In golf, the player with the lowest score wins, and the business of golf is much the same, with the winning courses keeping their expenses low while still meeting customer expectations. Unfortunately, the sport’s elegance and tradition have not always attracted the best managers, and many courses have failed. “Golf has enough glamour that it attracts even the most astute businessperson to invest in something that they thought might work, that they liked—but maybe the glamour of it was greater than their ability to produce revenue in the end,” says Trevor Smith, principal of Innovative Golf Management Services (IGM), a firm that aims to keep the industry out of the rough by pointing courses to financial viability and stability.
Based in Kamloops, British Columbia, IGM primarily works to make sure courses have the right people in place to manage their different elements: architecture and construction, landscape and horticulture, retail, food and beverage service, and hotel management.
with Trevor Smith
1. What does innovation mean to your company?
We’ve all heard the saying: there are no new ideas in the world. Sometimes innovation is putting together different ideas from different disciplines and fields to energize an innovation in a separate field.
2. Is there a technology, trend, or idea that’s driving your company forward?
It’s not the hard-goods stuff. It really is your human resource management side. That is still 65 percent of your expenses. The more efficient that they can become and the more understanding of all the disciplines in the business, the more effective they’ll be at creating sustainable revenue.
3. How do you innovate on a day-to-day basis?
I’m very involved in all of the associations of golf. I serve at the board level, and that is where I have the opportunity to push the human resource accountability.
4. Where do you hope this innovation will lead you in the next five years?
I want to be involved with a group of forward-thinking golf course owners [and] managers and forward-thinking individuals to achieve a new vision for the game of golf.
5. How do you cultivate innovation among your workforce?
Innovative Golf came to be by interconnecting with a group of people that shared the same ideologies and philosophies. We talk on a regular basis about what we feel the direction is, how tied we are to our initial philosophies, and how we lead people to where the opportunity is.
Smith came by his love of the game—and his understanding of the business—early. “My grandparents owned a farm and sold it to a developer on the premise that they build a golf course for the community,” he says. “So, from that moment on, I’ve been involved in golf.”
Through an education that covered everything from irrigation to management and a career that placed him in various course-management positions, he has learned the business from the ground up.
“My objective was to develop a well-rounded background so that I could handle most of the issues that arise in the operation of a golf course,” Smith says. “As I went through my career, I put myself in positions where I could learn from the successes and mistakes of others.”
Smith had a front-row seat in the late 1980s, when the game that was once confined mostly to private clubs became an anchor for community and resort developments.
“There was a huge influx of golf courses being built, and there probably weren’t enough qualified people to fill those management positions, but when an economy is going well, it’s easy to make money,” he says.
Then came the economic crash, “and now you had people who had never been in a depressed economy in the golf business, who didn’t know how to reduce expenses and achieve a sustainable business model,” he adds.
Learning from what he witnessed, Smith started IGM in 2005. While there are other management consultants in the market, his biggest competition is actually the mindset of golf-course owners and managers.
“It really is, ‘We’re in trouble, but we can get ourselves out of this on our own,’” he says. “One of the biggest problems is that the asset value of the golf course has dropped. In order to sustain your fixed expenses, your operation has to be able to run lean and efficiently.”
Owners and managers also have to be held accountable. “One of the biggest issues that an unsustainable business model has is that nobody in the management is taking any responsibility for the decisions that they make,” Smith says.
The goal of IGM is not just making a course profitable for the short term but helping it achieve a long-term vision. To do that, the consultancy sometimes has to face its clients with hard truths.
“I have no problem saying what it is that I feel is wrong with the business,” Smith says. “One of the things that I learned was that trying to placate someone’s wishes got me nowhere. I won’t take business if people want to have me reinforce poor ideas.”
However, for courses that want to succeed and prosper, Smith is ready to help them find their swing again, so to speak. “There’s as much or more opportunity in the golf business as there ever was,” he says. “It just has to be looked at five or six degrees differently than it has been.”