This machine sucks!” Not usually a comment that counts as an enthusiastic endorsement, but high praise when you’re talking about sweepers – which we are.

Sweepers can be labor-saving, appearance-enhancing powerhouses on a golf course – if they work. We talked to three superintendents who rely on sweepers on their layouts to find out what they like about these tools, and how they use them.

Steve Dodge, golf course superintendent at Concord Country Club in New Hampshire, has a pair of Smithco Sweep Star V62 sweepers in his fleet.

“Our models have rubber fingers that are spinning that pick up and collect the debris and feed it into an impeller. They’re sweeper-vacuums, and that really gives you the suction. They really do a nice job,” Dodge explains. “They are self-powered with gasoline engines, so you can pull them with a heavy-duty utility vehicle or a tractor; you don’t need a PTO connection.”

Dodge relies on the sweepers to collect different types of debris, including leaves, pine needles and pine cones.

Sweeper Tips

  • Use a sweeper to enhance looks throughout the golf season.
  • A sweeper can be pulled by a utility vehicle or tractor; a PTO connection isn’t required.
  • A sweeper can also be used on a hard surface, such as a parking lot.
  • A sweeper can help you save on labor.

“We have a lot of hardwood trees lining the fairways and the rough,” he says, noting that while New England is a great place to see the fall foliage, cleaning up the mess can take a long time, as some trees drop their leaves early and some late. “So we use the sweepers throughout the entire fall. For me, I like to have as much of the cleanup as possible done in the fall, that way the leaves are not all wet and packed down from the snow when spring arrives.”

Dodge also calls on the sweepers during the summer, especially when thunderstorms roll through, or high-wind events strike.

“After a thunderstorm, you want to get the course cleaned up quickly, so you can get out and mow; you don’t want the turf to get ahead of you,” he states. “We use them a lot, and they are very handy devices. They save a lot of man-hours.”

There’s no damage to the turf from the sweepers, Dodge notes.

“We don’t take them over the green, but you can use them throughout the rest of the course,” he states. Making sure the sweeper is adjusted properly and the operator is traveling at the correct speed are important factors in ensuring that turf is not harmed, he points out.

Sweepers can also be time-savers on hard surfaces. Dodge says, “We do around the parking lots, especially if someone is working with a backpack blower. You can take a sweeper and vacuum up their debris.”

Kevin Hicks is the golf course superintendent at Coeur d’Alene Resort in Idaho, and says that pine needles more than leaves present cleanup challenges there.

“We use sweepers a lot here. Some of it’s for general debris pickup, but we have an indigenous forest of ponderosa pines that seem to rain needles down all year round,” he explains. “Luckily we’ve found a machine that does really well with the needles.”

Hicks relies on a pair of Wiedenmann Super 500 sweepers with multipurpose sweeper heads.

“It’s been by far the best performer for us with the pine needles. They’re just tremendously efficient compared with what we had before,” he says, noting that the ground contact-type sweeper that the course used previously was successful at picking up the needles, “but you had to be in such a low gear in your tow vehicle that it seemed like you’d be out there for eternity.”

The Super 500 sweepers at Coeur d’Alene employ what Hicks describes as “a modified flail-type attachment on a spool,” which he says creates enough turbulence to suck the needles right off the ground, even without contacting the ground.

“And we can run our tractors almost as fast as you are comfortable driving, which has made a huge difference in our productivity,” Hicks adds. That improved efficiency, mainly through decreased man-hours, was one of the main reasons he chose this particular model.

He uses them mostly in the spring and fall. “They’re running eight hours a day from the middle of September to when we close,” Hicks reports.

Typically, crews will use high-velocity blowers to clear debris from fairways and push it into the rough, where the sweepers collect it. Hicks says it’s a productive machine, but, he warns, “It’s a rather indiscriminate machine. Whether it’s a sprinkler head or a yardage plaque or anything, it’s going to suck it up. So we pick and choose who runs those machines.”

The units can be fitted with an accessory that will turn the sweeper into a verticutter, but it’s not something he’s experimented with much. At Seattle Golf Club in Washington, however, Superintendent Matt Schuldt uses his Super 500 sweeper as a verticutter regularly.

“We verticut fairways and approaches with it,” Schuldt notes.

Based on USGA Green Section recommendations, Schuldt was in the market for both a sweeper and verticutter last year, and decided to purchase a unit that could do both. “It’s two machines in one, which seemed like a no-brainer,” he says.

Of course, the sweeper function gets plenty of use, too. Some pin oaks “that just constantly drop their leaves” and about 4,000 fir trees dot the course, so there’s plenty of debris that accumulates on the ground, according to Schuldt. When it’s not leaves or needles, it’s other woody material.

“Cones and little branches and big branches – it doesn’t matter what is on the ground, it will pick it up. We just blow everything into windrows, and then we suck it up,” he explains. “Just the labor hours saved: You blow it, you pick it up, it’s gone. We used to pick everything up by hand.”

After one year of using the sweeper, “our golf course has never looked this clean,” Schuldt says. “It’s a fact that has not gone unnoticed by the membership.

All of the superintendents we spoke with emphasized that every course and every application is different, so it’s important to test out sweepers in the conditions they’ll need to operate in.

“Make sure you demo everything,” Hicks says. “Just like everything, technology has changed and sweepers have improved. There are machines out there that are better than others.”

Thinking out of the box when it comes to versatile uses for sweepers.