OnLink Founder and CEO Walt Norley sat down with Mike Gracie, Superintendent at the Renegade course at Desert Mountain Club, to get his thoughts on the values of OnLink and the day-to-day activities around maximizing the platform.
WN: For background Mike, you’ve been working with OnLink at Desert Mountain since its inception. Desert Mountain was the first OnGolf user (OnGolf being the former company to OnLink), and have worked with our release of OnLink 2.0 in 2016, all the subsequent releases that we’ve had including OnLabor, and now the new 1.0 OnEquip program, released in the fall of 2017. Soon your team will be beta users for the new telematics program we’re releasing with John Deere. So you have all this background with us – what type of information are you looking for from OnLink as the main man at Desert Mountain’s Renegade course?
MG: The top things we’re looking for from OnLink are to be able to monitor playing conditions consistency and tracking labor allocation. Having an actual number of how much every day and every job is costing, being able to see our trends, making sure we are not going above our highs, and knowing what our lows are – that’s the correlation aspect to us that’s been so important. Knowing how consistent we can become on the golf course is so key for us.
WN: How does that help you with the communication channels at the club? How do you communicate the information that you have with OnLink, starting at your Renegade staff level, all the way up through the larger Desert Mountain organization that includes committees and a board of directors? What’s that communication look like on a daily/weekly/monthly basis?
MG: Instead of using a whiteboard with our Renegade staff, where previously we were hand-writing everything out, we now have tracking and job changes through OnLink on our phones, and we post the work-board for everybody so they know exactly what jobs they’re doing for the day. We don’t waste a lot of time coming back to the shop now to look at the board – we leave the maintenance facility early in the morning, then back at lunchtime and then when it’s time to go home. We also utilize OnLink with our employees – mainly our irrigation and equipment operators – to show them the correlation between moisture and how our greens perform. The graphs in OnLink make it a lot easier to explain. Having the reporting options that we do through OnLink and through OnLabor help us report to the Board and Green committee. For example, we can use the reports to justify our time in the case of when we have storm damage – we can show where everybody was and how many hours it took us to clean up. Or we can use graphs and charts to show the consistency of playing conditions on our greens.
WN: How about with the rest of the organization – how do you work that with your Director, Shawn Emerson? How do you communicate that data?
MG: I report our usage of OnLink to Shawn, as do the other Superintendents, in a single place for him to look at as his stats sheet for each golf course. So if Shawn is tied up in a board meeting or a member meeting or whatever, we’ve uploaded all the data in comprehensive field, so he can go directly to each golf course and see how things are going in real time.
WN: Desert Mountain is an Enterprise level user, which includes every operational aspect of course management along with weather– what features of the system are you mostly using daily/weekly?
MG: During the season we utilize Playing Conditions in OnLink and labor tracking in OnLabor daily. OnApply is used on a daily/weekly basis depending on whether we need to put an application out, or if we’re viewing historical reports. OnEquip’s fleet management is new, though at Renegade we do have some of the features of up and running. We’re tagging out equipment daily so our mechanics know ahead of time what equipment is going out, and what equipment they need to be checking to make sure it’s ready to go.
WN: Desert Mountain courses are known for very high level playing conditions and high member expectations. How do you use data to help meet the expectations?
MG: We definitely have to meet high expectations every day. We use OnLink as our go-to place to validate what we do. Desert Mountain is a very high-level facility and the consistency between the golf courses helps to set us apart. Having 6 golf courses that we can set up with consistent playing conditions is a huge deal. We try to consistently be 11.5 feet or faster on our green speed and in the .22-.25 range for Firmness. If we have any major tournaments with the membership we try to get a little firmer than that. OnLink helps us keep record and measure of all this information for future events.
WN: Have you been able to quantify any economics or business consistencies by using this system?
MG: We have been able to reduce our irrigation, specifically on greens, by tracking our moisture levels and hitting our targets of when we need to water instead of just watering because we think we need to water. We’ve been able to save about 5% on our Water bill.
WN: Is there anything that has come about that you can point to that has changed your practices based on the information you’ve gotten since you started working with OnLink?
MG: I don’t necessarily think that we’ve changed any processes, we’ve just streamlined them. It has justified what we do, and it’s made us a little more efficient in how we manage our people to accomplish each task each day. OnLabor has been huge – probably the most beneficial aspect to the program for me so far.
WN: You and your team have been through OnLink Onboarding and Training programs . What was the degree of difficulty in getting set up?
MG: It was not difficult to set up but we had to put time in to first get going, just because you’re inputting all your employee data. But it’s a one-time thing. Once it’s in, it’s in, and it’s a very easy system to utilize after that. The training provided by OnLink has been exceptional. Everybody we’ve worked with has been very knowledgeable, very easy to work with, very open to our comments, concerns and any questions.
WN: How much time do you personally spend on a typical seasonal day with OnLink? And secondly, how much time do your assistants spend?
MG: I personally look at it about 5 minutes or so a day – it’s pretty quick for me, just kind of going through and checking, pulling up any reports I need to see. No more than an hour a week using the system. My assistants are in it about 5-10 minutes a day, just depending on how much input they have to put in. Setting up a Labor board and putting in our daily numbers for playing conditions and water, that’s a pretty quick job – it’s 5 minutes tops. If we have any OnApply information to put it takes maybe an additional 5 minutes if they have to put in 4 or 5 products.
WN: You have been very successful in your career, who has had the most influence on your career? And why?
MG: Actually two people – my dad and my stepdad. My stepdad was a golf course superintendent for a number of years back in FL. I grew up with my stepdad being in the industry. He and my real dad are best friends, so I’ve had both of them all the time. I mean, they’re two different people but it’s kind of one person to me – they both taught me you’ve got to work hard and can’t expect anybody to give you anything. My stepdad has been a great resource to be able to call and just ask golf course related questions to, and he understands dealing with the membership base and things like that. So he and my dad have been the two biggest influences on my life.
WN: You have been exposed to numerous high profile at Desert Mountain, from successful members, to Tour Players, to the course architect, the greatest golf champion of all time, Jack Nicklaus. With all this in mind, what famous, or well-known person would you most like to have a one time dinner with to discuss life and pick their brain?
MG: Bobby Bowden, the former Florida State football coach. I’m a huge Florida State fan and growing up, I heard so many stories about Coach Bowden. He’s a big man of faith and all about family and I just think it would be a lot of fun to sit down and just talk to him and get his opinion on life.
WN: Well Mike that covers everything so I want to say thank you very much for this time. You’ve been a really valued user to OnLink since its inception and we thank you for that, and for your leadership in this industry. The future of golf course management is in the hands of young leaders like you. Thanks again for your time!
About Desert Mountain Club:
Situated on 8,000 acres in the high Sonoran Desert. Tucked into the rolling hills and dramatic scenery of north Scottsdale, Arizona, Desert Mountain is among the finest private golf and recreational communities in the world and is consistently ranked among the top private clubs in the nation. It is the only private community worldwide with six Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses, each one designed to offer an individual playing experience at all skill levels. But great golf is just the beginning. A wide variety of amenities, activities and events for every member of the family makes the Desert Mountain lifestyle like no other. Always evolving with new opportunities and experiences, this legendary community defines the ultimate in high desert living. Welcome to Desert Mountain.