In the wake of the successful staging of the 2017 Philippine Golf Course Management Conference, Conrad Benitez, President of The Orchard Golf and Country Club and Vice-President of the National Golf Association of the Philippines and the Federation of Philippine Golfers, discusses how to promote best course management practices among clubs around the country.
Q: Golf course superintendents are often referred to as the ‘unsung heroes of golf’. Do superintendents in the Philippines receive the credit they deserve?
Conrad Benitez: No, but they are quick to be blamed for poor maintenance practices. Notably, a few of our premier clubs have foreign superintendents, but these clubs keep their practices fairly confidential and do not particularly care to share their experiences with other clubs. This year, however, Bob Horan, who handles Manila Golf, was the first foreign superintendent operating locally who has been generous enough to relate his shade problems and experiences in Manila Golf at this year’s Conference. The Orchard has been very active in supporting, hosting and growing the annual Philippine Golf Course Management Conference, the only annual working seminar in the country for course superintendents and golf managers which brings in foreign and local experts to discuss golf management and maintenance issues.
Q: Through the Philippine Golf Course Management Conference, you’ve been a staunch supporter of helping the education of superintendents from around the country. What was your motivation for initially backing this annual gathering and how do you measure its success?
Conrad Benitez: It helps our industry, and ultimately, ourselves. If the industry is healthy and thriving, everyone will benefit. We measure its success by the ever-increasing number of participants as it gets better attended every year – and by the level of discussions and amount of information sharing that goes on at the seminars.
Q: Do you believe overall standards in course maintenance and presentation in the Philippines are improving as a direct result of the sharing of knowledge among superintendents?
Conrad Benitez: Of course. If we could have our way, frequent communications will lead to an authoritative organisation that can help every club with specific programmes and solutions that have been proven and tested by others. The Orchard, in fact, is quite open about our successes and also our failures, and we are not afraid to relate these to others. Hopefully that will help other clubs make the right decisions and avoid costly mistakes.
Q: Are golf clubs in the Philippines placing a greater emphasis these days on environmentally friendly products and procedures in their general course maintenance practices?
Conrad Benitez: Unfortunately, not nearly enough. The Orchard is one of the very few who even talk about the environment. We are absolutely committed to it and hope to get the other clubs to think the same way.
Q: What role do you see for the Asian Golf Industry Federation (AGIF) in promoting best golf course practices in the Philippines and around the region?
Conrad Benitez: The AGIF must not appear to be a mouthpiece for only their favoured equipment and material suppliers, although I see the need for their support and sponsorship, and it is only the successful suppliers who can afford sponsorship money.
I think the way to promote best practices is to show how these can be achieved at the cheapest, most efficient, most environmentally-friendly and most effective way all around Asia. There is a world of difference between the snootiest private clubs that can charge their members extravagant dues or assessments or the well-funded and supported public, semi-public and resort golf clubs that operate profitably, and the other clubs which exist only marginally in the major cities and out in the hinterlands.
These are the courses that need to be informed of best practices and possibly pooling of equipment and even managerial resources to allow them to survive. If we are to indeed grow the game, this is where it’s at.