Running HOA Golf Facilities Fore!

There are amenities…and then there are golf courses. Perks that are often found at homeowner associations like gyms, tennis courts and playgrounds are nice, but a golf course defines a property and is very often the primary reason people buy a home in that community.

Golf is Good

The benefits to having a golf course on-site are numerous. Not only does it provide residents a private course that is extremely close to home, it also helps increase property values and provides scenic beauty and even a natural habitat for fauna and flora.

"One benefit is definitely location," says Thomas Tucci of Rossmoor Community Association, an active-adult community of 418 acres in Monroe Township with an 18-hole golf course that is managed by Billy Casper Golf. "The residents are here, and they don't have to travel—they can take their own golf carts home. It's a community-based situation where the entire community is surrounded by the golf course; it's the heart of the community. You can't get to your house, except for a few streets, without driving past the golf course."

Rossmoor residents have the option to become members of the golf course, but they aren't required to do so. In fact, even residents who aren't members can play on the course by paying for a tee time. Guests can play with a member, and non-residents who are 45 and older can join the golf course without moving to the community (people have to be 55 or over in order to live in the community).

And it's not just golfers who enjoy living in a community that features a golf course. According to Ed Shearon of Shearon Environmental Design and Shearon Golf in Plymouth Meeting, Pa., more than half of the people who live in golf communities in the Northeast aren't golfers.

"Good community design and good golf design have the same fundamental features," Shearon says. "What the real estate developer [of a golf community] wants is streams and naturalized areas, he wants to preserve existing woodland and have a nice rolling terrain with great vistas. If you're a family in a golf community, what you really have is a 150-acre to 200-acre Central Park for your family to enjoy."

While soaring golf balls make taking walks on the golf course a bad idea during operating hours, and though most courses don't encourage residents going on the course for recreational purposes, Shearon says homeowners are likely to make use of the course. First off, a view of the course can provide views of beautiful grass, deer, ducks and other wildlife.

And though the course and the home areas are different, Shearon says, "The reality is that at night, when golfers aren't on the course, people are walking their dogs, people are fishing in the ponds. In the wintertime, people are cross-country skiing and sledding. Now a golf course developer is not going to say, 'Welcome' because of the liability issues, but the reality is that what happens."

Running the Course

Golfers pay a good amount of money for the privilege of enjoying their own course, and keeping a course in tip-top shape is a big job. There's a lot more to it than collecting membership fees and keeping the golf carts running.

Most property managers aren't experts in running a golf facility, so the usual course of action for most HOAs is to have a golf course management company operate and maintain the course for them. A golf course superintendent will then run the operation for the property in conjunction with the course management company.

"There's a lot of work involved," says Frank Cosentino, New Jersey regional manager for Billy Casper Golf. "It's a tremendous effort on the superintendent's part to keep the golf course in good condition. As far as maintaining the golf course, there are a lot of moving parts. There's more to it than just having a landscaping crew come in there and cut the grass every once in a while and throw some fertilizer down."

According to Shearon, taking care of grass on a golf course follows the same principles as taking care of any lawn—but it's a lot more intense. He points out that there are several grades of grass on a golf course; the grasses in the rough, on the fairway, and on the green are all different, and need to be treated differently. The grass on the fairway is the trickiest to take care of.

"Greens take the most amount of care, because they're cut at less than an eighth of an inch high and you have a lot of people walking around on a relatively small area," Shearon says. "In order to maintain quality uniform putting surface, it takes more care." He adds that a golf green will be trimmed up to five times a week and will be treated with smaller amounts of fertilizer while a typical lawn gets treated with large doses of fertilizer a few times. That what helps make a green so green while being so short.

"It's all about applying the right preventative chemicals at the right time of the year," Cosentino says. "The same with fertilizer—as far as managing the growth of the grasses that you have on the golf course, it's all about disease control and weed control. It's quite a big deal."

Tucci says that the association does have input into how the course is run. "We definitely have oversight," he says. "We have monthly meetings. The golf chairman and I get together and discuss the direction they want the golf course to go."

No Rest for the Putters

Keeping a course running smoothly is also a year-round job. Weather permitting, the course at Rossmoor is open all year. If it snows, the course will close while snow is on the ground, but as long as it's playable, the course is open. So if it snows in early December and the snow melts and the course dries out, it could theoretically be re-opened in a few weeks—for those putters willing to brave the cold to tee off.

"In the Northeast, your active season is weather related," Shearon says. "When the weather gets over 50 degrees—which is usually sometime in March until sometime in November—that's your active season. But there are diehards who play all year round as long as there's no snow on the ground."

Shearon adds that one course he manages, Raven's Claw Golf Club in Limerick, Pennsylvania, had 1,000 rounds played this January. That number is unusually high, but mild weather brought out lots of golfers this past winter.

The cold months are also a time to take care of tasks like pruning trees that grow year-round and doing other tasks that are easier to get done when the course isn't crowded, like vehicle maintenance.

"It's usually just preparing for the next season," Cosentino says. "That's usually what the winter is for, [even though] you're working with fewer crew members than you would during the playing season."

Keeping Members Happy

Most of the communication between the association, residents and the people running the course takes place at monthly golf committee meetings.

"Anything that needs to be approved or communicated or re-visited is discussed during those meetings," Cosentino says. "There's also an open forum at the end of most meetings where anyone who might be a golfer but not part of the board can speak up and comment.

"It serves as a platform to bring up any topic they feel they need to discuss with the golf committee and possibly have some sort of resolution or something they feel needs to be addressed."

Tucci says that if a resident comes to him with an issue and it's something he feels he can handle himself, he'll take care of it while keeping the golf pro in the loop that so that no one is surprised. He'll bring bigger issues to the course management. Something of a turnover in Rossmoor's population has the people running the course balancing the needs and desires of various residents.

"We're in a situation where it's an aged community, it's been here since 1966," Tucci says. "We're seeing some turnover now with younger members coming on. So we're trying to keep up with new members' expectations while still keeping the older members happy. It's kind of a juggling game, and it's one where we're evolving year to year and we're definitely seeing the different demands and trying to satisfy both."

Dealing with Nuisances

Operating a golf course comes with some problems, though people who run courses say they're pretty minor. After all, people who love golf really love it so small problems are worth it.

One hindrance, though, is when non-members go onto the course when it's closed to play a few holes for free or to practice their putting.

"It is a wide-open golf course around the community, so late afternoon you may get a few guys shagging balls and whatnot," Tucci says. … But [we don't have a] rash of incidents as far as people going on the course. It happens here and there but not enough that we need to [take extreme measures] to control it."

Shearon says safety should be the primary concern of a golf course that's located at a residential community. Houses must be a proper distance from the course and barriers can prevent hit balls from hitting homes or residents—but despite taking such precautions, it's almost inevitable that at some point, a ball will hit a home.

"You're in a golf course community—you have to realize that occasionally your house may be hit with a golf ball, and the same way if somebody hits your car [in a parking lot] they're supposed to report it you," Shearon says.

Wildlife can be another nuisance, but Tucci says that because Rossmoor is a gated community with fences surrounded the property, animals don't get on the course very often, though the occasional deer makes its way on the course, and last year a fox called the course home for a while.

"Animal control won't handle a fox unless it's rabid," Tucci says. "We tried to trap it, but it's pretty tough to outfox a fox."

That aside however, most people who choose to live in a golf-centered community are more than happy to put up with the occasional fox or ball-shagging scofflaw in order to indulge their passion for the game as often as they can. And if their course is as well-kept as it is well-loved, it's more than just an amenity—it's a whole way of life.

Anthony Stoeckert is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The New Jersey Cooperator.

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