What does golf do to a person's brain ?

 

Having been around golf for a number of years, I’ve seen normally smart people do some really stupid things. I’ve seen clubs broken in half, thrown in ways you can’t imagine. I’ve seen friendships destroyed over $2 putts, and friendships made after the fiercest competition. I’ve watched golfers go from laughing to cursing with one swing of the club, and back to laughter with the next. I’ve got to be honest; the lack of logic I’ve witnessed at our club recently really just tests the imagination, as otherwise bright and intelligent people are making huge decisions that well, quite honestly, defy normal thinking. 

Our golf club like so many others has experienced a drop off in membership the last few years. As a result, the club's revenue base has started to suffer, and put a strain on our finances. Before going any further, it should be noted that although we have some quite well to do members, the club is basically a working person’s club with teachers, police officers, small business men and tradesmen, making up a good portion of the ranks. So the strain on the budget does mean something and action was in fact taken. With some debate, it was decided that we had to attract new members. 

The reality of the nationwide decline in golf club membership be damned. Pleasantville Country Club is different, and we are going to attract new members by renovating our golf course. What a great and novel idea. No one else is doing that so we can be ahead of the curve. Again, what do we care about the reality that new golf course design construction is slowing to a crawl and what is keeping the golf course architects and contractors alive is renovations and restoration. Well, anyway, the board approved the creation of a master plan for these member attracting changes, and it was off to Neverland. I must admit, being part of the renovation planning and implementation, has been a very rewarding and educational experience.

The first step was naturally screening the potential architects. What was interesting about this particular step, was they pretty much seemed to screen themselves. To the extreme that one firm mailed in their proposal without a visit to the course. Another’s proposal required that his name be attached to ours for perpetuity. Pleasantville Country Club designed by I Won on Tour.com

A third recommended a fourth, and the fourth made 3 site visits walking the course alone once, and with members of the committee twice. He then made a detailed proposal including a no charge redesign of the twelfth hole. With the selection of the architect made we moved on confidently that we were going to achieve greatness in GolfClubdom! And we would be beating new membership applications off, maybe even charging people a fee just to fill out Pleasantville Country Club's new 23 page membership application. Again, I feel that I was very fortunate to have been part of the redesign process as I had read a half dozen books on golf course architecture from Shackelford to Ross and relished the chance to hear the thinking process of the architect and to see his and our committees thoughts evolve. I did however find parts of the process very frustrating as a simple question kept being avoided. What impact will these design changes have on our maintenance budget? The reply came back repeatedly: it should have a minimal impact, if any at all. Part of the frustration was my lack of ability to phrase the question at anything but the simplest terms, but then one meeting, the follow up question came to fruition. “How can you say the changes will have only minor impact when you have said that the bunkers are going to need to be raked by hand because of the steeper embankments, on top of all that, we’re adding additional bunkers? If this isn’t enough, it is also clear from the reshaping of the greens surrounds that are going to take place, it is going to at least double the amount of hand mowing”. Without even the slightest pause, the reply, “Well, yes, that’s true, but these costs will be offset by our reshaping of some of the teeing areas so they can be mowed with a fairway mower instead of a walk-behind”. Then before I had a chance to ask, “How the hell was this going to work?”…the greens chairman called for a vote, and our course redesign was ready for the boards rubber stamp…I mean approval!

The board reviewed the plan, approved it with little or no debate, and away we go. Because of the extent and the nature of the work to be done, it was decided to proceed in two steps. And the first step was to begin as soon as possible, and the second step the next Fall. Well the excitement and chatter as the bulldozer and shovel began their dance was something not felt at our club in many years. Although I was not present at the time, they say the exhibition match between Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen was pretty electrifying as well.

The club experienced the most Fall play in years as members found time for a round and a look at the rapid changes. The feedback to the greens committee was the first positive comments we’ve had in years, escalating our enthusiasm. As the final rolls of sod were stitched into place, the atmosphere surrounding Pleasantville Country Club could not have been brighter and the anticipation of step 2 next fall was sky high. The green chairman glowingly congratulated the architect and the shaper for a job well done and was handed the bill. Grasping himself, he uttered “That can’t be right. This is 50% over budget”. The news of the overrun shot through the club rumor mill faster than a full swing shank.

23 member resignations later, we started the new golfing season. Now, a club our size, 23 is a lot of members to lose, but if you keep your costs in line, it is manageable. By mid June we knew we were in trouble. Grounds was running 20% over budget and it seems as though the saved money on the maintaining of the tees did not quite offset the increased labor on our bunkers and greens surrounds. This increased budget need, combined with the cost overrun of step one, forced the greens committee and the board to rethink step 2 of the course renovations. After much discussion, the board acted. A mid season dues increase was levied. Think skunk at a garden party, anyone?

Talk about howling. Be assured that 90% of those that lined up to sing the praises of the work process last fall, now lined up to say that we should never have done it. That money should have been used to keep our dues in line, that we had better not proceed with step 2 just yet. The board, not wanting to stop the building of their fountain,... I mean to stop the golf course improvements, decided that in light of the screaming and bitching,... I mean the finances, that step 2 would have to be phased back.

As the membership let out a mass sigh of relief, I began preparing for the plan alteration meeting and in particular taking on some of that expensive modulating bunker and greens surround work. As surely there were ways to cut some of that back and put forth some maintenance saving tweaks. 

As mid August rolled around, and no greens committee meeting had been called, I asked the chair when he thought we’d be getting together, and was informed we weren’t. The board had worked out the priorities on the work they wanted done. Upon asking if the greens committee was at least going to be notified of the priorities so that we could inform a questioning membership, I heard, “Well, basically, we’re going to finish all the bunkers and greens complexes and save the tee work until another time or do it ourselves if it is appropriate”. 

I knew the chair was serious and that the decision had been made so I made every effort to stay level and not pull a nutty. Like "let me get this straight; the first group of improvements led to a 20% increase in golf course maintenance costs, so we are going to eliminate the labor saving work in the 2nd step……..oh, that’s good. That might put the overall greens budget cost in the plus 50% bracket, yeah, that’s a nice round number. Speaking of round numbers, that should result in a membership resignation of, I don’t know, let’s pick a nice round number like 47………..what are you guys thinking? Have you not heard of the law of supply and demand? You know what the law says: the higher the price, the less demand."

Yes, I am convinced that golf can damage a man’s brain.

 

 

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