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

With sweepers, everyone thinks of spring and fall cleanup, which is primarily leaves and branches – that’s the core use for any turf sweeper,” says Doug Colley, Northeast U.S./Canada sales rep with Smithco. While you’ll find some sort of sweeper in most golf course maintenance buildings, not all are used to their full potential, he observes. “You’ve got to think out of the box; buying a sweeper just for spring and fall cleanup means that piece of equipment doesn’t move all summer long. There’s certainly a lot more applications than many superintendents think there are.”

During the growing season, for instance, sweepers can be used to collect grass clippings.

“When you’re cutting in wet conditions, you’re going to get some clumping and unsightly clippings left on the fairway, so you can go out with a sweeper and clean that up,” says Colley, citing just one diverse application where sweepers can be employed.

Smithco offers two riding sweepers that provide high-lift dump capabilities. The Sweep Star 48, for example, sweeps a 4-foot-wide swath and can lift about 75 inches vertically to dump into a trailer. The company also offers three trailer-type sweepers.

“The smallest one, and our most popular one, is the Sweep Star V62, which is a 4-cubic-yard, engine-driven sweeper-vac,” Colley notes. The larger Sweep Star V72, a 7-cubic-yard unit, is available as either engine-drive or PTO-drive configurations. When superintendents opt for the PTO setup they gain the ability to add a verticut reel on the sweeper head. “That way you can verticut fairways and pick up the debris all in one operation,” he explains.

Sweepers work better than straight vacuums, especially with wet, matted material, Colley says. “You have to agitate and loosen the material so the air can grab it,” he explains. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways. Smithco’s sweepers, for example, can be outfitted with either rubber “fingers” or a nylon bristle brush. Colley says most superintendents prefer the rubber fingers because they wear better than the brush, but the two systems are interchangeable, and the brush performs better on hard surfaces such as cart paths and parking lots.

The Smithco units that include vacuum functions can also be outfitted with a hand intake hose.

“It’s quite handy,” says Colley of the 8- or 10-inch-diameter hoses that allow the sweeper-vacs to serve even more functions. For example, they can be used to clean up around the clubhouse or in tight areas. The hand intake hose can also save time by sucking up piles of clippings emptied from greens mowers. “You can even use the hose to drive around and suck trash out of the trash cans, which speeds that process up,” Colley adds.

Redexim North America offers its Turf Tidy sweepers in three sizes and is preparing to unveil a new, smaller unit soon. Versatility is a key attribute of these sweepers.

“The Turf Tidy is a multifunction tool that can be used by superintendents to collect cores, flail mow native areas, and for fall cleanup,” summarizes Paul Hollis, executive vice president of Redexim. The Turf Tidy 3000 has a 105-cubic-foot hopper, while the Turf Tidy 1310 and 1710 have capacities of 81 and 63 cubic feet, respectively.

Dethatch and collect

Hollis says a popular choice is to equip the machines with standard verticutting knives because that allows them to both dethatch and collect the material. “In essence, it’s doing two jobs in one,” he explains. “The blades are closely spaced, and the amount of thatch that is removed is simply amazing.” Redexim’s sweepers feature high-dump hoppers, allowing them to be quickly unloaded into trailers or dumpsters.

Wiedenmann’s Super 500 sweeper can be outfitted with a kit that allows cores that have been collected and pulverized to be put back down as topdressing.

Graden USA recently unveiled its GC800 Groundhog that is specifically designed to assist in cleanup following aerification. The walk-behind unit (equipped with a hydrostatic transmission) is maneuverable enough to get into tight areas and features a free-floating head that allows it to collect cores even over undulating ground. The unit is self-dumping, so whenever the hopper is full it can be raised and tipped into the back of a utility vehicle or trailer.

Wiedenmann offers three sweeper models for golf course applications. The 3.3-cubic-yard capacity Super 500 (along with the larger 5.9-cubic-yard Super 600), for example, can be equipped with either a “multipurpose” head or a brush head.

“The multipurpose head itself never touches the ground; it has wind paddles that create airflow that sucks the debris up into the hopper,” explains General Manager Will Wolverton. The brush head, on the other hand, contacts the ground in order to sweep up debris. The units are ordered in one configuration or the other. “Most superintendents prefer the option that doesn’t make contact with the surface,” Wolverton says. It creates such a large vacuum effect that it does just as well as a unit that does contact the ground, he states.

Another benefit of the multipurpose head is that it allows superintendents to verticut with the unit, he notes. “Most superintendents will equip the sweeper with verticutting blades; that way, by just adjusting the depth on the front roller, they can go from sweeping to verticutting,” he explains. “Or, with a different type of blade, you can also flail mow.” He says the latter option is particularly popular with superintendents who have tall fescue areas to maintain.

Core issues

In addition to using a sweeper to collect cores, it’s also possible to use the machine as a quasi topdresser. “Especially if they have sandy soil, a lot of superintendents will get our Core Pulverizing Kit, which is an option that basically holds the back door open,” Wolverton says. “So when you’re collecting the cores they’re getting busted up, and then the sand is returned back onto the fairway.” Some superintendents do this in conjunction with verticutting, which adds efficiency.

Wiedenmann’s larger sweepers are all PTO-driven units designed to be pulled by a tractor, and also feature high-lift dump capabilities.

“You can lift them up to 83 inches and dump into a utility vehicle or trailer or roll-off container or dumpster,” Wolverton explains. Many superintendents will position a trailer near where the sweeper is working and just keep dumping into that until the trailer fills up. “That way you’re not making a lot of trips back and forth to your dump site,” Wolverton adds.

Versatility is also at the core of the Imants RotoSweep sweeper, which has a 6-foot working width. “It works using a PTO drive and a two-sweeper system to effectively collect debris and pack it into the 3-cubic-yard hydraulic tipping collection box,” says Simon Gumbrill, sales director with Campey Turf Care Systems. He says the efficiency of the system is heightened by the unit’s ability to travel quickly while collecting grass clippings, leaves or cores. The unit has an operating speed of up to 4.3 mph.

“A fixed blade Rhea scarification head can also be mounted onto the front of the RotoSweep to enable a single-pass efficient scarification or verticutting in one operation,” Gumbrill adds. A 35-plus horsepower tractor is recommended for operation of the sweeper.

He notes that sweepers aren’t just about saving time during cleanup; they can also be used to improve turf health. “Superintendents use the RotoSweep-Rhea combination to reduce thatch buildup and to encourage vertical, strong, healthy growth throughout the growing season,” Gumbrill says, adding that removing the scarification head allows the sweeper to go back to debris collection and core removal duty, blending convenience with versatility.

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.