How to choose the right golf course mowers & equipment for your club
2021 has been an unprecedented year for the main equipment companies servicing the golf course maintenance equipment market; Jacobsen, John Deere, and Toro. The post lockdown resurgence of golf across the globe in 2020 has seen demand soar to unprecedented levels for new golf course equipment with orders 30% ahead of what many of the manufactures forecasted. Add to this the effects of Covid-19 enforced closures to plants and golf course equipment manufacturing facilities in 2020, a shortage of containers globally and issues in the Suez Canal experienced earlier this year, and there is now a perfect storm with lead team for new equipment longer than any experienced in recent memory.
It is important therefore that Clubs begin planning now for their requirements for the new season ahead in 2022. Below is a list of key considerations for Clubs when determining their golf course equipment requirements.
1. Take a multiyear, medium-term approach when choosing golf course maintenance equipment.
It is advisable that Clubs don’t just look at what they need now, but identify what the likely requirements, must haves and nice to haves are over the next three to five years. This list can then be prioritised, and investment spread over a period based on the Club finances etc. Unfortunately, investing in the fleet is not a once off. Annual investment is likely necessary to ensure the maintenance fleet remains fit for purpose and that the course maintenance team have the key resources they require to deliver the standards expected on the golf course.
2. Carefully determine your needs. Prioritise between Fairway mowers, golf green mowers & everything else in between)
From my experience, many Golf Clubs do not spend sufficient time or give enough thought to reviewing and determining the specification required for each piece of golf course equipment they require, particularly mowers. It makes no sense to go to the market looking to price a golf green mower as the specification of machines quoted may vary wildly. Common mistakes are also made concerning the best type of golf course equipment for the task at hand. An example I often encounter are surrounds or trim mowers being used to mow tees, collars, and approaches. Ideally this work would be completed with a triplex which will allow the operators remove clippings and create less disturbance. It is critical to make sure the mower you are seeking to price is the right one for the tasks and detail the specification as much as possible to ensure competitive bids without any surprises. On golf course mowers, specifications to consider are the number of blades, groomers or not, rear roller brushes, lights, and accessories.
3. Buying new or used golf course equipment
Each Golf Club must weigh up its own requirements and determine whether new or used equipment is the right choice for them. If affordable, I would encourage Golf Club’s to choose new equipment. Warranties offered are 4+ times longer on new golf course equipment which gives greater peace of mind. Financially, used golf course equipment should be depreciated over a shorter timeframe than the new equipment, so annually the cost on the club’s profit and loss may not be that different, despite the difference in the purchase price. The availability in grants in recent years has also facilitated more Clubs being able to afford newer golf course equipment with much of the cost recouped from the grant scheme. Financing for metal assets is readily available at present with the pillar banks and specialist lenders offering very competitive rates. In my view, financing golf course equipment can help Clubs take a more pragmatic view of funding necessary investment over the three-to-five-year period outlined earlier and therefore financing new equipment is the most sensible approach in the current environment.
4. How to decide which golf course mowers and other equipment is best
So, you have received your bids and a decision is required. There can often be a bias towards a particular brand or supplier within each Club, one person might push for a John Deere mower, but the club may have traditionally used Toro mowers, so it is important that any recommendation / decision is taken based on evidence and fact. When you consider the makeup of your remaining fleet, it may make sense to go with a certain brand to provide greater flexibility. The cheapest price may not always mean the least expensive purchase as sometimes the more expensive equipment has a higher residual value meaning the cost to the Club over five to seven years is less than the cheapest mower. I believe the key is to determine which unit best matches your specification and requirements and makes most sense when you consider the other golf course equipment in your fleet. These factors are ultimately more important than price.
What does the Future Hold for golf course machinery?
The sustainability agenda will impact golf course equipment manufacturing and future direction however the turf management industry remains light years behind the automotive and agricultural industries, and it will likely take some time to catch up in any meaningful way. Some manufactures have begun to release battery operated triplexes, but limitations remain with these choices as groomers cannot be used and battery life on cold winter days may become an issue. Other smaller pieces of golf course equipment such as utilities and pedestrian mowers are also offered with battery options, but the larger surrounds, fairway mowers and rough mowers remain a long way off, albeit hybrid options are available. Semi-autonomous equipment is commonplace in agriculture and the technology is available in many golf applications too. One major issue is that of cost and the ability to recoup the extra investment as the area sizes being mown and treated on golf course differ significantly to that in agriculture. There is also the need for a legal framework, which doesn’t currently exist, around the use of autonomous or semi-autonomous mowers on a golf course setting where machinery is likely to meet patrons using the course. Undoubtedly a time will come when Clubs need to consider automation and/or battery-operated alternatives but I believe it is not something that will be required of most Clubs over the next three to five years.
Head of Plant & Machinery Maintenance