It used to be that greens rollers were viewed as tools to manage golfer expectations. “Oh, look, they’re rolling the greens. Everything should be smooth and fast today!”
But now, thanks to scientific research, more superintendents are using greens rollers to manage not just speed, but the turf itself.
“We’re seeing that at private courses all the way down to municipal courses,” says Bob Spencer, product manager at Amherst, New York-based Speed Roller. “With all the research that’s been done showing that rolling makes your greens healthier versus just mowing every day, it’s become a regular practice at many courses. Rolling has become quite mainstream.”
Fred Tucker, a sales representative with Queensland, Australia-based Tru-Turf, agrees that the hard scientific data is behind the increased use of greens rollers. In particular, he cites the work of Thomas A. Nikolai, Ph.D., at Michigan State University, Frank Rossi, Ph.D., at Cornell University, and John Sorochan at the University of Tennessee, who have linked rolling programs to improved turf health. “Years ago, superintendents would roll their greens just to get them fast. Now, with all the research, they’ve proven that the more you roll, the fewer weeds and less dollar spot you can have,” Tucker says. “Rolling has become a part of maintaining the course rather than being all about speed.”
“Rolling is popular, and it’s getting more popular,” concurs Jeremy Opsahl, product manager with Bloomington, Minnesota-based The Toro Co. “Superintendents are doing it for more reasons than just a fast putting surface. They’re doing it for the agronomic benefits.”
In fact, Sal Rizzo, president of Cheshire, Connecticut-based Salsco, Inc., says that increased greens speeds are simply a byproduct, rather than the reason he designed his rollers.
“The biggest benefit is being able to raise the height of cut; when you raise the height of cut, the turf is healthier. It’s just that simple,” he explains. “If you can maintain speed at the same time, well that’s marvelous.”
While agronomic benefits are an increasingly important factor in courses rolling their greens, speed and smoothness remain important considerations, says Doug Colley, Northeast U.S./Canada sales rep with Wayne, Pennsylvania-based Smithco.
“We have superintendents rolling five days a week, and some even more than that,” Colley says. “With the fact they give green speeds on the broadcast of every PGA Tour event and talk about greens smoothness, some superintendents at primarily private courses are being asked to actually post the green speeds on a daily basis.”
How we roll
As the use of greens rollers has increased, the way in which they are used has also evolved. Opsahl says he’s hearing from superintendents who are rolling greens to reduce mowing when possible.
“For example, courses in the South will dial back on their mowing in the wintertime, and they’re able to do that by rolling,” he states. “So there are benefits to the bottom line, as well.”
Indeed, Tucker says that Tru-Turf promotes a “mow-roll” program.
Read more: Weighing the Pros and Cons of Summer Rolling
As is the case with other maintenance equipment, manufacturers are increasingly offering electric rollers. Smithco, Speed Roller, Salsco and Tru-Turf are some manufacturers with electric rollers.
“Some courses need to be able to roll during the day. With a gas roller it can be noisy with golfers on the course, but with an electric roller it’s quiet,” explains Speed Roller Product Manager Bob Spencer. “Also, for some golf courses located beside housing developments, noise abatement becomes an issue, so the electric unit can help them in the morning. They may be able to get out there a little earlier.”
“You mow one day, roll the next day, and alternate back and forth,” he explains. “Taking that mower off the green at least three times per week saves enough money in fuel and labor and parts on the mowers to purchase a brand-new roller, any kind you want, within a year.” Fewer mowings also mean less stress on the turf, which can be critical during the hot summer months, Tucker notes.
With courses rolling more often, the speed of the greens roller is often a primary purchasing consideration, Colley says.
“They start rolling at sunup, and they have to stay ahead of play,” he adds. “But speed can be counterproductive. Because if you’re looking for green speed and smoothness, going at a slower speed gives you a better result.”
All shapes and sizes
Superintendents can purchase rollers weighing from around 500 pounds up to 1,000 pounds. Models are available in different roller sizes.
