OnLink Founder and CEO, Walt Norley, sat down with Raleigh Country Club, Superintendent, Billy Cole, recently to discuss his experiences with OnLink and values provided to Raleigh Country Club and the McConnell organization.
WN: Hi Billy, nice to see you again. You were an early user of the 1.0 platform and transitioned to 2.0 when it was introduced in 2016. What was the reason you initially signed up, and why did you decide to transition to OnLink 2.0?
BC: first met OnLink, or at the time OnGolf on the trade show floor at the Carolinas Show in 2015. I was very intrigued by seeing a platform that would allow me to store a lot of data and a lot of my practices in one place. It was very professionally done. I liked how the reports looked after seeing a demo of the platform, so I thought it would be great to go ahead and try out OnLink. Most superintendents keep a record of our practices, but it’s always done in a notebook and you always have to keep referring back to that notebook, dates, and what you did. Especially as you compile reports, it was difficult to go to different places to try to get the data compiled. It just seemed logical and more efficient to be able to go to one place and be able to retrieve that information very quickly.
From 1.0 to 2.0, you offered improvements in labor and reports that drove me to upgrade.
WN: What features of the system do you use every day and every week?
BC: I use Labor every day and I use OnApply depending on when we apply chemicals and fertilizer which can be daily or at least weekly because I’m always either spraying chemicals or fertilizer or monitoring my inventory on the back-end. I am doing daily stimp meter readings, firmness of the greens, clipping yields for playing conditions daily as well.
WN: How has OnLink changed your management practices, or improved them?
BC: Before OnLink I was maintaining data on an excel spreadsheet or even in a notebook and would try to remember things off the top of my head so I wouldn’t have to go back and dig up notebooks and spreadsheets. Now, my daily operation is more efficient because I can actually go back and see exactly when I performed some duties that we don’t do every day, but do once a year or twice a year. It has helped me to be able to streamline my labor practices and be more efficient in getting jobs done. It has also allowed me to keep all of the data points for building reports organized and in the same place. It has helped me free up my time to be on the course and spend less time in my office. It has also allows me to better communicate with my crew, they instantaneously know what their next job is and there’s no time wasted by sitting around and calling or texting me for their assignments.
WN: Have you seen economic benefits, and if so what have they been?
BC: I’ve seen economic savings, it’s just hard to tell from one year to the next because weather conditions change so drastically and that changes the decisions you make about spraying. That being said, because I’ve been able to track everything, I am very much aware that I have not been over spraying growth regulators because I can go to my records and say I’ve done this recently enough or receive alerts for reapplications. I have saved three applications in the past year of growth regulators because I was following trends and I felt like I could get another few days out of each application. Being out on the course, and in my office less, I’m able to see these things first hand, and of course save myself time. If I had to put a dollar amount to it I could say that are saved in the past year is somewhere around $5,600 in one chemical application for disease and then course-corrected for regulators, but I can’t put a dollar amount on my time savings and that’s invaluable.
WN: RCC is known for having high quality playing conditions and specifically fast and firm greens. How does the OnLink program help you maintain consistency with the high expectations?
BC: Monitoring and tracking playing conditions, and watching influencing factors have improved course consistency for every member and their guests, every day of the year. It allows us to monitor our practices and be efficient in our usage of resources like labor. It allows us to quantify exactly how we can integrate efficient practices into our operation each and every day.
WN: You have bent grass greens in a very tough place to maintain both fast/firm greens and healthy turf. Do you correlate our OnApply program with weather data points like humidity, ambient temperature and soil conditions to change any spraying behaviors? Please be specific.
BC: My ability to see my height of cut and the effects of our growth regulator together is very helpful. Same thing with data points we take to monitor our playing conditions and look at them with our soil moisture readings and integrate into the OnLink platform has been a game changer. We always knew that they were closely correlated, but to be able to track it by a percentage and be able to refer to it helps us to be able to give that consistent member-guest /member-member experience each and every day.
WN: Raleigh CC is owned by McConnell Golf and is one of 13 private clubs managed by McConnell. How does OnLink help you with internal communications with your staff, other Superintendent’s in McConnell, your VP of Agronomy (Michael) and General Manager? What reports do you look at, and share?
BC: I’m constantly looking at the consistency of the green speeds and I share that at the corporate level with McConnell Golf. We are required to show how we allocate our labor spend and where on the course we’re spending the most money. I also share the weather reports and accumulated rainfall. I look at the reports daily and share them often with our VP of Agronomy, COO as well as our Owner. It’s all about still being consistent.
WN: You are coming into your 2nd season with OnLink 2.0, will you start tracking best practice recipes for times when conditions were optimal and understanding your labor allocation, watering practices, soil conditions, height of cut on mowers, green speeds, and weather variables that created the great day/week or event?
BC: Our reports help us to quantify what we’re doing, how we do it, and how much we’re spending on it. It helps us replicate conditions when we get great member feedback and improve conditions when we get constructive feedback.
WN: How much time do you spend on OnLink per day, or per week?
BC: It does vary, but I will typically spend 10 minutes a day. It takes no time now to set up my labor boards. From a superintendent standpoint, there may be some time when you first start rolling it out, but it ultimately makes life a lot easier. Instead of recording everything on a notepad, or spreadsheet, it’s easy to enter data and view it straight on my phone or back in my office on the computer.
For labor, I used to take it and write it down on a sheet of paper, then go to a whiteboard and write it on a whiteboard and then have to constantly change it. Now it takes me 10 minutes a day to set up the boards for my team.
WN: One of the foundations of the OnLink platform is the integration of numerous hardware data systems and software programs. What do you have integrated into OnLink at RCC and how is this helpful?
BC: I’ve got Pogo for my soil moisture and temperature levels, and Spectrum for my green firmness measurements. I update my pump station information manually into my phone once a month. We have ClubEssential for our tee sheet program and we are going to integrate this as well.
WN: You are not using our fleet management program yet, OnEquip, and as you know we are releasing a significant enhancement to this program later this year which includes engine hour automation, a Geo-Spatial map with fleet locations and a new Performance Management App with metrics that lead to optimization of all course operating practices. Are you excited about this release and do you plan to implement it?
BC: I am excited and I will definitely be integrating that here. We never had a system here that could help us maintain the best fleet possible. I’m excited because the equipment facility is a whole different world and it’s so important for me to integrate it all and keep the data in one location. Other superintendent’s at McConnell are using OnEquip now and like it so the next release will be good for everyone at McConnell.
I think OnLink is one of the best tools on the market and now, to have equipment integrated into our labor process, it will save us a lot more time.
WN: Thanks for your time Billy, and best wishes in your busy summertime season.
About Raleigh Country Club:
Established in 1948, Raleigh Country Club boasts the last course designed by legendary architect Donald Ross. It has remained true to the original standards, as described by the Donald Ross Society, of making each hole present a different problem, making every stroke count, and taking full advantage of terrain while wasting no ground. Other names to grace the course include Sam Snead whom participated in the inaugural exhibition tournament, Ellis Maples whom served as the club’s first Director of Golf and, years later, Arnold Palmer whom often played RCC during his college years.
Modern-day Raleigh Country Club remains a cornerstone for the sport and social scene near downtown. Our “pure golf” approach is a promise to maintain a challenging and competitive course, coupled with the most attentive service in the industry. These values extend beyond golf in dining, aquatics and event spaces for all members of the family to enjoy.