In-House Vs. Out-Source

By Dr. Michael J. Hurdzan, ASGCA Past President

Everyone enjoys the satisfaction that accompanies doing a job well. Human energy and skill combined to produce an outstanding result deservedly brings with it a sense of pride, exhilaration and more. But what makes accomplishment so great is the despair that accompanies failure ­- or as ABC Sports says, “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”

As any performance-oriented person knows, the key to success is not attempting the impossible, but rather to operate within the extreme limits of our abilities. Attempting more that we are capable of accomplishing can make any of us very familiar with despair. When it comes to golf course construction, what are your limits? When should you dare – and when should you play it safe? Is the risk worth the reward? This article will try to help you answer that question.

Evaluating Potential Risks

Golf course construction or renovation is specialized work that requires skilled workmen and knowledgeably selected equipment. It should be done with economic efficiency, in the shortest time possible.

Problems can develop when a project is attempted using ill-suited or inadequate labor, equipment or materials. Problems can be further compounded by foul weather, low budgets, influential and vocal sidewalk superintendents, poor working conditions or very limited construction schedules.

Unsatisfactory results can take the form of:

  • Disappointing final product
  • Exorbitant construction costs
  • Missed planting date
  • Poor function or performance
  • Extensive post-construction repairs
  • Expensive establishment and maturation procedures
  • Injuries, lawsuits or arguments

To avoid any of these liabilities, you should first consider the full scope and requirements of the construction job – particularly during renovation.

While planning a project, remember that golfers can be very protective about giving up any part of their golf course during the active golf season. Golfers do not want temporary facilities, ground under repair, noise or dust, delays caused by laborers or general inconvenience. This means that golf course renovation is usually done after the active golf season, which is usually Memorial Day in the South and Labor Day in the northern parts of the country.

To ensure that the golf course is ready for the next season, planting must be done by very early fall in the North or midsummer in the South. During this narrow window the golf course superintendent must continue normal golf course maintenance, and in many instances the grass is still growing.

Part-time help may not be available, aerification must begin, later fertilization starts, leaves may become a problem, soils may stay too wet or too dry for proper working conditions, and rainy seasons may commence. In addition, golf course renovation or construction is likely to be resented by die-hard, off-season golfers.

It is difficult for a golf course superintendent to maintain his course to golfers expectations while doing significant golf course reconstruction. And is it worth it? What if problems arise that prevent timely completion of the project? What if the newly built project fails in one way or another?

And if you succeed, will you be warmly thanked and rewarded or will your employers simply expect more of you next time? Each individual should ask himself honestly whether he is capable of doing the extra work while maintaining good playing conditions – and whether the risk is worth the reward.

Construction or renovation problems can begin with a poor design. A poor design can result in:

  • Slow approval of plans
  • Confused bidding process
  • High construction costs
  • Contractor disputes
  • Slow construction process
  • Missed planting date
  • Unsafe construction costs
  • Poor safety for golfers, maintenance staff and adjoining land users
  • High maintenance costs
  • Slow playing conditions
  • Reduced number of playable days
  • Bad reputation for golf course

The solution is to hire an expert with experience in projects like yours, to do detailed planning, and to follow a procedurally correct sequence.

Project Preparation

Once you have a good design for the intended project, isolate all of one season’s work into the smallest physical area possible. This area should be centered on a single main borrow site for fill, if fill is required.

The work area should encompass complete holes. Golfers don’t mind giving up a golf hole for one year, but they don’t like tearing up the tee one year, the bunkers the next, followed by the green the next year. The grouping of holes by work areas is called “phasing.”

To determine the starting date of a project, select the ideal, latest planting date that will permit complete turf coverage of the project in the current growing season.Estimate the number of days that construction or renovation will take – building in a 20 percent time cushion – and subtract the number of workdays from the target planting date. For example, if you project a planting date of October 15 and you estimate 26 construction days plus 5 cushion days, then the construction should start on September 15 (October 15 – 31 days = September 15). This is called “scheduling.”

Once you know the work area and have determined the scope of work that should be attempted to meet a normal planting date, club officials and members should be notified of the plans and the dates that the work will take place. This will allow them to schedule golf events, outings and guest visits.

If temporary facilities are to be used, then the members should know about the provisions well in advance – and the temporaries should be of the highest quality your budget will permit. Some superintendents have built temporary greens or tees in a rough area a year in advance. This has given their members a mature, albeit smaller, playing surface during construction and maturation of the main golf course project. Later the sod is stripped from the temporary and is used elsewhere.

Where possible on new designs, we try to design in a 19th green on a long par 5. Golfers can then play to the 19th green on the par 5 and play to the par 5 green as a par 3. They then have 18 holes of good golf even though one complete hole is closed.

As part of the planning process, begin to allocate in-house resources – labor, equipment and materials – toward the project. In addition, arrange for any supplemental help that may be needed and secure the proper construction materials.

Selection of contractors and materials are very important. A few suggested criteria for selection are:

  • After-installation service history
  • Product reliability locally
  • Local successful projects
  • Cost-benefit ratio
  • Product availability

In this day of material and labor shortages, it is best to order early and get confirmation on availability and delivery dates. The best advice in selecting contractors and materials is to ask a lot of questions.

At this point you have decided to do a project, have an approved design have budgeted properly, limited your work area, set a realistic starting date, notified members of the construction sequence and schedule, made arrangements for continued care of the course to normal standard, installed good temporary facilities where appropriate, selected outside resources, and placed orders for services and materials. This should all be completed at lease four to six months prior to start of the project.

Again, you should determine whether you should do the actual work or bid it out to contractors. Realistically assess the scope of the project by going through a potential risk evaluation. Honestly determine if the following sources of potential liabilities are high, medium or low. Check each item and add up the score for problems that might arise:

If your total score is 15 or less, do it yourself. If it is 16 to 20, try to lower the risk of examining your weaknesses and correcting them. If your score is 21 or more, contract it out.

If you still feel capable of handling the project, ensure you have proper installation training, adequate equipment installation time, experienced workmen or foreman, and harbor no false expectations.

Determining whether to do a project “in-house” or “out-source” must remain an individual decision. I would advise anyone that unless they have had substantial experience in the anticipated work and working conditions, it is best to hire established experts.

Doing a good job of planning and orchestrating a project brings with it almost the same pride for the superintendent as the contractor who builds it.

Source of Problem High 3 Medium 2 Low 1
Unskilled work crew mistakes
Improper installation equipment
Insufficient installation equipment
Inexperienced in problem recognition
Extended installation period
Workman compensation claims
Improper irrigation functioning
No guarantee of workmanship
Perhaps no product warranty