Mower manufacturers focus on affordable innovation to improve greens mower lines.

With golf course maintenance staffs going the lean and mean route – the result of budget cuts – more courses have opted for riding greens mowers. That said, there’s still a place for walking greens mowers and always will be, according to manufacturers of the Big Three, otherwise known as John Deere Golf, Jacobsen and The Toro Co.

Many golf course superintendents don’t have enough operators on their staffs to man walking greens mowers and they realize they can get more greens mowed faster with riding greens mowers, says Tracy Lanier, golf product manager for Raleigh, N.C.-based John Deere Golf.

Helmut Ullrich, The Toro Co.’s senior marketing manager for greens mowers, points out that not too long ago the opposite happened: Cash-rich courses opted for walking greens mowers in belief that they offered a better cut.

But the Great Recession changed everything. “[Superintendents] had to do more with less or the same with less,” Ullrich says.

Some courses began skipping a fairway mowing during the week and mowing the roughs fewer times to save money. But they couldn’t do that on the greens, Ullrich points out.

They could use riding greens mowers to get the job done, however, Ullrich adds, but only if they provided a quality cut. Recognizing this, Toro went back to the drawing board to design riding mowers to enhance their quality of cut, Ullrich says.

Chris Fox, a product manager for Charlotte-based Jacobsen, agrees that more superintendents are moving to riding greens mowers.

“Because of labor constraints, superintendents in some cases are transitioning from walking to riding greens mowers,” Fox says. “Although initially they think the move will sacrifice quality of cut, they’re surprised to find that the ECLIPSE 322 riding greens mower provides the exact same quality-of-cut as our walk mowers.”

But Fox adds that there will always be a place for the walking greens mower.

“Whether it’s undulating greens, less compaction, hydraulics on some riding greens mowers, or the prestige of the narrower stripes, some clubs will continue to walk mow greens,” he adds.

While the top high-end courses continue to walk mow the greens, the tier of courses just below them are changing it up a bit, Lanier says. More of them are mowing greens with riders during the week and walk mowing on the weekends.

“The coures with walking greens mowers will continue to walk mow,” Lanier says.

Despite the increase in quality, a riding greens mower can’t cut like a walk mower, he contends.

For starters, there’s the attractive individual stripe that comes with the walk mower. A riding greens mower can also leave tire tracks, which take time to disappear.

But these days versatility is key and time is money, Lanier notes. Superintendents also want to be able to use riding greens mowers to mow other areas, such as tees and surrounds.

Their focus

Lanier says that John Deere’s hybrid reel technology has also proved effective and economical. John Deere introduced the first hybrid riding greens mower in 2005. A price can’t be put on the peace of mind superintendents have found without having to worry about hydraulic spills on their courses’ greens, he says.

Could the gas engine go away someday?

“It all comes back to what the customers’ needs are,” Lanier says. “They are the ones who are driving the market for us. But when you think about electric, it just seems to fit in our industry pretty well.”

Jacobsen’s ultimate goal is to provide superintendents with more options to help control course conditions.

“Superintendents deal with so much that is out of their control,” said Adam Slick, public relations and communications manager. “We want to make their jobs a little easier by providing tools that give them more control over course conditions.”

One of those tools is easily adjustable frequency-of-clip (FOC) settings for greens mowers. Jacobsen introduced the concept on its ECLIPSE line of walking and riding greens mowers several years ago. Superintendents simply enter the desired FOC into an onboard computer and begin mowing. Superintendents can use the FOC settings to either increase ball roll without lowering height of cut or maintain ball roll and increase the height of cut.

“Increasing the frequency of clip allows you to cut more blades of grass in one pass,” Fox says.

Some are using FOC in ways we never imagined, Fox says. “A superintendent in Europe has increased the consistency of green speed from hole to hole by adjusting the FOC settings on every hole. That way, players get nearly identical greens speeds over 18 holes,” he adds.

Ullrich says Toro billed its latest line of riding greens mowers – the Greensmaster TriFlex Riding Mowers – as “cutting with the quality of a walker.”

“All three cutting units on the riding greens mower have to look the same and cut the same,” Ullrich says, noting Toro adapted the suspension system from its Flex Series walking greens mowers to the Greensmaster TriFlex. The riding greens mower features Toro’s patented double A-arm suspension technology, which enables the mowers cutting units to cut level.

“The No. 1 reason that greens mowers are bought is the quality of cut they deliver, because that’s what superintendents get judged on,” Ullrich says, noting that the best greens mowers can perform admirably on undulating greens and are able to execute an excellent cleanup cut.

The tires were redesigned on Toro’s riding greens mowers so that mowing tracks on greens disappear quickly.

Superintendents also want a riding greens mower that can be serviced quickly and efficiently – one where the cutting units can be removed quickly for servicing, Ullrich adds.

Regarding trends, brush attachments are back in vogue to help superintendents achieve a better quality of cut and consistency on greens, Lanier says.

With the popularity of ultradwarf bermudagrass on greens, more superintendents are interested in adding brushes to greens mowers, Fox adds. Jacobsen is introducing a new brush that functions as a forward or reverse rotating brush or groomer that takes less than five minutes to change over, Fox says.

Earlier this year, Toro entered into an agreement with GreensPerfection LLC to manufacture and market greens mower brushes developed by Rod Lingle, the certified golf course superintendent for Memphis Country Club, for Toro’s walking and riding greens mowers. The brushes provide more lift to the grass blades than traditional groomers, according to Toro.

Electric, GPS and the future

In the future, greens mowers could be designed to automatically change FOC on a particular green using GPS technology, Fox notes.

“The mower would automatically change FOC setting depending on what green it is on,” he adds.

Ullrich says Toro is constantly making refinements to its greens mowers to make them easier to use. For instance, Toro recently added a lithium ion battery-powered eFlex walking greens mower to its lineup, which can mow nine greens on one charge. Some of the refinements are courtesy of golf course superintendents.

John Deere Golf recently introduced a new direct-mounted grass catcher for better contouring and retention of clippings. Compatible with all John Deere 2500 riding greens mowers and the 180 and 220 E-Cut Hybrid Walk greens mowers, the new catcher provides superintendents with the quality after-cut appearance they demand, according to Lanier.

The direct-mounting grass catcher is designed to retain clippings by slowing the air volume and routing it out of the catcher while keeping the clippings in.

“We have learned many professionals have unique preferences and needs based on their course, which is why the new direct-mount grass catcher and current weight transfer catcher systems are key offerings when it comes to accommodating the needs of our customers,” Lanier says.

Ullrich says the economy will continue to impact golf course budgets, which will put pressure on mower manufacturers to introduce affordable and efficient equipment.

“Affordability will be the future innovation,” he adds.

Ullrich also expects electric technology to improve.

“Down the road, it will have a greater impact than it has had in the past,” he says.

Jacobsen will also continue to strive to make its greens mower technology more environmentally friendly, Fox says. The company will soon introduce the first riding greens mower with a lithium battery.

While Lanier couldn’t reveal specific details of improvements, he says John Deere engineers are always looking at ways to improve performance and productivity, not to mention the appearance of its greens mowers.