Saying goodbye to anything that you’ve depended on to be successful, on any level, is tough. It makes you reflect on what you’ve accomplished, as an anchor of your program. In my opinion, the staff is our biggest asset. Human Capital is an intangible asset that you invest in over the long-term, with education, training, health and balance, that is hard to put a value on. It is a common saying that you are only as good as your staff, and in the golf maintenance world, there is nothing truer than that statement.
But recently we replaced a piece of equipment, a dump truck, that we have been utilizing since 1993, 27 seasons.
This got me thinking about something we don’t talk enough about, and that golfers know little about – Capital Equipment. Part of the reason there’s not much known about the details, and particulars about golf course equipment, is that a large part of the Turf Department’s goal, is to execute our work, with as little interaction with the golfer as possible, to increase the golfer experience. We have invested in the proper quantity of Capital to complete as much of our maintenance, ahead of play, that matches the level of maintenance within our means. It still takes creative logistical management, but the goal is to have as little impact or interaction with you, the clientele. If you show up to the first tee, and think what stands in front of you happens all on it’s own, we are, in a way, accomplishing our goal. This also creates a challenge to get players to understand what it takes to provide conditions on a golf course, which is a constantly moving target, with weather having such a demanding impact. But lets try and do exactly that- shed some light on the Capital side of maintaining Midland Hills, and what it means to maintain that quantity of Capital with a department culture that’s daily goal is to achieve a high level of quality.
We ask the same from our equipment as we do as our staff – be dependable each day and perform at a high level, and with managing over 100 pieces of specialized equipment, it takes a culture buy-in on all levels of our organization. From the Board of Directors approving the investments, to our staff treating the equipment as it’s their own, to our Equipment Managers, who take zero shortcuts in managing the equipment, with a comprehensive preventative maintenance program. It’s always more dependable, and more fiscally responsible, to make small preventative repairs to anything mechanical, than it is to wait until that “big” break occurs. Our Capital fleet has a direct correlation to the quality of the playing conditions we are able to provide, and it’s a testament to the leadership of the club, and its continual investments, with the goal of improving the Midland Hills’ golf experience.
An organized and clean work environment promotes ownership, pride and results.
A 4-year old fairway mower, that is detailed top to bottom. Still looks and operates like day one.
One of our goals is to purchase equipment, or make modifications to it, so it’s multifaceted, and is capable of being utilized all 12 months of the year, which adds value. A tractor that operates the deep-tine aerifier, is used during the winter to remove snow from our parking lot, or an old fertilizer spreader that can apply ice-melt evenly to our parking lot, and having 4-wheel drive heavy duty carts that can be used for hauling soil in the summer to fill stump holes, and logged wood in the snow during winter, are a few examples.
Tractor with extremely low PSI tires that can drive on greens to aerify.
The same tractor pulling our sand hauler, giving us the ability to load the greens topdresser, completing the task in half the amount of time.
The same tractor with tires and a snow plow for our parking lots.
Managing 165 acres to 2019 expectations with a building that still utilizes its cold storage section of the building that was built in 1951, with the remaining section in 1991, with the same overall footprint yard, since the golf course opened in 1921, creates its own unique challenges, but has no bearing on how we treat our Capital investments. Creativity for storage is maximized, and often with our Turf Facility, our expectations usually don’t match up with our realities. Regardless, we’ve looked at that situation and taken a positive attitude in tackling those challenges.
1937 Turf Maintenance Facility Location right of 9 Green
2018 Turf Maintenance Facility in the same Location
Some pieces of equipment, we know we will replace every 4-6 years, and for other reasons, we invest in Capital that will hopefully last 27 years. But none of it will produce the intended product without someone managing it. Often, equipment that is used in a golf course setting, operates in harsh conditions. Being that a lot of maintenance is completed in the morning, equipment is running in thick dew. Dew consists of excess water and sugars from the turf, which is very corrosive to metals. But we also use equipment that runs in highly dusty/dirty areas of the course. Golfers don’t like topdressing because of it’s temporary negative perceived effect on the playability of the course. But guess who dislikes throwing hundreds of tons of sand on the playing surfaces even more? Our mechanics. They despise the mention of the word topdressing. When you apply sand to a green that is mown at 1/10th of an inch, and have the expectations that the reels of the mowers will be maintained at a high level, it means sharpening every mower that mows turf daily, for potentially a week following a topdressing.
A Superintendent’s day at the beach. An Equipment Tech’s nightmare.
With 14 walk mowers for greens, tees and approaches, 5 fairway mowers, and 2 triplex mowers, that equates to 45 reels in the fleet. It is a monumental task keeping them all sharp, and adjusted properly. Every time a mower goes out to mow, it is returned, and checked in by the mechanics, checking their performance and deciding what input is needed. With the upcoming Master Plan implementation, our Equipment Techs will be depended upon even more so, to make adjustments quickly based on the project of that day, the status of the healing-in process of sodding areas of tees, approaches, greens, as well as keeping all of the equipment on property operating, as well as repairing any equipment issues along the way. All of this, while we still have to maintain the back 9 holes for as long as possible until the project will close it.
The video below is a great, quick, insight into setting up reels, and if you’re really into science and want more info, the second link is for you!
Knowing when to get into certain technologies, when it’s proven, can be a challenge. Turf equipment technology, in the past 10 years, has skyrocketed, and the immediate future looks to answer some of golf’s challenges – an extremely competitive labor market, maximizing expensive and critical applications to multiple acres of property, being extremely efficient with water, and overall, being better stewards of the land where the game of golf is played.
Gone are the days of Greenkeeping being a simplified task of just “mowing it”.
The utilization of drones, water sensors, GPS controls, and improved efficiencies of hybrid equipment, is a result of those that manage green spaces demanding more efficient options from manufactures. In what people think is the future, several courses around the country are already utilizing “robotic mowers” to mow short grass. Below is a great link about new technologies that are allowing golf course management to maximize efficiencies.
All of these specialized pieces of equipment, and technologies, result in our Equipment Mangers being more than just a “mechanic”. They have to be electricians, plumbers, fabricators, with knowledge of hydraulics, gasoline, 2-cycle and diesel engines. Literal jacks of all trades. And their expertise isn’t just kept to our department. They’re often making repairs inside, and out, of the clubhouse. Our lead Equipment Tech, Jim Pollock, started at Midland in 1984, 35 years ago. This will be his last full-time season, as he transitions to a part-time role. Jim has been through, and seen everything, in his time at Midland. He’s a master of his craft, the ultimate professional, and loves to wrench. His Human Capital worth, is in-measurable, and he’s the center of our culture in keeping our quantity of Capital in quality conditions. If Jim can’t diagnose it, or fix it, we know we’re in deep trouble.
Evan Walsh has been with us since 2007, and will take over the Lead Equipment Tech position in 2020. Evan’s knowledge is way beyond his years, is extremely inquisitive, and thrives in creative thinking. Under Jim’s tutelage, our department wont miss a beat. We are very fortunate to have such a smooth transition, as the amount of training that goes into learning all 100 pieces of equipment, their preventative and curative repairs, is immense.
Equipment Techs are the unsung hero’s of Turf Maintenance Departments!
With a culture within our staff, that takes pride in the equipment that they operate, Equipment Techs that uphold a high performance standard, and leadership of the club that understands the value in investing in our assets, we have taken our Equipment Capital to new levels. Without that support, resources, and buy-in from staff, the level of the golf course wouldn’t be where it is today.