Although fairway rolling is in its infancy, it appears the cultural practice might just be the next big trend in golf course maintenance.
The second chapter of “Golf Greens and Green-Keeping,” edited by Horace G. Hutchinson and published by Country Life magazine in 1906, is prefaced with this exchange: Fair American admiring the really wonderful lawns at one of the Universities — “Say, Gardner, how do you make a lawn like this?” Gardner — “Well, miss, we rolls ’em and we mows ’em and rolls ’em and mows ’em for 300 years.”
Years down the road, not 300, it’s possible a similar conversation will take place in regards to U.S. golf course fairways.Although only in its infancy, with fewer than 20 courses rolling fairways on a regular basis, it appears the cultural practice might be the next big trend.
Cheshire, Connecticut-based Salsco has been producing a dedicated fairway roller since 2012. Tru-Turf, headquartered in Queensland, Australia, offers rollers that attach to fairway units. One other wellknown company has plans to launch a roller at the 2015 Golf Industry Show, but won’t release any information about the machine now.
The majority of superintendents who roll fairways are located on the Atlantic Seaboard, but there are courses from Hampden, Massachusettts to Chicagoland to the northern coast of California where it’s being done. Currently, most courses that roll fairways are high-end private facilities, but that may change. The Salsco dedicated roller is listed for about $34,000. The Tru-Turf FR-108 roller that attaches to fairway mowers sells for about $14,000.
Matt Shaffer, director of golf course operations at Merion Golf Club near Philadelphia, started the fairway rollers rolling. He and Robert Smith, the club’s equipment manager, came up with a prototype. According to Sal Rizzo, founder and president of Salsco, Shaffer approached manufacturers about producing a dedicated fairway roller. Only Salsco followed up on the idea. Rizzo estimates that there are now probably 100 of the company’s fairway rollers in use across the U.S., with The Bridge Golf Club on Long Island recently ordering six. He said at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, the athletic fields are being rolled prior to all competitions. Shaffer had rollers on-site for the 2013 U.S. Open, and they’re credited with helping the course recover from a rain deluge. The rollers were used as mechanical squeegees, quickly moving the water off fairways.
“It was just a natural evolution,” says Ray Dufty, Tru-Turf ’s managing director, about the creation of fairway rollers.
Tru-Turf ’s fairway rollers are manufactured in Iowa. Dufty notes that Tru-Turf doesn’t produce fairway rollers in Australia, but some will be shipped over from the U.S. Plans are in order for rollers to
also be exported to U.K. layouts.
Good reasons to roll
The reasons for rolling fairways are many, and often the same as rolling greens. The process smooths the playing surface, reduces mowing frequency and helps provide a consistent playing surface. There’s also the bonus of virtually eliminating a significant turf disease.
“I haven’t seen dollar spot in four years,” states Mike Dachowski, superintendent at Shelter Harbor Golf Club in Charlestown, Rhode Island, a Dana Fry design.
He believes he’s stumbled onto another significant benefit, although he lacks official data.
“I can’t quantify it, but when I roll when hyperodes [often referred to as annual bluegrass weevil] are coming out, I think you roll some of them to death,” Dachowski explains.
A former assistant at Merion, Dachowski has the roller unit that was invented at his old club, which uses a hydraulic gang mower unit as its base. Dachowski says he has one of the first sets of Tru-Turf rollers heading his way after getting a chance to try them out.
“My general manager asked me to go to a field day at Blue Hills [Country Club], and they had them there,” Dachowski says. “I kept them for 10 days.”
The Salsco machine, called the Tranz-Former (so named because it changes configuration much like a Transformer action figure), is a dedicated roller that can also be used on greens. Rizzo said the 10-PSI is similar to the dedicated greens rollers.
“You can roll a green in two or three minutes,” Rizzo states. Each roller is driven and steers independently. That, according to Rizzo, eliminates scuffing of turf.
According to Dachowski, Tru-Turf ’s FR-108 units quickly attach to fairway units, and rolling is done at transport speed since hydraulics aren’t needed for operation.
At the former Hampden (Massachusetts) Country Club, Superintendent Dave Rafferty uses his Salsco fairway roller on fairways, tees, approaches and greens. The club, which hasn’t yet been renamed, is undergoing a multimillion-dollar renovation of the golf course, along with the construction of a multimillion-dollar clubhouse. There are 14 holes in playable condition, with a 2015 reopening expected.
Rafferty sprayed for dollar spot once in the last year, and that was a preventive application. He didn’t actually see the disease.
According to Rafferty, one concern with using one roller throughout the golf course is bringing disease from one area, such as the rough, onto the greens. Dachowski, who rolls when needed and not on a set schedule, adds
that rolling eliminated the puffy areas in fairways where mowers turn.
“If I see a ball slowing down and not rolling out on the fairways, I go and do it,” Dachowski says.
He says Shelter Harbor fairways are mowed at 0.375 inch, and they’ve been Stimped at 8.5 feet because of rolling.
Dachowski’s only caution is that damage can occur with wet conditions.
“Everything adds up to better conditions overall,” Dachowski says. “If you use your head, it’s the way to go.”