. A person who could look at the whole thing from a new perspective may be a good option, right? Having looked at the same thing for years may dull one’s objectivity, so a fresh set of eyes will be useful.

I like poking and probing

I like poking and probing

The best kind of consultant the club can get is one who has actually survived the economic crisis of the late 1990s and 2008 and has worked on both side of the fence; the side that asks for money and the side that wants to cut costs.

How does this save on costs? By looking at the golf course from a different view, he may see all the cost-cutting measures that the Superintendent does not have the heart to cut. Or he could identify a wasteful habit that was not noticed before.

Contact me now to find out more how I can help you save cost by emailing me at mynormasATconsultant.com replacing AT with @

  1. Renovate!

This is one suggestion that is going to fly in the face of convention. Why would anyone renovate a golf course during an economic crisis and call it a cost-saving measure? Well, look at it from the management point of view; traffic is going to be low, some materials’ prices are going to be cheap and some contractors want work.

The management would not want to be dragged into a green fee price war with the neighbouring clubs and if they do cut their prices, at least they can feel justified that it is partly because the golf course is literally, a work-in-progress. If the golf course across the street yells at you “Why are you setting your green fees so low?!” you can tell him “Relax bro, chill, I got three temporary greens, I have to sell cheap”

That reasoning may not go down well with some of you but let’s face it – unless you are the kinda guy who believes that “the end is near” or “the sky is falling” and is ready to jump a bridge soon – times will get better and there will be golfers with money to spend when the economy improves and they will be heading to the newly renovated and improved golf course which will be in the best position to increase green fee prices.

Add to that fact some suppliers and contractors will be reducing prices perhaps to get their stock moving or to get some quick money or to improve cash flow; now would be a good time for the club to get a good bargain.

Of course, all this is relevant only if the club has money in the bank for the work. Or now would be the time membership clubs to beg the Trustee for the use of the sinking fund.

  1. Buy that machine.

What if you really, really, really need to buy a machine? Should you defer? Why? You think it’s going to get cheaper next year or in the following year? Perhaps the currency exchange will improve but by then the machinery price may go up due to inflation and between now and then the costs of repairing your existing junk may eat into whatever amount you think you’re saving and you could end up spending more money in total while at the same time, the aggravation of operating and maintaining that junk eats into your staff’s productivity (and the golf course’s quality).

In the meantime, do consider that the machinery supplier is desperate to sell his machine too and may be willing to offer discounts or longer warranty or maybe even free parts. If he/she is corrupt and offer you kickbacks tell him to reduce the price of the machine even more or tell him to never set foot in your office again. Don’t deal with people like that; you’ll be indebted and trust me, the industry is small enough that words get around. Yes, you, we do know about you and how much you got. Shame on you for giving the rest of us a bad name.

Should you go for reconditioned/used machinery? My experience says no, not unless your golf course is right next to the supplier’s workshop and he can service you. I’ve seen reconditioned machine that work for only a week before the engine fell off; it wasn’t bolted on, it was welded on and when the machine worked for a week, the vibration broke the weld. Of course, I shouldn’t generalise, no one should; send your mechanic with your accountant to look at the machines before deciding. Who knows? Maybe there exist honest second-hand machinery dealers…

For fairway or rough mowers, you could try using a mini-tractor with mowing implements. That way, when you finally got a budget and you can finally afford a machine that the superintendent dreamt of, the tractor can be used for other works. They’re like one third or half the price of a five-gang mower anyway, plus almost any mechanic worth the job-title can repair a tractor.

By the way, there’s this friend of mine who wants to sell of some pre-loved machinery. No, I’m not contradicting myself; these are not reconditioned, these are from the days when golf courses in US are leasing their machines for two or three years and then returning them back the leaser. She managed to get a fleet of them and wants to sell them off. Let me know if you are interested by emailing me at mynormasATconsultant.com and replacing AT with @.

8. Train your staff.

What? “This guy is off his rocker” you say. No money coming in and you want me to spend on my staff who may leave? Well, firstly, I have always considered staff training as an investment, not an expense so you won’t get my sympathy but what the heck, I’ll give you face; secondly I assure you, when handling machinery worth hundreds of thousands of ringgit and applying chemicals/fertilisers on a golf course worth millions of ringgit to build, keeping untrained workers are more expensive compared to training workers and then they leave.

Are you part of the problem or are you part of the solution?

Are you part of the problem or are you part of the solution?

By the way, if you are one of those companies that have been contributing to the Malaysian Human Resource Ministry’s Development Fund or HRDF, this may be the time to use those for training. Ask your HR manager for more info.

If you want to focus on staff training for the golf club, contact someone with more than 22 years of experience in the industry and has a Train-the-Trainer certificate at O3-5I3I OO66 or mynormasATconsultant.com replacing AT with @.

The above list is just some of the things I have done for the golf courses I’ve worked with. Your Superintendent, who knows your golf course infinitely better and are more intimately familiar with the management may have other options he or she will look at.

All they ask is for is some understanding if you see some decline in the golf course standard. They don’t like it any more than you do; it is their reputation on the line. Sometimes some of the cuts were forced on them; it has happened to me too due to management knee-jerk responses when I was a Superintendent. Sometimes we just have to follow instructions even if we don’t agree. When I was part a general manager, I do the knee-jerk responses and expect the staff to follow instructions even if they don’t agree… Hey! I have a budget to balance you know, otherwise I may really have to sell Hole 5.

Contact me at 03-5[31-OO66 or email me at mynormasATconsultant.com replacing AT with @.


2 Responses to “Cheap maintenance”

  1. Suria said

    Salam tuan, maaf komen saya di post ini.
    Saya ingin bertanya kan tentang rumput Filipin yg saya tanam di rumah sy. Skrg musim kemarau, rumput dah kekuningan kering.. Ada harapan dia tumbuh balik? Atau ia dah rosak? Ingatkan kos yg dah dilaburkan sedih nya rasa.


    • mynormas said

      Puan, salam, maaf lambat reply. Kalau rumput tu dah lama tanam, mungkin ia dormant dan akan kembali hidup bila hujan nanti.
      Tapi biasa nya… dah mati.


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