Golf Course Labor Shortage

An article in the Southwest Florida News Press discusses an apparent shortage in the golf course labor market. As an economics teacher—and a golfer—I find this story pretty interesting.

Along with rising costs for land, insurance and all-important fertilizers and other petroleum-based products, the escalating costs and availability of labor have become a concern for some Southwest Florida courses.

“You can’t get any,” said Dave Smith, owner of S&S Golf Management in Fort Myers, which operates about 10 courses in Southwest Florida. “Almost every superintendent we have in Fort Myers (and) Naples is short.”

The article cites a number of reasons for the labor shortfalls, including lack of affordable housing and competition for labor from the construction industry.

It turns out that the median home price in Lee County is $223,000—a price that is out of reach of course workers, and perhaps even out of reach with a superintendent’s salary.

Darren Davis, director of golf course operations for Olde Florida Golf Club in Naples and a past president of the Florida Golf Course Superintendents Association, said he’s paying the highest salary he ever has for a first assistant superintendent.

It also recently took him 90 days to fill a second assistant superintendent job that once could be filled in little time. Even then, the job was only filled because the new hire was able to split housing costs with a roommate.

“Finding labor is getting harder and harder for all hospitality-type employers,” Davis said. “Two teachers in Collier County can’t even afford to buy a first home. My guys are making less than that. If two teachers can’t afford a home here, how can my guys?”

The construction industry is also siphoning off labor. Workers will of course elect to work in construction rather than golf course maintence if the construction job pays $1 to $2 more per hour than golf.

It’s classic economics: a shortage of labor increases the price of labor. And ultimately, the cost of hiring additional workers will be borne by the golf consumer. Labor costs account for 55% of a course’s expenses. And that $1 or $2 more an hour per worker adds up fast.

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