A spike in gasoline prices and a timely conversation prompted The Refuge, a daily-fee golf course in Flowood, Miss., to convert its equipment and golf cars from gasoline to propane power.
Going green to save green has many golf courses looking for eco-friendly ways to improve the bottom line. The Refuge, an upscale daily fee course in Flowood, Miss., near Jackson, is no exception. The golf course, which is managed by Watermark Golf Management, recently put its foot on the pedal to accelerate efforts to combat a spike in gas prices by converting its equipment and golf cars from gasoline to propane power.
The decision to make the change occurred after a discussion about rising gasoline prices between Bill Whatley, Golf Course Superintendent and Watermark Senior Agronomist, and Nathan Crace, Principal and Operating Manager of Watermark. A friend that worked at a propane company told Whatley that some commercial lawn companies were replacing gasoline-powered mowers with propane-powered mowers. He asked Whatley if that would be a possibility at The Refuge. As a matter of fact, it would.
The propane company converted the first greens mower at The Refuge to propane in March to compare its operation with the gasoline-powered mowers. Propane company personnel expected the converted engine to reduce carbon emissions and long-term wear and tear on the engine. However, they found that the propane-powered machine ran more efficiently as well. The propane mower was even quieter than the gasoline machines.
As a result, the management company immediately started working to convert the rest of The Refuge’s maintenance equipment and staff utility carts from gas to propane. Personnel also began discussions about switching the fleet of 60 golf cars from gasoline to propane power.
Whatley recently discussed the decision to convert the equipment and golf cars at The Refuge with Club & Resort Business.
Q. What prompted the change?
A. We were discussing the dramatic increase in gasoline prices and how we could combat it without sacrificing quality. The course is owned by a municipality, and one hallmark of Watermark Golf Management has always been great results within the budget–so we had to find alternatives to reduce costs.
Q. What did you have to do to convert your mowers from gasoline to propane?
A. Lampton Love, the propane company, proved to be a vital partner in the process. They performed all of the conversions for us and our mechanic didn’t have to do any of the work. When the lease ends, they will also switch all of the equipment back to gasoline before we return the equipment.
Q. What are the advantages?
A. Better efficiency, lower cost of fuel, cleaner burning engines, less maintenance on the engines and longer engine life.
Q. How much money have you, or do you expect, to save?
A. We could potentially save thousands of dollars on fuel cost alone, and the longer we run the equipment on propane, the better the savings will be in future years.
Q. How has it helped you run your maintenance operation more efficiently?
A. In addition to cutting carbon emissions by 75 percent, the propane is less expensive and more efficient. For example, we could cut 44 greens on one tank of gasoline with a greens mower. With propane, we can mow 76 greens and it’s nearly $1.50 per gallon cheaper!
Q. Why did you decide to convert the rest of your maintenance equipment and staff utility carts to propane, and what did you have to do?
A. Once we operated the converted greens mower against the gasoline greens mower and saw the immediate impact, Nathan Crace of Watermark Golf gave us the go ahead to begin converting all of the other gasoline-powered equipment. It didn’t take much to see the impact it would have.
Q. What kind of plans do you have to convert your fleet of golf cars to propane?
A. Nathan is still working with EZ-GO on that process because we have had to develop a different system since you can’t put a propane tank on the back of a cart where the bags go. We have a test model that we are running and they are studying it now. Hopefully by this summer we will have that underway.
Q. What kind of reaction do you expect to get from golfers about the change?
A. Everyone loves it. They like the publicity the course is getting, and they like the fact that the switch to propane fits in line with Watermark Golf’s overall concept of golf courses as conservation green spaces that can be supported by clean, beneficial recreation.
Q. How has the conversion changed your maintenance operations?
A. We are still seeing changes every day. We are finding that things move a little quicker and the propane engines seem to run quicker. I don’t think we’ll be switching back to gasoline any time soon.
Q. How do you ensure that the propane-powered equipment is safe?
A. The propane industry is heavily regulated, and the systems that Lampton Love has installed on our equipment have a number of safeguards built in. Also, everyone on the staff has to attend a propane safety workshop. But when you think about it, the tanks of propane are probably safer than the plastic five-gallon gas can most people have sitting in their garages. The combination of propane, oxygen and spark to ignite propane has to be so exact, and anyone could start an explosion with gasoline and a cigarette–or even a static spark!
Q. What did you do to train your staff about using the propane-powered equipment?
A. They have to attend the propane safety class regarding proper handling, fueling, etc. But the equipment itself operates just like it did with gasoline. The only difference is that it’s more efficient, cleaner, and less expensive.
Q. What other environmentally friendly practices do you have in place at The Refuge?
A. Since Watermark Golf took over the course in 2002, the company has installed a number of conservation areas to reduce maintenance and promote additional wildlife. They also created lake buffers to stabilize banks and reduce runoff, and in the few years that I’ve been here, we have greatly expanded those efforts and reduced our nitrogen outputs without sacrificing quality of the turf. Watermark Golf is a family-owned business, and it takes conservation and promoting the game of golf as healthy and fun recreation very seriously–not only for today, but also for generations to come.