Changing from walk mowers to riding units on the greens now lets the course maintenance staff at Lake Hickory CC do more with less.
Golf Course Superintendent Jeff Clemmons doesn’t mind helping his crew with maintenance tasks. He just prefers to do it by choice, instead of necessity.
Too often, however, Clemmons was finding that he was having to pitch in to help his course maintenance staff try to finish mowing the 27-hole Catawba Springs course at Lake Hickory Country Club, in Hickory, N.C., ahead of play each morning. Sending out six men to walk-mow the greens every day simply wasn’t cutting it. Crew members would start running into golfers by the time they started mowing the tees and fairways.
In addition to the limits this put on Clemmons himself, the time required for all of the walk-mowing also meant that other maintenance projects for which Lake Hickory’s eight-man staff was needed were being neglected.
Turning to Plan B
Like many clubs throughout the country, Lake Hickory has seen membership numbers and activity levels ebb and flow during the tough economic times of recent years. As a result, it’s had to tighten the bottom line for its operations across the board, and not just the golf course.
Or, as Ken Church, Lake Hickory’s General Manager and Chief Operating Officer, puts it: “How can we do more with less?” And since hiring more employees for the course maintenance staff was out of the question, Church wanted to know, “What can we do in the golf area with the same labor force, and still get more done?”
Clemmons addressed that challenge by deciding the most effective way to increase productivity would be to switch from using walk mowers to riding mowers on the greens. He had a local Jacobsen dealer, Tri-State Pump, bring an ECLIPSE 322 mower to Lake Hickory as a demo. With the aggressive cut of the Jacobsen units, the crew raised the height of cut from .140 to .150 and mowed the practice green. Grounds crew members also realized they could use the frequency-of-clip settings on the riding mower to get more consistent results day-to-day.
The Lake Hickory staff also liked what the hybrid ECLIPSE 322 model could offer in fuel efficiency. “It has a 14-horsepower gas engine that turns a generator, and then it’s 100 percent electric,” Clemmons explains.
The hybrid model burns half the fuel other mowers consume, notes Chris Fox, a Jacobsen Product Manager. “Superintendents can customize the units to their course and their terrain,” he adds. “They can set the speed, the mowers are easy to operate, and the visual lines are good.”
Convinced after the test that the Jacobsen mowers could help him reach his productivity goals, Clemmons next had to assure Lake Hickory’s management and Greens Committee that the equipment change could be made without jeopardizing the greens’ quality. A key feature that was unique to the ECLIPSE 322 gave him confidence that he’d get the OK to make the switch.
“I researched a lot of riding mowers, and the only one that was 100 percent hydraulic-free was the ECLIPSE 322,” Clemmons says. Being hydraulic-free eliminates the chance of hydraulic oil leaking onto the putting surfaces and killing the grass—an important consideration for giving superintendents peace of mind. “Once you’ve had one or two hydraulic leaks, you always worry about it,” Fox says. “They always seem to happen at the worst possible time.”
Lake Hickory’s Director of Golf, Duke McLauchlin, confirms this was a critical concern. “Leaks don’t show up for a couple of days. They show up when the grass is dead,” notes McLauchlin, who typically is the first to hear complaints from the members.
Getting the Good Words
But since Lake Hickory went ahead and made the decision to lease two Jacobsen ECLIPSE 322 mowers about a year ago, McLauchlin has now been hearing lots of compliments.
“Our members have been so pleased with the greens and their consistency,” he notes. “The maintenance staff rolls the greens more frequently now [three times a week, compared to once a week previously], which increases the speed and gives the greens a much truer, smoother roll.”
The new equipment is also helping Clemmons’ department do its part to make Lake Hickory a more productive operation. Clemmons now sends out two crew members, instead of six, to mow the greens each day. Because the riding mowers save time, two workers can start the day by cutting the fairways, and two more can start mowing the tees and approaches.
“Jeff did comparative research with other courses that have made this move, and they did it seamlessly,” Church reveals. “We’ve decreased the budget for golf course maintenance, but they’re still getting more done.”
With Clemmons’ initiative and ingenuity, the golf course maintenance staff has also set an example for other property operations.
“We’ve used them as a poster child with our other departments,” notes Church. “They have improved the quality of the golf course, and we’ve saved the money we thought we could.”
Saving time and money—as well as increasing the consistency of greens—has not been the only advantage of using the Jacobsen riding mowers, however. “Now, 35 to 40 percent of the maintenance crew’s time is allocated to areas of the course other than the greens,” notes Church.
The staff has been able to tackle other projects, such as cleaning large natural areas and sodding parts of the rough, which had been put off year after year. “We’ve been able to do more detail work,” reports Clemmons. Clemmons also knows that his assistant superintendent and the crew can handle mowing duties without his help. “It has freed me up to take care of the unexpected things that come up each day,” he adds.
The ECLIPSE 322 mowers, which feature on-board diagnostics, also spend less time in the shop for routine maintenance. While the bedknives on the six walk mowers had to be changed every six weeks, Clemmons says, the knives for the new riding mowers have lasted a full mowing season. The Jacobsen mowers have three cutting units, and the reels can be sharpened on board.
Most importantly, the Jacobsen riding mowers have helped to enhance the value and quality for Lake Hickory’s golfers, and increased their satisfaction. “Any time you can make your course more consistent and pleasing to the members, it’s always a good investment,” McLaughlin says.