How can I make course machinery last longer?

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir January 1, 2012 15:56

With more pressure than ever before on course managers to provide value for money, and the cost of replacement course machinery making it such a significant investment for the golf club, greenkeeping teams that are able to bring out the most from their machines will be the most prudent.

But how do you prolong the life of turf maintenance machinery?

“Regular maintenance,” explained Lely UK’s service and training manager David Jackman. “This will not only significantly extend the service life of your machinery, but also reduce the likelihood of it requiring extensive repairs in the future. The easiest – not to mention cheapest – way of keeping your machinery in good working order is to ensure your daily checks are carried out.”

“It really is worth regularly checking all of the hydraulic connections on mowers for any sign of leakage,” said Ian Mitchell, product trainer at Ransomes Jacobsen. “A visual check of the ground where the machine has been standing since its previous use is also advisable. Who wants to be responsible for dumping gallons of hot hydraulic fluid on the 18th green, just prior to an important tournament?!”

“Regular maintenance goes a long way to ensuring longer-term reliability, as well as helping to reduce fuel consumption,” agreed Iain Booth, one of John Deere’s national team of territory customer support managers. “Operators have the main responsibility for regular maintenance, and preventive action is always going to be cheaper than reactive maintenance.”

Keep it clean 

“Machines last much longer when they are regularly cleaned,” he added. “Especially after working in grass, machines need to be cleaned immediately after use rather than just once a week or so. And in the summer, when the grass is dry, cleaning doesn’t necessarily mean washing every day, as blowing off the dirt and debris is more effective.

“Whenever a machine is washed, it should also be greased immediately, particularly the bearings and unguarded pivot points where the grease can easily be washed away. A simple lack of proper greasing can lead to bearing failures and premature wear of bushes, seals and pivot points.”

“Surprisingly, simply keeping equipment clean and greased after it’s been washed down will improve its longevity and productivity,” agreed David Jackman.

Maintenance tips

“As any manufacturer will tell you, regular servicing and maintenance is vital to ensure equipment runs at peak performance and has a long working life,” added Iain Booth. “Machinery manufacturers put a lot of effort into publishing comprehensive operator’s manuals for individual machines, so it’s easy to follow the recommended maintenance schedules, be they daily, monthly or at specified engine hours. Appropriate training can also be provided to in-house workshop staff so that they can follow the recommended procedures to ensure machines are properly looked after.

“John Deere advocates the ‘little and often’ approach, particularly with mowers. Problems can often be caused by allowing cutting cylinders to go off cut before reacting and trying to deal with the problem, rather than maintaining cut quality by regular maintenance.

“As a key example, regular backlapping helps maintain cylinders at their optimum cutting quality. Keeping the reels fully sharpened and working efficiently also reduces the risk of other components breaking down later on in the machine’s life. Every John Deere cylinder mower features backlapping as standard, but this should not replace the need for relief grinding, which helps increase fuel efficiency and ensure longer wear life.

“Just 15 minutes of simple maintenance a week can have a much wider effect on overall costs. Paying up front for maintenance is also proven to reduce the overall cost of ownership, and all John Deere dealers offer comprehensive maintenance contracts for those who decide to go that route. In addition, John Deere’s new PowerGard programmes can help clubs to budget for their machinery maintenance and repair costs, and avoid unexpected repair bills.”

“Oils, filters and grease are cheap compared with repairs,” pointed out Iain Booth. “If you change the oils and follow the regular service procedures, machines will generally last as long as you want them to, especially if they are designed for reliability in the first place.

“It’s a false economy to try and save money by cutting corners – you should always use recommended oils and components, and buy genuine manufacturer’s parts. Will-fit parts are cheaper for a reason – they don’t meet the required specifications, they are lower quality and they don’t have as many built-in safeguards, such as bypass valves on oil filters.”

“The battery is one of the most vital components on any mower,” stated Ian Mitchell. “Make sure that the leads are fitted tightly and the terminals and connectors greased to prevent corrosion. Next check each cell for electrolyte and top up where necessary.

“Also check the filter screen in front of the radiator. If clogged with old clippings remove with an airline or stiff brush. Check the fuel level in the tank and, if possible verify that the fuel indicator gauge is working correctly. You don’t want to get stuck in some remote part of the course!

“You’re not paid to be an airline pilot, but it’s worth checking the instrument panel to ensure that all gauges and indicators are working correctly. Also check that all safety and operator presence systems are fully functioning. If not, get your mechanic or local dealer to rectify any issues; do not compromise on safety.

“Once you are satisfied that the power unit is OK, now is the time to look at the cutting units.

