Agronomic Plans…And How to Use Them

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Jim Wyffels is an excellent golf course superintendent. He does the right things. Jim is neither lucky nor genius; Jim is prepared. He has even taught several club management executives the science and art of agronomic planning. An Agronomic Plan is the cornerstone of a well-conceived golf course maintenance budget; and it is the power-tool at top-performing clubs.

There are a handful of guidelines to help club leaders- and Greens Committee chairs - in working with the superintendent:

Keep your plan simple. A thorough Agronomic Plan should require 20 to 30 pages, including pictures. Make declarative statements and avoid run-on sentences. The finished document will be read by laymen who have little or no expertise in turf care and horticulture.

Make the layout of the plan easy to follow. Define key words so that all readers at your club will use the same mutually understood vocabulary. Provide a glossary of commonly used words and phrases. Avoid jargon, abbreviations and acronyms.

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Provide checklists wherever possible; these are the ‘scorecards’ that should be used when evaluating the effectiveness of the plan and the people implementing the plan. A well-prepared Agronomic Plan teaches members about their course and its care requirements.

Use pictures to show intended outcomes; the plan must educate and inform. Most club members are happily unaware of the complexity and subtlety required for successful golf course maintenance. Members need easy-to-understand information that enables them to speak as informed supporters of their club and its golf course.

Photographs of best practices and intended outcomes build trust and understanding. Use the club website, Pinterest and the club Facebook page as useful platforms for showing club members what specific aspects of the golf course will look like and what their expectations should be.

The golf course superintendent is a well-educated scientist; demonstrate his or her knowledge and expertise through tables and schedules for specific programs and formulations.

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Demonstrate that the club is maintained with great prudence and accountability when it comes to the use of chemicides. Describe every chemical that will be used on the course: when and how it will be applied. Explain how the members and the club employees are kept safe. Teach the members how carefully chemicals are monitored, stored and used. It is important that all club members know that the management team at the club places great accountability on the use of chemicals and pesticides.

Show the reports that are filed with local jurisdictions and departments of natural resources. Demonstrate the high degree of attention given to environmental stewardship. Report the annual consumption of groundwater, the reuse characteristics of the golf course irrigation plan and how the club is a highly efficient user of water.

Report to the members the outcomes of safety audits and reviews. See that your members understand just how accountable management is when it comes to the safe care and upkeep of the club and its assets.

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Tie calendar dates to all key actions and agronomic necessities. Publish the annual agronomic calendar tying the annual plan to the calendars shown on the club website and throughout the social media platforms. Be proactive in advising primary user groups  likemen’s and women’s golf groups, member guests for each gender and other special events. Also, make note of scheduled maintenance dates and plans.

Schedule a back-up date for every primary and secondary cultural necessity – such as aerifications, top-dressing, overseeding, repairs and renovations. Be proactive with scheduling and do not enable criticism under the heading of “Why didn’t you tell anyone you were planning this?”

Publish the specific action plan for such activities; and host member orientation days to demonstrate how the processes will be managed by the superintendent and staff. Use the member demonstrations as a dress rehearsal for the real event. Provide after-action summaries and member feedback for each activity so the club maintains a record of ‘lessons learned’ for succeeding years.

Integrate the Agronomic Plan with the greens and grounds departmental budget. The annual Agronomic Plan should tie directly into the annual budget for the golf course maintenance department. Every assumption that underlies golf course maintenance practices should be reflected within the budget and vice versa.

This is the foundation of a zero-based approach to the annual budget for the golf course. Many in clubs,the golf course is the largest single department so, the discipline of zero-based budgeting will ensure thorough and deliberate planning. This demonstrates to the club members the degree of diligence given to the planning and budgeting process.

In addition to cross-referencing the Income Statement of the club, this approach supports the primary assumptions to be used on the Balance Sheet regarding capital reserves for replacing expensive and time-disciplined maintenance equipment. For example, capital reserves for equipment replacement are easier for members to understand when a regular reporting of hours-used is provided with them. Most club members are unaware of the enormous allocation of hours on golf course maintenance. . Thus, one purpose of a careful Agronomic Plan is the demonstration  of  the relentless wearing down of equipment assets.

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Build in flexibility because everything is weather dependent. Jim Wyffels teaches that one should “Plan your work and work your plan.” But the catch is, the plan always changes. Once approved, the plan is usually changed by weather, there consulting a Farmers’ Almanac for broad planning for rainfall and early or late seasonality is essential.

Budget to stock chemicals and pesticides for the key months when immediate action is likely. For example, have fungicides on your shelf and ready for use during the hot and steamy summer months. Do not leave the club at risk for ‘waiting until Monday’ to obtain urgently needed chemicals that should have gone down on Friday afternoon. The delay can cost the club its greens and its fine reputation.

Plan to draw down fuel reserves during of-season months. Why have 500 gallons of fuel (at $3 +/gallon) in the storage tank when little is being consumed?

Planning is everything. How do you develop the Agronomic Plan for your club?

Henry DeLozier PixHenry DeLozier is a Principal at Global Golf Advisors, an international consulting firm and CMAA Silver Advantage Partner. Obtain an outline for an Agronomic Plan at  www.globalgolfadvisors.com.