Carlos Abisambra shares how golf course builders plan to overcome logistical challenges to keep up with the growing demands of the sport.
Each season, millions tune in to watch professional golf’s various championships and matches play out on TV. The lush greens and scenic views of each course provide a compelling backdrop for the sport at hand. What’s not readily apparent by the time these courses are camera-ready is the amount of work behind that preparation and the specialized workforces who undertake it. The true professionals in the golf course building industry know that this important work needs to happen but often find it difficult to keep up with the logistics that go into preparing for a season. Moreover, those star courses only make up a portion of the greens nationwide that need to be worked on each year, meaning the true scale required for a new season of golf is something viewers can barely comprehend.
Whether it be building new structures, maintaining current courses, or constructing new ones, the crews behind the scenes need to be dedicated and adept. While their skills overlap with the construction and landscaping fields, a majority of the training this workforce needs takes place on the job. A portion of the crews is nomadic specialists, traveling each year to support maintenance so players across the country have the positive experiences they’ve come to expect. What does the market for course building look like now — and what are the logistical concerns for stakeholders leading these projects? I want to explore that further and provide my own insight based on my background leading a team to provide workforce housing across industries — including golf.
A Current Look
Golf courses and their superintendents are in a difficult position. With the labor market tightening, it has become increasingly difficult to source talent who can keep up with the level of work courses require. Despite increased interest in the sport just last year, the industry has to adapt to a smaller pool of capable workers. There were more than 16,000 courses in the United States by the end of 2021, according to the National Golf Foundation. Meaning there are 16,000 greens that will need to be maintained year after year. Typically, nomadic workforces on the greens stay for three to six months to refurbish current courses and build new ones. With local labor not as easy to source as in years past, superintendents may increase the use of nomadic workforces and other alternative labor pools.
Employee Experience and Retention
This workforce is highly skilled, and superintendents will want to maintain their relationships with organizations and employees integral to course operation. With the labor market contracting, and 3.2 million new players entering the sport in 2021, employing retention strategies that may have worked in the past may not be enough to keep up with an increase in demand. Companies that truly care about being on the cutting edge of the industry will put their employees’ experience above all else. In order to help combat the employment gap and make sure this important work can get done, golf course builders should look at the resources they provide and the organization of the workflow to help set reliable expectations. These crews are doing really hard work, so having the extra logistics of moving across the country for a three-month stay can help relieve the stress and allow them to focus on the job at hand. Companies that effectively prioritize the experience of their employees are going to come out on top.
Increasing wages is another great starting point, but with fiscal budgets set to take a hit in 2023, golf course builders and landscapers have to offer other benefits. Working on a golf course can be rigorous. Many tasks are weather-dependent, and a bit of rain can delay projects for days. Shaping wet sand or landscaping in the mud isn’t a doable task. The whole process is incredibly complicated, with multiple teams needed for ground removal, architecture and design, maintenance, and landscaping, and it can be easy for an employee or an entire team to fall through the cracks.
Those in charge of logistics need to prioritize organization and provide the necessary infrastructure for all of these unique teams to be placed in the right area at the right time. Leaders should also make sure the timeline is as clear as possible since all of these moving parts can make it incredibly complicated. The gaps in the labor and housing market will make this tough for any company, but by keeping a pulse on all the companies and employees involved in this undertaking, you can ensure that employees are kept happy and that the job gets done.
Distributed Job Sites
Depending on the scale of a golf course building organization, management will need to house multiple crews across job sites. This amounts to potentially a hundred or so different housing agreements based in different locations, for varying duration. Organization remains key for leaders as well as an understanding that there may be a need for more than the traditional housing options. It’s also important to keep in mind that traveling season over the season can be taxing and depending on local options, typical housing strategies can leave employees underserved.
With each pitfall that comes, the industry has shown its resilience. With the days of pandemic shutdowns behind, the greens have bounced back, and crews and management continue to work tirelessly to support players. The specialists on the ground are fundamental to each game played and are best equipped to support courses through this next chapter. Courses are scattered throughout the country, each requiring attention to detail to keep players coming back each year. The nomadic workforce supporting these efforts faces a housing gap that can complicate smooth operations, but solutions exist.