Mike Koppen said John Deere takes stock in the big and little ideas it gets from Feedback.
There's a spectacular sunrise over the Duke University Golf Club on a cool September morning. A group of superintendents is gathered near the course's driving range, waking up to tall cups of steaming coffee.
It's a perfect day for John Deere Golf to kick off its 2012 Feedback program at the course on the campus of Duke University in Durham, N.C. Many golf course superintendents from around the country and several from abroad were invited to the three-day event to provide feedback to John Deere product managers, engineers and other staff in regard to new John Deere equipment, some of which isn't on the market yet.
It's the 20th Feedback session staged by John Deere. It is the first attended by Sam Reznicek, golf course superintendent of Grand Forks (N.D.) Country Club, who said he liked what he saw during the event.
"What they're coming out with now is vastly improved from equipment that just came out five years ago," Reznicek said. "Like all technology, it's going fast. If you don't have new equipment within the past five years, you're already way behind."
Reznicek and other attendees rotated around five stations on the course that featured various John Deere Golf equipment.
"There are some things here that will really get you excited," Reznicek said. "You can see they are really working hard for our business, which is pretty neat."
Reznicek said he provided feedback on big things and little things, the latter of which he says can add up quickly and have a major impact on a piece of equipment's quality and efficiency.
Lee McBurnett, the golf course superintendent of Stonebridge Meadows Golf Club, an 18-hole public facility in Fayetteville, Ark., was happy to be at the event and credits john Deere for soliciting superintendents' opinions.
"We push equipment to the limits and know its limitations probably even more than Deere's engineers can put it through at their testing facility," McBurnett said.
Sam Reznicek (right), superintendent of Grand Forks (N.D.) Country Club, says the equipment he saw at the John Deere Feedback is "vastly improved" from only five years ago.
PHOTOS: BY LARRY AYLWARD AND MCGAVOCK EDWARDS
Like many superintendents at the event, McBurnett was thinking about his course's needs while providing his feedback. His budget doesn't allow for a lot of equipment, so his feedback has to do with needing mowers, sprayers and other equipment that's as durable as a Mack truck. That goes for McBurnett's lone fairway mower.
"It's really important for us to have a machine that can maximize its potential on our golf course to do what we need it to do," he added.
McBurnett also said he needs equipment that's more comfortable. He doesn't have a spray tech, so he's the one doing all the spraying - and riding the machine for hours at a time.
"It's a great machine and does exactly what I want it to do, but it needs some improvements with comfort," he said.
Jason Cuddy, golf course superintendent at Springdale Country Club in Springdale, Ark., said he's looking to replace his rotary trim units, so he talked to Deere engineers and product managers about his needs.
"I'd like to see more interchangeability of parts from a three-deck, three-wheel unit to a five-deck, four-wheel machine," he said. "I'd like to have the same deck size so consistency of cut is even if the two machines take over for each other."
Lee McBurnett of Stonebridge Meadows Golf Club provides his written feedback.
Steve Agazzi, superintendent of Turtle Point Golf Course at Kiawah Island (S.C.) Golf Resort, focused his feedback around productivity issues.
"Everybody's budgets have gotten smaller for the most part," Agazzi said. "We've lost a lot of [crew members], but the bigger mowers are going away. I think we need to go back to bigger mowers to get things done with less people."
Superintendents weren't the only ones providing feedback. Robert Nichols, a technician, attended the event on behalf of the Alotin Club in Roland, Ark. Nichols was careful to supply appropriate feedback, not just off-the-wall thinking.
"They don't want crazy ideas," Nichols said, "so what I give them is true fact - what a machine is doing right and what's it doing wrong."
Nichols said he looks at every piece of equipment the same way before commenting on it.
"I look for what minor changes can be made to make it better for the golf course and the superintendent," he added.
Nichols said new equipment needs to be easily maintained and must sustain itself for a long period with little, but proper, maintenance.
"Most of it isn't preventive maintenance; it's planned maintenance," he said. "A machine will last a long time by doing planned maintenance correctly."
Mike Koppen, group marketing manager for John Deere Golf, said the company values the information it gleans from the Feedback program.
"It's a program we put a lot into because we get a lot out of it in terms of direction, not just for equipment, but for trends that are developing in the golf maintenance business."
It's not just the big information that Koppen values; it's the small information, too. The latter can be used in model-year updates, he said.
Technician Robert Nichols said new equipment needs to be easily maintained and must sustain itself for a long period.
"We used to have rear steering on fairway mowers and the steering wheel would shake because it only had a single-acting cylinder," Koppen explained. "So it was really hard to mow a straight line. We needed to do something to fix it, so we changed it to a dual-action cylinder in the steering wheel. It was a small change that didn't take a lot of development."
Then there's the big information. Superintendents at past Feedback sessions suggested the ideas that grew into Deere's Quick Adjust cutting units and hybrid technology.
"[The hybrid suggestion] could have been an off-the-wall comment," Koppen said. "A superintendent could've said, 'Can you take the hydraulic power off the greens?' It got somebody thinking."
There's little doubt that golfers' expectations for near-perfect conditioning will continue to drive equipment technology.
"The human desire is to get better," Cuddy says. "If you're not getting better, you will cease to exist.
Agazzi agrees. "[Golfers' expectations] will always be more than what you've budgeted for," he said.
It's safe to say there will be plenty more Feedback events.
Aylward can be reached at email@example.com or 330-723-2136.