Born in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), South African resident Rob, aka Bulldog, is best known in the blogging world for his wonderful photographs of South African wildlife. As a semi-retired golf green keeper, he has developed an analytical program to help golf course owners save money, and that’s really what he’s here to talk about today. But first, a bit about the man himself. Rob and I are going to play a round of golf while we chat…
Hi Rob, thanks for letting me caddy for you as well as play
No problem Vanessa, can you pass me a 3-wood please?
Er…sure, I know what that is…um…anyway, I understand you grew up in the bush (outback). What was your schooling like?
My schooling, of necessity, was at boarding schools. First Rhodes Estate Preparatory School, which was situated in the most beautiful Matopos hills, a National Parks area, where on weekends we were allowed to explore the surrounding hills, caves, dams and whatever the natural surrounds had to offer. Here is where my love of birds started. Then on to Plumtree School, on the border between Rhodesia and Botswana, miles from civilisation. Again, nature was the main entertainment one could enjoy. Both schools were boys only, I think Dad was keeping me as far away from girls as possible.
I’ll bet he was! How long did that last?
Well, at quite a young age I met a girl, fell in love, three weeks later got engaged and a further three weeks later married her. Forty years on she still puts up with my jaunts into the bush to photograph and enjoy the nature reserves of South Africa.
That’s lovely Rob. Now…oh, hang on a minute…”Fore!”…oops, oh well, anyway, tell me about your career
After school I went into Land Surveying. On one trip I spent six months in one of the least populated areas of the country, an unspoilt nature reserve. This area was crawling with all the wild animals I could have wished for. Elephants that joined our camp became almost friends, hippos used to mow our camp areas on the banks of the river like good gardeners, the antelope that would watch from the river bank while we took an early morning swim with the crocodiles. People today pay huge amounts of money to do what I was paid to do.
At the same time we were fighting a border war with infiltrators bent on taking the country. So stints on the border, as a soldier, became times of searching for terrorists and at the same time, enjoying the birds and wild animals encountered along the way.
Eventually, I purchased a farm, and then later moved on to opening new businesses that became successful enterprises. This took me into the grass and gardening game. One of my three businesses was contracted to look after the local town golf course. Being a golfer, this was a true pleasure and years with experienced Green Keepers taught me all that I know today. On nearing retirement, we sold up everything and I took up a post as a fulltime Golf Course Superintendent on the coast of South Africa. Bliss, golf and nature mixed together as a career.
Ooh, great shot there Rob! But we’d better move on to the program now. Tell me about it…
The program is an analytical tool for calculating the costs of maintaining a golf course. Managers, or shop owners, can tell you what their product costs and why they must sell it at a certain price. They use the purchase price, labour costs, shrinkage and length it stands, and from this they calculate a selling price that will generate a profit. On a golf course, huge amounts of money are budgeted to maintain and improve the course. In South Africa that can be anywhere between 2.5 million and 8 million for a middle range course. But very few managers can tell you what it costs to maintain a golf green or bunker. Or for that matter where exactly this money is going, except for the approx. 40% that goes on salaries.
When a manager is told by a committee to save costs, their first thought is to pay off staff as this is a tangible saving which they can see. But with the lower workforce, the good housekeeping and looks of a course suffer. This can cause less golfers to now play the course. Result? No change in the income expenditure ratio.
Our product helps to show where the money is being spent, or wasted, and where substantial savings can be made. Having used the product, I had a saving of 7% the first year I analysed and 9% the second. Substantial when dealing with a couple of million plus budget.
Well that sounds very useful indeed. While I try and get myself out of this bunker, tell us how you came up with the idea for the program?
When I went full time into the golf industry, I naturally took my business practices with me. At the first course I worked, I discovered they had no records of past practices, or expenditure, I began to record on spread sheets, what I was spending, and where.
