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Agronomy Advisory Board Mailbag: Quarter Three

Posted On: August 7, 2018 by VGM Club in: Agronomy VGM Club

Maximizing EOP

Our Agronomy Advisory Board Mailbag: Quarter Three edition is brought to you by Nufarm.

We are approaching the most important purchasing season of the year for Superintendents. Some of our members are almost hot off the heels of another grueling summer. Superintendents like Rick Tegtmeier and his team busted their butts all summer to overcome challenges, and now they have to quickly recalibrate for next season. Simply put, its a tough turnaround.

Others are gearing up for their busy season. Our Agronomy Advisory Board Mailbag is a fair representation of both. The broader point is that, regardless of where you are in your year, one of the last things our membership wants to worry about is over 75% of their fertilizer and chemical budget, yet here we are. Below is how our Agronomy Advisory Board faces those challenges and gets the most out of these next few months.

Answers provided by Andy Jorgensen (On Top of the World Club), Rick Tegtmeier (Des Moines Golf & Country Club), Ryan McCavitt (Bayou Oaks Golf Complex), Jeff Holiday (Salisbury Country Club), and Shaun Donahue (Tidewater Golf Club & Plantation).

How much do you participate in EOP?

Andy: We spend close to 90% of our annual chemical budget on the EOP. Only recently have we began to early order fertilizer.

Rick: I feel that I have been here long enough to know that my agronomic plans will work. We have 36 holes to manage, so I use 95% of my fert/chem budget during the EOP. This is roughly just shy of $300K.

Ryan: Currently we participate with roughly 25-30% of our budget through the EOP.

Jeff: I purchase about 75% of the fertilizer and chemical budget through the EOP, which is about $100,000. I order based on conservative programs. If we have a mild summer I may have product left over for next year. If I have a stressful summer or use more than usual, I will probably have to purchase additional products. 

What are the benefits of purchasing early?

Andy: There is huge upfront savings and rebates from the manufacturers along with buying before the typical annual price increases after the first of the year. This also allows us to dedicate our time on the course throughout the year rather than in the office ordering products we routinely need. Additionally, we have extra product on hand if needed due to an outbreak, or when a typical product might be in high demand and short supply. 

Jeff: The main benefits are better pricing, rebates and rewards. I typically use the rewards for the crew or offset my educational expense (GIS).

What are your frustrations with EOP?

Rick: What I get upset about during EOP is that I have just come off of the season and I am forced to early order in October to save the club the maximum. Then you go to GIS and you see some new products that have come out that look really promising, but you are locked in to what you have ordered during the EOP. My distributor does give me some leeway to make some changes, but it is not much.

Year to year, how often does your agronomic plan change and how does that impact your EOP decisions?

Andy: The majority of our agronomic program is similar each year. We do adjust based on weather patterns or expectation. But planning the year in advance helps us plan out applications that maximize their benefits.

Ryan: Year to year our agronomic plan changes as we play with chemistries, soil, course conditions, budgets, and rotation of fungicide/herbicide programs. It varies on whether it impacts our EOP order because we generally order big bulk type applications (pre-emerge etc.) which vary only slightly year to year.

How do you describe the benefits of using a VGM Club aligned distributor during EOP season?

Andy: Additional savings add up quick, and the VGM rebate is icing on the cake. We’re going to buy the products anyway, so we might as well reduce the cost as much as possible.

Rick: Receiving that check at the end of the season because we partnered with a VGM Club distributor is a nice perk to get back to your club for being a loyal customer.

Ryan: I think Superintendents that have taken the time to listen to what VGM Club offers understands the benefits. Unfortunately the ones who haven’t taken the opportunity to learn about VGM are missing out on these rebates. There are a lot of clubs where Superintendents get bombarded every year with EOP stuff and get lost in the shuffle. I believe if there was a way to get the message out to everyone about how VGM can help coordinate and maximize the EOP savings for their clubs, it may lessen the confusion.

Jeff: It’s a positive message. With the way the economy has been, everyone is looking to save money. As far as I’m concerned the rebates pay for the VGM membership and more.

What are some common projects your mechanic undertakes to prepare your equipment for the next season?

Ryan: Mechanics generally break down all the equipment and replace anything worn or aged. Belts, seals, reels, bearings that pose problems. Along with that, any long term service requirements for machinery. This is also an opportunity to upgrade the maintenance facility, adding work bench space, shelving, electrical work or things left over from construction. Down here in Louisiana there is no winter period so although a little slower, regular daily work is still needed. (Grinding reels, setting HOC, regular daily wear and tear.)

