Dreaming for Real
It takes a lot of equipment to keep a golf course in well-manicured shape. Fortunately, there’s a wide range of options for keeping fairways fair and greens green. With catalogs full of colorful equipment coming to their mailboxes every week and trade shows displaying the latest and greatest innovations in technology and machinery, golf course managers and superintendents are inundated with possibilities that can make their employees’ jobs more efficient with better results.
Of course, knowing what you want and being able to pay for it are two entirely different things. The editors of Parks & Recreation contacted golf course managers across the country for their wish lists, as well as any creative purchasing ideas for equipment they couldn’t otherwise afford.
Planning To Buy
“In terms of the priority of equipment replacement, members of the GCSAA indicated the top-rated needs are: triplex mower (50 percent), utility vehicle (49.9 percent), fairway mower (46.1 percent), and rough mower (45.8 percent),” says Jeff Bollig, senior director of communications for the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, in reference to a recent member survey. “In terms of the highest priority of golf course projects over the next three years, GCSAA members indicate addressing major drainage (50 percent), rebuilding bunkers (48.8 percent), and removing trees (44.8 percent).”
Unfortunately for golf course managers, leisure-related businesses took some of the worst hits in the recent economic recession. Whether publicly funded through government budgets, paid for through private memberships, or operated through a combination of the two, recreation venues now have to work harder than ever to assert their relevance and necessity. Adding to their budget woes, new federal regulations for 2013 require new Tier 4 golf course and parks equipment to meet higher EPA emissions standards, which may increase turf maintenance equipment costs by as much as 20 percent.
However, many course managers have devised ways to make their equipment serve double, triple, and even quadruple duty and still perform at optimum efficiency while lasting for extended lifetimes, ensuring the best possible service and facilities for their golfers.
“We have three courses in our department,” says Mark Weiss, director of golf course operations for the Maryland-National Capital Parks Planning Commission. “Our list for 2013 will include a large rough mower to replace an aging unit that requires continuous repair and two smaller multi-use mowers to replace singular-use machines. Over the last several years, we have adapted our capital purchases to include equipment that can be used at all three courses at any given time, rather than individual units at each, such as a front-end loader, aerator, seed box, varied tractors, etc.”
Sharing equipment across different divisions and departments can help reduce duplicate purchasing costs. But those savings must be weighed against costs that will be incurred in transporting equipment from facility to facility, etc. For some facilities and agencies, though, the relationship works out well.
“We share equipment with our park department (aerifers, skid steers, compressors, trenchers, etc.) to create the best conditions possible without exceeding our operating budget,” says Bill Krueger, superintendent of golf for the Stony Creek Golf Course in Oak Lawn, Illinois. “This is a win-win situation for us to have the expertise of the park department’s staff and the equipment at our disposal.”
In Oakland County, Michigan, the parks agency has made a unique arrangement with a fellow municipal department to reduce spending. “We have worked out a deal with the water resources department that we would have our certified pesticide applicator spray their fence lines, and in return, they would cut down all our native grasses at the end of the year,” reports Phil Castonia, supervisor of internal services for Oakland County Parks. “By working together, this saves us from having to purchase a brush hog and reduces the wear on our equipment.”
Another method golf course managers are using to save money is recycling older equipment for new, less-intensive purposes that can help extend the life of the machine.
As could be expected given the current economic climate, the course managers we spoke to have a list of equipment on their wish lists longer than what they can afford. However, as with equipment they’ve managed to buy, most managers have creative plans in the works to procure their desired machinery.
“Our staff has several new pieces of equipment on the wish list for 2013,” says Gene Fleming, director of golf at the Herndon Centennial Golf Course in Herndon, Virginia. “One piece is a Toro Groundsmaster 3500-D mower to replace a sidewinder unit that has exceeded useful life expectancy. Also, we would like to add a second Toro GreensPro 1200 roller to expedite the amount of time required to roll greens. Our staff anticipates requesting that the Groundsmaster and GreensPro units be leased for a 48- or 60-month term with an option for a $1 buyout at the end of term. In the past several years, the course has procured several pieces of equipment in this manner. Lease programs have been no more [expensive] than the cost of a replacement program and have enabled staff to keep up with the latest technology and minimize equipment downtime.”
In other departments, however, crunching the numbers for a lease option doesn’t make the best financial sense.
“We have investigated lease opportunities, but have not found it to be cost effective,” Weiss says. “Having a mechanic in-house to work on problems immediately when they arise at any of the three courses avoids costly, time-sensitive repairs usually associated with leases.”
“We purchase all equipment off state contract,” says Greg Jerolaman, golf course manager for the City of Boca Raton, Florida. “We briefly looked at leasing and found that short-term savings equal long-term greater expense.” He also notes that his department has had great success with auctioning off older equipment to be replaced, rather than trading it in.
Many golf course managers also mentioned the need for updated water conservation and sprinkler systems, which will help save resources and costs for both water and energy use.
One item on the wish list for Herndon, Virginia, is the FieldScout TDR 300 Soil Moisture Meter by Spectrum Technologies. “This would assist water conservation efforts by enabling staff to conduct root zone moisture audits and check against established threshold numbers prior to scheduling nightly irrigation or hand watering,” Fleming says.
Similarly, Krueger reports the need for a well pump that could tap an unlimited water source to irrigate the golf course. If implemented, he says, “We could save $30,000 to $50,000 in 2013 versus utilizing city water in 2012.”
Many equipment purchasers may wonder if it’s really possible to save a significant amount of money in the long run by shopping alternatively and finding new processes that help make equipment last. Jerolaman confirms that by purchasing used equipment, performing daily maintenance checks and repairs, and recycling older machines for lighter workloads, his department has been able to considerably stretch the utility of its equipment. “Over the past five budget cycles, we have extended the life spans of 25 different types of equipment, 53 pieces in total, for an average annualized savings of $76,000,” he reports. “So far, so good.”
Danielle Taylor is Associate Editor of Parks & Recreation (firstname.lastname@example.org).