When I moved on to the next course where I had a bigger budget and managed a bigger operation, I incorporated more factors, which meant more spread sheets. It became obvious that we were wasting money in certain areas. I changed a lot of the course’s operating systems or methods within my first year. The analysis of the first year allowed me to make even more changes and we saved money. In the third year I was told to pay off three labourers which I refused to do but promised the saving they required. A required 10% saving ended as 9% without a reduction in staff.
I approached my son-in-law, the owner of a computer software writing company, to help me make my system a little more user friendly. He saw a potential market if the program was written correctly and meetings turned into a business partnership, Bulldogs Turf Solutions Pty Ltd. While the software was being developed, I wrote a book for the industry, covering all the pertinent points for legal compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act and Environmental Act.
The software remained divorced from my son-in-law’s existing business and was written in the evenings and on weekends. As modules were completed, I sat testing for hour upon hour, discovering errors, logging them, suggesting changes. One of the main criteria was that it was easy and quick to use, no course superintendent wants to spend hours in the office.
As we neared completion we found more and more ways of analysing the data. Making it easier for Managers, Owners or Committees, to monitor expenditure, and see the saving opportunities. The software package grew, and further improved versions are in the pipeline…Vanessa…Vanessa? Where have you gone?
Here I am! I got roast beef and mustard on sourdough bread, is that ok?
What?! I said we needed a sand wedge to get you out of that bunker!
Oh, right..I knew that! I just thought you might be peckish. Anyway, we don’t have time to talk about food now Rob, what stage is your program at?
The software has been tested at various institutions and with the help files and instruction manuals almost completed, it is ready for the market. Named ‘Terratry’ using the word ‘terra’ for the soil and earth we work and walk on and ‘try’ the optimum word for the effort we all put in to improve the outcome. It is not software for outright purchase, but rather for hire on a cloud so that all improvements and newer versions become immediately available for use by all. Training, assisting with setting up the software and helplines all come with the package. We are so confident that the software will aid the courses, we allow them to withdraw at any time they wish.
What is your competition? And I’m not talking about on the golf course, because clearly that is me
Indeed. We appear to have a unique product for the market. ‘Terratry’, is not a maintenance program, of which there are many. It is not a replacement for an accounting package, nor a staff time recording system, it is purely for calculating a spend profile to enable saving opportunities.
And is it available Internationally?
At present we are targeting the local industry. Later we plan to engage a marketing company, to advise and aid in international marketing. Frightening as it is for a “bush boy” to understand the international market, the partners in Bulldogs Turf Solutions, young and world wise, will be relied upon to take us into the future. It will obviously need a few tweaks to suit the different monetary systems used everywhere as well as the imperial systems still used in some countries of the world.
Well that’s enough geeky stuff. Back to food. When I come over and visit you and your wife, where will you take me for brunch?
Oh, it would be such a pleasure to entertain you in my country, where would we brunch? The “Karoo Cattle and Land” restaurant, specialists in preparing the best lamb in the world, the Karoo Lamb. The lamb comes from a part of our country where grass is almost non-existent and the sheep live on the short herbal bush of the semi-arid area of South Africa. This meat has a taste all of its own, ready spiced from the inside out by the sheep themselves. The “all you can eat” smorgasbord brunches are to die for, having nearly everything the heart desires. (Might not all be good for the heart, but then what is a little indulgence when entertaining a celebrity?). After the brunch, Linda and I would take you on a short safari, just to give you a small taste of our life with my camera.
That all sounds fabulous, and most suitable for me. And finally, what are your plans for the future?
We hope the software will generate enough sustainable income, for Linda and me to retire, buy a motorhome and travel this beautiful country of ours. Visit all the parks and places of interest, of which there are so many, and to write an autobiography of my experiences in the bush, with the birds and animals.
Thank you so much Rob, I wish you all the luck in the world with your program. Now, I’ve made a few notes about your game today, do you have a few min…Rob? Rob! Come back!
Sorry, I’ve just spotted a rare lesser crested tern! Must go photograph it…thanks for everything Vanessa, bye!
1. The photographic journey of bulldog can be seen here.
2. Original golf photo credit: Wodgie via photopin cc (Faces added by Vanessa).