Cost budgets are important for a range manager to follow, but the practice complex is a major touch point for the customer – which means keeping inventories fresh can at times be higher-priority
BY: DAVID GOULD
Starting each season with brand new range balls and protecting that inventory through months of use – it’s a straightforward approach to practice-ball quality management. It’s also the tactic that is used by 47 percent of the private clubs that participated in our current GRAA Operational Survey.
Among public-access courses that took part in the study, 42 percent use the once-a-year replacement philosophy. The standalone ranges we surveyed – a relatively small sample – showed 44 percent of them using once-per-year as their frequency. Among the private clubs, refreshing ball inventory “Multiple times per year” was chosen by another 47 percent of survey participants. At the public-access golf courses we surveyed, only 33 percent said they were reinforcing the striped-ball stock with new product multiple times over the course of the season. At standalone ranges, 41 percent are making periodic infusions of new balls during the operating year.
In what continues to be a spotty economic recovery, there is some interest in trying to stretch the useful life of range balls beyond one season. Only 5 percent of private-club ranges choose this tactic, whereas on the public-course side about one in six facilities, or 17 percent, answered “Every two years” when asked about their ball-replacement cycle. Among stand-alones, that semi-annual schedule is followed by 9 percent, according to the survey. Obviously, no item of rotating stock at a golf range will equal practice balls in terms of the cost factor or for that matter the customer-experience factor. Still, every bit counts when you’re trying to run a tight operation and at the same time keep up your image with the consumer. When asked about replacing “Range Baskets/Buckets/ Bags,” the private- club respondents favored an annual (34 percent) or a semi-annual (22 percent) cycle – al though no fewer than 20 percent (the steel-basket users, perhaps) said they could go four years or more without investing anew in this item. Among public course respondents, 15 percent answered “Multiple times per year” to this question. This may be a testament to the high incidence of theft of plastic ball baskets – an irritating phenomenon that range operators often complain of. At the standalone ranges, a tight cycle for replacement of baskets is basically unheard of. Over 40 percent make sure their baskets – predominantly steel, no doubt – last four years or longer. Another 18 percent of stand-alones gets at least three years’ use out of range buckets. Some range equipment calls for frequent or infrequent replacement owing mainly to how employees treat them. You could reasonably put “Range flagsticks” in this category, based on seeing the picker fly past them like a skier in the giant slalom. At 69 percent of GRAA private clubs, range flagsticks last two years or less. That figure is 57 percent at the public-course ranges.
Rather far down the list of items in the stock-rotation question was “Range Clocks.” To understand how public-course ranges view this piece of gear re quires merely looking at the last response option, “Not applicable.” There it shows that 68 percent of our ranges at public courses don’t set up clocks prominently on A-frame displays to keep range users cognizant of how close or far away their tee time is. Most likely the cost of installing these clocks and the possibility of damage or pilferage argues against having them. As a golf-operations consideration, especially with public players, having the clocks on the range would likely make a positive contribution to pace-of-play efforts.