The Deutsche Bank Championship spotlights how TPC Boston provides top-notch conditions for all players at all levels through all seasons, with the help of reliable mowing equipment.
The most important golfers in the world play at the TPC Boston every week. And for a week beginning in late August every year, some of the best golfers in the world tee off at the Norton, Mass., course for the Deutsche Bank Championship, one of only four PGA TOUR Playoff events for the FedExCup.
Whether professional golfers, members or guests are standing on the first tee at TPC Boston, Golf Course Superintendent Tom Brodeur knows he has to have the golf course in top shape for each one of them.
“As one of the people [on the management team] who is ultimately responsible for ensuring the business is successful, every golf course superintendent is challenged to balance the needs and wants of players at every level, ” Brodeur says. “Here at TPC Boston, we have an especially wide range of player ability levels, which provides an extra challenge.”
To help meet the challenge of keeping the course in pristine playing condition year-round, Brodeur and his staff get a big assist from John Deere equipment, including two types of Deere mowers—2500 E-Cut Hybrid riding mowers, and 180-B walk-behinds with 18-inch cut widths—that are used to maintain all of TPC Boston’s short grass, including fairways, tees, greens and approaches.
“TPC courses use John Deere equipment exclusively, and the majority of them use the 18-inch-wide mowers,” notes John Deere product manager Tracy Lanier. “They mow at tournament levels. They’re small, light and do a great job.”
Brodeur, who has worked at TPC Boston since the 2001 construction and grow-in of the course, agrees. “The PGA TOUR has a valued relationship with John Deere that we embrace to the fullest,” he says. “Both [the 2500 E-Cut and 180-B] are reliable, operator-friendly, and simple to maintain by modern standards.”
The 2500 E-Cut has a light footprint that is good for bentgrass fairways, Brodeur notes. In addition, he likes the versatility of the machine, which the staff also uses for vertical mowing of tees, greens, approaches, target greens and step cuts, as well as for spiking and brushing greens. Because the mower has hydraulics only for the drive and reel-lift components, he notes, the potential for hydraulic fluid leaks is reduced.
“That’s because the reels are run electronically,” explains Lanier. “Operators can also lower the engine RPM to reduce the sound levels and fuel usage, which are huge benefits for golf courses in these times.”
Brodeur is just as pleased with the well-balanced, operator-friendly 180-B units.
“Because they are 18 inches wide, they conform to even the smallest undulations in the putting greens without scalping,” he reports. “They truly bring out all the nuances of the green surface—and because they have an ideal amount of down pressure in front, they provide a true cut each time.”
TPC Boston, which leases its front-line equipment from John Deere on a four-year basis and some of its larger, lower-hour pieces on a seven-year plan, leases 20 of the walk-behind mowers and six of the 2500 E-Cut models.
“We’ve used these mowers for four years in some form or fashion, and we’ve used them exclusively for the last two years,” notes Brodeur.
During the last lease cycle, he reveals, a PGA TOUR-managed property had to dispose of several 180-B units after it was sold. Brodeur was asked if he could take the walk-behinds in his lease, and he was happy to oblige, because TPC Boston has “used 180-Bs on the greens since day one.”
The quality of cut is not the only attraction of the mowers. By rotating out key pieces in the four-year lease cycle, Brodeur reports, the property has been able to contain the operating costs of the machinery. TPC Boston’s repair parts budget has increased by only about $4,000 since the property opened 10 years ago.
“That’s due in part to the quality of the equipment, fair pricing, and quality equipment managers,” he explains. “A big factor in managing operating costs is the excellent reliability of the machinery, which limits our downtime and minimizes member inconvenience.”
He also cites fuel efficiency, especially of the diesel-powered machines, as an added benefit of the equipment. This is particularly important on a large, spread-out property like the nearly 400-acre golf course at TPC Boston, he notes.
Brodeur also believes that relying on essentially two pieces of equipment simplifies staff training.
“In a normal season, basically all staff members are capable of using a walk mower, and probably 80 percent can operate the triplex mower,” he explains. “In the shoulder season, 100 percent of the staff can operate both machines. Scheduling and planning are more easily managed when most employees are trained on the basic mowing tasks.”
For the repair, parts purchasing and parts inventory aspects, Brodeur continues, having only two types of machines to maintain makes life easier for the equipment staff as well.
“We basically only have to set up two types of reels on our grinding equipment, and we have just two machine types to stock parts for,” he says. “Our equipment maintenance staff finds diagnosis and repair to be relatively easy, due to considerate engineering. The equipment feels open and uncluttered, so getting at things is reasonably easy.”
With their simplicity and accessibility, the standard controls on the 180-B walk mowers make them easy for even inexperienced crew members to operate as well.
“Anyone just has to move a switch forward to perform a function and release a bail to stop a unit,” Lanier says. “Anyone who has ever mowed a green can pick it up quickly.”
By using only two mowers on the short grass, tournament volunteers who come from other courses and through internships are also able to quickly jump in and contribute to mowing operations. “Our tournament success depends on incorporating volunteers into many of the basic mowing tasks,” Brodeur explains. “We basically need double the staff during the days of the competition for what we feel is required to make a solid presentation for a high-level competition. Anyone with experience with course maintenance equipment seems to be able to acclimate [to the Deere mowers] in just a few minutes.”
All Hands on Deck
The TPC Boston property, which sees about 20,000 annual rounds, closes on the Friday before the Deutsche Bank Championship week starts, to intensify tournament preparations. During the FedExCup event, Brodeur adds, the crew double-mows the greens in the morning, and rolls and mows the putting surfaces in the evening.
The maintenance crew lowers the height of cut on the greens by 10/1000 or 15/1000 of an inch the weekend before the event. Depending on the weather, the final cutting height on the greens is .120 or .115. However, fairways, tees, collars, aprons, and step cuts are maintained at the same cutting height year-round.
“Rough height is raised half-an-inch to an inch a couple of weeks before the event from our normal membership height, again depending on the weather,” Brodeur adds.
Tournament staffing changes include the addition of two to four staff members from other TPC properties the week before and the week of the event. Local superintendents, assistant superintendents, spray technicians, and interns are always willing to lend a hand.
“We face the same challenges everyone in the northern half of the country does with summer help—so as hard as we try, we are likely to lose one or two staff members before Labor Day weekend,” reveals Brodeur. “For us to prepare for a PGA TOUR event, we need 20 to 25 people per nine holes for a morning and afternoon shift each day during the event.”
John Deere and its local dealer, La Corte Equipment, also provide extra support during the Deutsche Bank Championship.
“We get a daily call in the weeks leading up to the event, to make sure we have whatever we need to ensure the job gets done,” Brodeur explains. “The additional equipment they provide for the event is always in good condition and delivered in a timely fashion. On top of that, there is virtually always a service staff member on site to assist in preparing equipment and making sure problems get resolved quickly.”