Andy: The majority of the projects are rebuilding mowers. We don’t have much downtime in north central Florida, but we do have a few weeks when we can tackle some of the jobs on our list. However, it seems we are always tearing something apart throughout the year.

Shaun: We are a year-round operation, so we don’t really have “down time” in the winter months to tear down reels or take apart equipment and refurbished as much as I would like. It’s more of a “do as it is needed” approach. Preventive maintenance is always a priority, but as far as projects are concerned we are always in a state of readiness with our equipment so the ebbs and flows of the seasons don’t really correlate to the technician’s shop.

What prominent projects do you have coming up this coming offseason? If necessary, how did you approach your board to discuss the importance of this particular project and sell them on providing additional funds?

Ryan: We will be adding drainage to compliment the new golf course drainage system. This will be adding fingers and additional pipe to tie into main drain system and catch basins, thus grabbing larger areas that may remain wet. Additional parking lot will be constructed this winter as well and the new cart storage facility. Fortunately we have planned this for the upcoming fiscal year and funding was previously approved during construction.

Andy: We have several large projects coming in the next 18 months, including a full renovation of one course, new greens, tees and irrigation system, and relocation of the maintenance shop. Approval was pretty easy as we have been asking for these items for quite some time. Sometimes age determines needs, which is the case with all of these. Starting the discussions early and justifying the need has allowed the club to allocate funds accordingly. 

Shaun: We don’t really have anything prominent going on this summer, which is our offseason, but previously we have completed tee renovations, green renovations, cart path renovations, and drainage projects. As a single owner golf course I think selling projects is a little more difficult because the owner is not a golfer, so he doesn’t “see” the things going on with the golf course which is different than at a private facility. He relies on the management team at Tidewater to prioritize and request funding for our projects. Having ownership at any facility understand the need for continuous improvement is paramount to being able to plan and execute projects, and this includes planning for the capital investment as well.

Where are you looking to build your personal skills as a manager? 

Ryan: Always trying to learn about the newest techniques and products that are on the market that can benefit the club. There is a lot of research done and keeping up with the results can greatly improve the efficiency of staff and quality of turf. Personally, I always like to learn more of the business side of the industry as well as ways to better motivate, inspire, teach and lead my staff. 

Andy: I was always taught that growing grass was the easiest part of the job, and managing people is the hardest. This couldn’t be more true with our employee base ranging from fresh out of high school kids to retirees looking to keep busy. All generations have their positive traits, and identifying these helps the employee and the company both succeed. We rely heavily on internal training from our Human Resources department as well as outside resources to stay on top of the current trends in employment, and always have room to improve as a manager. 

Shaun: From my staff mainly, listening to what they want through 360 reviews and evaluations has really helped me identify areas that need improvement. I probably don’t do as much of that as I should because of time, but it really is eye-opening when I do it. Networking with other Superintendents and General Managers helps me as well – hearing what works for them (or doesn’t) and learning how to adapt to philosophies I feel would help me grow as a manager. I’ve never been adverse to change, and honestly don’t know how you can be an agronomist if you are, so revamping management style to fit the efficiencies of my staff I think benefits the operations as a whole.

What partner(s) are you currently using in the VGM Club agronomy portfolio you would suggest my team look further into? 

Ryan: Cintas, Airgas, Southern Star, Stens, Interstate Battery, John Deere, Best Buy have all been valuable for us.

Andy: Grainger has been our go-to supplier for hard to find items, tools and safety supplies. They have a very knowledgeable staff and the ability to source items from their supplier partners that Grainger doesn’t normally carry. We also like Nufarm and the selection and pricing they provide on their product lineup.

Shaun: Use them all if you have the chance. Seriously. VGM does an outstanding job of partnering with companies that provide value – value for us as turf managers because of the cost benefit, but also value for our customers because of the great products they provide. Case in point for us is PondHawk. It was a great chance conversation at GIS about ponds and Emmalee with VGM Club asked if we have ever heard of PondHawk. We hadn’t, so she introduced me to Sandra and PondHawk. I really thought what they were doing was efficient, cost effective, and required minimal effort on my end with upkeep. We installed 2 units in 2017 and plan to add 4-6 more over the next year or two. I’ve been really happy with the outcome and I beleive that VGM did their homework on this company to make sure their members were going to get what they needed from the products, as well as save money in the process. We also use John Deere, Lowes Pro Services, Easy Picker, Sherwin-Williams, and Cintas, just to name a few. But, each partner has mirrored PondHawk in terms of service, reliability, and value.

To learn more about VGM Club, visit www.vgmclub.com or call 800-363-5480.

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