“The decision [to buy] often seems to come down to what the superintendent previously used and what he likes,” Opsahl says. “There is no data that says there is one best way – format or weight or number of rollers – to [roll].”
In general, Opsahl observes that courses interested in a machine for daily rolling purposes will typically prefer a smaller unit with a higher quantity of rollers. He says that Toro’s 48-inch-wide GreensPro 1200 is an example of such a roller designed to follow the contours of the green.
“With certain rollers that can’t articulate or follow the contours of the green, you need to be careful which direction you are making your passes,” he says. “Not that you can be careless with it, but a unit that will contour the greens will be more forgiving and give you more options rather than having to run a certain direction.”
On the other hand, “courses that use rollers for renovation purposes – for example northern courses that use them for alleviating frost heaves in the spring or ruts, or cleaning up greens following aerification – seem to prefer larger diameter rollers,” Opsahl says.
Much depends on the specific construction, climate and characteristics of a course. “The best roller is the one that works best for that specific superintendent,” Opsahl concludes.
One factor many superintendents seem to be considering is weight.
“There are many studies showing that lightweight rolling is the way to go, so many superintendents are looking for a lightweight roller,” Spencer says.
“A three-roller system compared to a two-roller system puts the ground pressure out over a larger surface, so it’s less [weight],” he says. “You actually get better green speed and ball roll with a three-roller system.”
Tucker agrees that weight is becoming a more important consideration for superintendents when shopping for a roller.
“Because they know now they can roll more often, they want to use a lightweight roller,” he explains, noting that buyers are comparing the PSI figures of various makes and models.
Tucker says Tru-Turf rollers are used at all PGA Tour events in part because they are lightweight.
“They don’t press the turf down. If you use a heavier roller, it will press the green down, so throughout the day it will rebound back up,” he explains. “In the morning you’ll have a fast green, but by the afternoon you have a slow green. With the lightweight rollers, if we roll a Stimp of 12 at 7 a.m., at 5 p.m. it will still be about 11.5.”
Rizzo says the way a roller is designed is also important to consider.
“On every model we make, each roller is driven, which eliminates 100 percent of the slipping and burning,” he notes. “When there are rollers that are just along for the ride, they’re not doing any pushing. So what they end up doing is rippling the surface.”
Rizzo notes that all of the company’s rollers float independently.
“We’re not trying to change the undulations or make everything flat; we’re simply trying to smooth the surface – things like divots and ball marks or spring frost,” Rizzo explains. He adds that because of these characteristics, his company’s rollers can be used safely in any direction, regardless of undulation or turf.
Smithco’s greens rollers include several features designed to make the operation more efficient and comfortable. These include a twin-cylinder engine with less vibration than typical single-cylinder rollers. “It lowers the noise level and makes things more comfortable for the operator,” Colley says of the engine. “And all of the [non-electric] rollers we produce we drive both roller cylinders hydraulically, so there’s no maintenance required as far as chain or belt adjustments.”
Some of the company’s units, such as the Tournament Ultra Plus, include power steering to make navigation easier.
Read more: Getting on a Roll with Fairway Rolling
As superintendents gain a better understanding of the benefits of rolling greens, some courses are pushing the practice out to other parts of the layout.
“Every piece of turf on the course benefits from rolling,” Rizzo says. His company offers several different roller models for greens, as well as a larger (10-foot-wide) Tranz-Former unit that can be used on both fairways and approaches, as well as greens. “Our bigger machines can roll a green in under four minutes, and they are for all the turf on the course,” he adds.
In addition to its 48- and 52-inch-wide greens rollers, Tru-Turf offers a sports turf roller that attaches behind a tractor on a three-point hitch. Tucker notes that Medinah Country Club uses that roller on its fairways and approaches.
“We’re taking part in research right now on using that roller to maintain fairways,” he adds.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in the September 2013 issue and has been updated for accuracy.