“These are obviously critical to determining the quality of your playing surface and there will be various elements to inspect and check, depending on the type of cylinder used.

“First off, check the bottom blade. Make sure it is sharp and regrind if in doubt. If your cylinder manufacturer recommends an air gap, ensure you’re mowing with a gap. Check the clearance between the reel and bottom blade with a feeler gauge and test the scissor action using a piece of paper.

“A point worth noting is that by using the non-contact (air gap) method you can reduce the wear on bottom blades by anything up to 50 per cent. Also there will be less strain on the motors and you’ll use less fuel.

“It’s very important to carry out cylinder / bottom blade adjustments before setting the height of cut. As either is adjusted, the height of cut is also changed. Check for worn bearings in the front and / or rear rollers. An accurate height of cut cannot be achieved if there is free play in these bearings.

“If groomers are fitted, one of the first jobs is to set the blade depth. This is done using a setting bar and Ransomes Jacobsen recommends that the blades are set at 50 per cent of the height of cut. Any deeper and, not only are you putting more strain on the unit, there’s an increased risk of scalping.

“Where possible and appropriate, Ransomes Jacobsen recommends that rear roller brushes are fitted as they will keep the roller clean and help maintain a consistent height of cut. They are belt-driven and the belt tension should be checked to ensure they are functioning correctly.

“Don’t forget that these checks have to be done on all cylinders and groomers. On a greens’ / tees’ triple or five unit fairway mower, it’s very easy to ‘forget’ the rear units, especially if it’s not the swing-out type and difficult to access. Ransomes Jacobsen is the only manufacturer that features greens’ mowers with a patented swing out centre unit; it’s one of the unique selling points of their machines.

“Finally, check the roller and cylinder bearings periodically. Look for play when spun, any unusual noises or any tightening as they rotate. If any anomalies are found, do not take the machine out. Consult your mechanic or local dealer.

“And, whenever possible, use manufacturer’s genuine parts. It’s tempting to use generic will-fit replacements because they are usually a cheaper option.

“But bear in mind, the short-term gain can become a long-term loss; it’s a fact that our genuine parts are manufactured to the strict quality standards of BSEN836 and are guaranteed with a 12-month warranty that protects against defects in material and workmanship and includes the replacement cost of the part.

“Regular checks and routine maintenance are not ‘rocket science’, but they are essential for not only producing excellent sports’ turf but also help with the longevity of your equipment.”

However, even following good principles of maintenance will not prevent the machines from needing repair work done to them from time to time. So then what do the experts advise?


“Always look for the simple solution first,” explained Lely UK’s parts manager Phil Bowen. “A common and costly error is sending your injection pump for servicing when it’s just affected by a blocked filter. By checking the filter first, you might find you’re left with a bill for just a few pounds instead of hundreds. And, while poor after-cut appearance often indicates a machinery fault, be aware that you need to adjust the mower to deal with changes in conditions, so don’t assume there’s a fault before making simple adjustments. Similarly, if a machine appears to be affected by multiple faults, be sure to correct them one at a time, each time verifying whether this correction has worked and was the cause of the problem.

“Don’t fall into the trap of trying to put everything right at once as, although it seems like you’re saving time, you could be carrying out unnecessary corrections and might lose sight of what you’ve worked on, wasting time as well as money. Should your machine need expert attention, be sure to turn to only manufacturer-authorised dealers or service centres. Toro’s specially trained technicians are best placed to perform proper safety inspections, such as hydraulic hoses and interlock switches checks. They’ll also fit only genuine parts and ensure the correct oil and filter specifications are used.”

Use machines that are built to last

“As with anything in life, you get what you pay for,” added David Jackman. “By investing in machinery from a brand leader, you’re not only investing in superb performance but also a durable, robust design and build that means your machine will provide maximum productivity and reliability over the course of its lifetime. Yes, Toro machines cost more, but they prove to be far more cost-effective in the long-term and retain their resale value. Obviously, lifespan and ‘durability’ depends on the manufacturer, the machine type, the applications it’s used for and frequency of use and so on. But proper repair and maintenance has a huge impact on perceived ‘durability’ – if you fail to correctly care for your machine, you will experience a decline in its performance and, ultimately, shorten its lifespan. And key to keeping your machine in good working order is using only quality OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) service parts.

“Though it may be tempting to settle for a spurious part to save a few pennies, most fail to meet the OEM’s standards for form, fit and function and so you’ll probably need to replace it early and often. It could even damage your equipment. Premature bearing failure caused by the ingress of dirt due to use of poor-quality bearings instead of OEM bearings is a prime example of this. So, if you’ve bought the best, make sure you keep it that way!”


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir January 1, 2012 15:56
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