SHERIDAN — Wyoming golfers have limited time on the course. Mother Nature regularly prohibits the sport for at least three months of winter and sometimes closer to five.
Because of these limitations, golf courses need to do as much business as possible in the shortened golf season, particularly during the approximately 100 days between Memorial Day in late May and Labor Day in early September.
The Powder Horn general manager Robert Kearney took over his position in December 2015 and has seen the opening dates for the golf course greatly fluctuate in the past three years: Feb. 17, 2016; March 12, 2017; April 14, 2018. The club’s new golf simulator, which opened Feb. 18, helped bring in more people during the long winter months, but it couldn’t replace the real thing.
And Kearney said the toughest part is getting everything ready ahead of the spring season.
“Although we’ve done all the preparations and taken the necessary measures and steps to be ready for the season, not being able to pinpoint that and get an exact date (is challenging),” Kearney said. “It’s definitely tougher coming out of the winter, because you just don’t know, ‘Are we going to open next week? The following week?’ How do you staff for that? How do you tell people, ‘Hey, I want to hire you but I don’t know when’?”
As a result, the course runs what Kearney called a “skeleton crew” for the first three or four weeks of the season.
June, July and the beginning of August are the busiest months of the year, but The Powder Horn is fully staffed by then. It gets tougher when most of those seasonal employees head back to school or their full-time jobs in August and September. That goes for students and instructors alike, as Kearney said a fair number of local teachers work at the course in the summer. The Powder Horn has a system in place to deal with the situation every year, but that doesn’t necessarily make it easier.
“It’s challenging when your staff starts to wear down, because we’re still extremely busy the last couple weeks of August,” Kearney said.
The challenges differ for a smaller operation.
Hidden Bridge Golf Club owner Jeff McArthur hires six seasonal workers, most of whom are retirees, so the course doesn’t have to deal with large numbers of employees leaving in August.
“It works really well for us, because you’re not having to rehire,” McArthur said. “But it’s a nine-hole golf course, so we don’t require the workforce of other, larger clubs.”
Hidden Bridge is open seven days per week beginning April 1. However, the weather was so bad this year that golfers weren’t consistently playing until mid-May.
The weather causes challenges, but nothing can be done about it.
“It’s not hard at all, because it’s out of our control,” McArthur said. “You open when Mother Nature dictates it … It seems like it’s getting a little later, but next year very well could be middle of March. You never know.”
McArthur prepares the course, shop and equipment as much as he can in winter, so it’s not too bad when golfing season begins.
“All that stuff should be taken care of prior to your opening date, and if it’s not, you can chase your tail,” McArthur said.
The club is fairly busy in September, then business starts to wind down deeper into autumn. McArthur usually takes care of the course irrigation system in mid-October and eventually sands the greens for winter. The course closes most years around Nov. 1 but stays open as long as possible so every last dollar can be earned.
“As long as the golf course is playable, and it’s not harmful to the golf course, we play as long as we possibly can,” McArthur said.
It is not a 40-hour workweek during the hectic few months, but Kearney and McArthur are well aware of that.
“It’s long hours this time of year, but it’s the nature of the business,” Kearney said. “We signed up for it. We knew what we were getting into.”
For golf course operators currently in the throngs of their busy season, the next couple months serve as a race against time and nature.