Noel Mackenzie: Why it is pivotal that greenkeepers are well informed about course machinery

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick October 20, 2011 19:18

The quality of any course is a delicate balance between the level of play and the surface standards that are desirable and achievable on the budget, equipment and wherewithal of the staff involved.

To achieve a standard, the right tools for the job are required and staff must have the ability to realise the potential of those tools through knowledge of their operation and the manner in which the surfaces/course will respond to treatment. It boils down to a simple management equation: Performance (standards achieved) = ability + resources + motivation.

Very simply, what the equation states is that if staff have the ability in terms of knowledge and skills, have the tools to work towards a goal or standard, and feel like doing the job, then they should perform. Performing in our industry is about achieving a suitable standard of golf course, particularly putting surface, to satisfy the players/members.

Resources available will be contingent on the owner/management and the budget that is offered. Premium championship courses such as The Grove, Wentworth and so on will obviously tend toward a scenario where the course manager tells the management what he requires because standards have to be exacting on the course and no compromise is acceptable.

However, such instances are rare and even then there may well be a degree of tactical negotiation around annual budgets, and even at these courses there will almost certainly be a limit.

Many courses, particularly in less affluent areas of the country, or with a lower per-head income, work on restricted budgets. There is inevitably a greater shift in the negotiating power between a course manager and club/management in favour of the latter. Nonetheless, most courses/clubs get the balance right much of the time and the exceptions that don’t are rare – though normally very noticeable by their condition!

The right kit

The right selection of machinery and tools to perform a given task is important; equipment must align with the task in hand, which is contingent on the standards required. However, for all golf courses there are certain areas that are bound to be covered by the maintenance equipment even for minimal standards.

The box (left) features a simple list for a basic golf course and represents minimalist machinery and equipment. It would also be reasonable to expect to hire in key items that are not owned, such as deep compaction relief equipment, for example the Verti-Drain, TerraSpike or Soil Reliever, contracting out spraying of fairways and so on.

So even a small club will have a significant outlay on basic equipment and the staff required to operate it. In traditional links and heathland settings less machinery may be required for things like rough cutting, as the links grassland may be so weak and thin that there simply isn’t a need to cut more than once a year, and then this may be passed to a local farmer who keeps the arisings for hay. However, on ex-agricultural land the soil may be so rich it encourages coarse, fast growing grasses, requiring a more active cutting or growth retardant regime to be employed.

As the standards required of a course increase, so does the need for labour-saving and time-efficient machinery so that each person employed is used as fully as possible. The equipment list outlined would suit a staff of three to four people working an 18-hole course in a non-fertile soil situation where standards of playing surface are not too high. However, at a regionally-significant club, championship course or club with expectations of high surface standards, such a machinery inventory would be totally inadequate, not least because some of these high standard clubs may employ 20+ greenkeepers and they need something to do or to sit on while they do it.


Club treasurers or management committees typically set budgets and these are usually reasonable because the club officials rely on what the greenkeepers tell them is required as they seldom know what is required themselves. However, one of the areas of greenkeeper/management conflict is when a budget is imposed, and enforced.

This undermines their ability to provide what is their understanding of what the club/owner requires and can become a real friction point, leading to the souring of working relations between the persons involved. Course managers and head greenkeepers cannot bear to have the potential of a course restricted (most strive to present a perfect course) and this frustration can build up into a serious human resource issue. Nonetheless, a course/club can only exist within its resource limits and ‘cash is king’ in that respect.

Reckless budgeting is not something that happens often but when a club is in financial trouble it is common for the greenkeeping side to take cutbacks. These cutbacks may include stepping the replacement of, say, a tractor from eight to 10 years, which is unwise as the depreciation increases leading to a greater investment requirement in the future. Budget controls that affect the course, the club/owners primary asset, should be viewed with the utmost seriousness as they may affect a course’s reputation and therefore its ability to make money.

What about knowledge of how and when to use machinery?

It is important that any machine invested in really will be used to best effect! OK, this sounds obvious, but it is amazing how some clubs purchase machinery that really is not that suitable for their needs and then doesn’t subsequently get used much. Or how, when budgets are tight, a decision is made to trade-in a useful and valuable part of the machinery fleet because it will fetch more trade-in value than something else that might only have seen action once a year, or less, and is now 10 years old and not financially or logistically very useful. These examples sound so obvious but these issues arise time and time again.

Whenever changes to the fleet are considered, the value of knowledge is fundamental; whether trading-in or buying, the decisions made need to be based on what the needs of the course are. If a course has a problem with surface compaction of the greens there may be little point in buying a deep compaction relief machine. If a course has only three staff over 18 holes then buying pedestrian mowers isn’t likely to be the best idea but trading them in if already possessed might be!

The ability of the course manager or head greenkeeper to technically appraise their machinery requirements is therefore paramount and links in with their own education and professional development. This may extend to trade shows and direct demonstration of equipment on site by a number of manufacturers to allow comparisons and trials. It is an integral part of good machinery selection that senior greens staff are on top of the technical and agronomic objectives of managing the course and can select, perhaps with the help of their agronomist (who should not have any vested interests), the most appropriate machinery for their circumstances.

Machinery fleets are big and expensive relative to the turnover of a golf course. Even a small, low key club is likely to spend in the region of £100,000 a year on equipment/materials in capital and maintenance costs. The choice of machines purchased, and how many, will be contingent on many factors but particularly budget, technical requirements and the standards required of the course. To summarise, having the optimum course is about having the appropriate equipment and the knowledge to use it at the correct time to achieve the desired outcome.

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick October 20, 2011 19:18
Write a comment

No Comments

No Comments Yet!

Let me tell You a sad story ! There are no comments yet, but You can be first one to comment this article.

Write a comment
View comments

Write a comment


Join Our Mailing List

Read the latest issues

Advertise With Us

For editorial enquiries in the magazine or online, contact:

For advertising enquiries in the magazine or online, contact: