Labor, Culture, and Golf's Staffing Shortage: Takeaways From My First GBC


By Michael Williams, Contributor, Golf Business 

Last week, I was privileged to attend the annual Golf Business Conference in Orlando for the first time. It was an amazing experience, an opportunity to get to know the golf course owners that keep this business alive. It was also an opportunity to assist the same owners and operators in solving some of their most intractable problems.

I had the opportunity to moderate a panel discussion that was devoted to the topic of solving the labor challenges that are facing the golf industry. The panel was stocked with some of the most experienced and innovative thinkers in the business: Sandy Cross (Chief People Officer of the PGA of America), Alex Elmore (EVP, Owned-Leased Asset Group Division, Troon), and Lonny Ostrander (CEO, Puzzle HR). We delved into issues that have challenged operators even before the pandemic and have become even more vexing during that time. How do you attract quality staff? How do you retain them once they are there? How can operators train and prepare frontline staff for promotion to management positions? 

But perhaps the most significant topic of discussion was about how to achieve a healthy and sustainable work/life balance. When I was with a golf course management company, I routinely worked 70-hour weeks during the season because that’s what was both required and expected, especially from owners and managers. Working countless hours was seen by most operators as a necessity, and many wore it as a badge of honor, tangible proof of their commitment to the game and to their business. 

But the pandemic has brought two things; a groundswell of interest in the game from new and returning players, and a new realization that life is more than just “the job.” Indeed, millions of workers have left their jobs in search of a position that doesn’t make them choose between earning a living and having a life.

Golf course operators are facing the same reality as the general labor market, a reality that requires employers to offer their prospective employees an opportunity to earn decent wages, improve their existing position and also enjoy their families and pursuits outside the workplace. They want to be seen as not just an employee, but as a whole person. While some may see this shift as an annoyance, smart operators will see this as their opening to define and refine their corporate culture. From recruitment to onboarding, from training to advancement, the companies that create a culture that promotes respect and appreciation for its employees will find that they are attracting and retaining quality individuals. Better still, those employees will pass that culture onto the customer, allowing those new golfers to become regular clients. It’s no wonder that statistics show companies with the highest retention rates in the service industry also have the highest ratings when it comes to customer satisfaction.

Perhaps Golf Business Conference 2022 emcee Kraig Kann said it best in his summary, imploring each operator to not only establish a winning corporate culture but to also make sure that they and their employees be able to express it in sixty seconds or less, ensuring that it is a part of each individual’s daily mindset. 

2022 promises to be as robust for golf as 2021 was, and operators that have taken the time to establish a winning corporate culture stand to reap the rewards for many seasons to come.



Michael Williams is the Executive Director for Cyrano Communications (Washington, DC). He is also a contributor for Voice of America (Washington, DC), a member of the USGA Golf Journal Editorial Board, and a contributor for In 2005, Michael launched his first radio show on FOX News Radio Sticks and Stones, a critically acclaimed show that covered golf, business and politics. Since that launch, Michael has established a reputation as a savvy broadcaster and as an incisive interviewer and writer. An avid golfer himself, Michael has covered the game of golf and the golf lifestyle including courses, restaurants, business, travel and sports marketing for publications all over the world.
** The views and opinions featured in Golf Business WEEKLY are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the NGCOA.**