How many pairs of shoes do you own? Most of us have many options, so when we want to quickly switch gears from work to running to golf to formal to relaxation, we just slip on a different pair. That’s sort of the concept behind greens mower cassette systems. The same greens mower (pair of feet) can be customized to quickly do a number of chores with a simple change of cassette (shoes).
While there are several different brands and styles on the market, the principle works generally the same: By removing the stock cutting heads from a greens mower, new heads (known in Europe as chassis) can be installed that will accept a variety of cassettes. This turns a greens mower into a machine that will also verticut and dethatch, as well as aerate, brush, topdress, groom, level, roll and more. And it can still quickly be converted back to mowing mode.
In that sense, these systems give courses their best return on investment when it comes to their greens mower.
“If you consider how much a new greens mower costs, and the fact that it wouldn’t actually work that many hours of the day – a lot of the time that investment is just sitting in the maintenance facility,” says Marcus Oliver, business development coordinator with GreenTek, which produces the Thatch-Away Supa-System (distributed in North America by Redexim).
This approach makes even more sense when you consider how purpose-built greens mowers are, Oliver adds. “When you think about it, the greens mower has evolved into the absolutely ideal power unit to take onto golf greens; it has the smooth tires, the maneuverability, the light weight. … They are just crying out to be used for something beyond mowing,” he says.
While cassette systems originated in the U.K. and remain most popular there and across Europe, more American courses are utilizing them, if not to their full potential.
“Most golf course superintendents in the U.S. are familiar with the generic term ‘cassette’ but associate these types of systems primarily with verticutting,” observes John Coleman with Advanced Turf Technology (ATT), which produces the TMSystem of interchangeable greens mower cassettes. “Many superintendents are not familiar with some of the other tools that can complement agronomic maintenance practices performed on greens.” Coleman says that it sometimes takes seeing various specialized cassettes in action to appreciate the benefits they can provide.
Recognition is growing
While ATT’s best-selling cassette is its Ultra Groomer (designed specifically for managing high-density bermudagrasses) and most superintendents continue to use its TMSystem for some form of verticutting, the company offers cassettes for scarifying, brushing, spiking and other maintenance tasks, Coleman says. In fact, two of ATT’s most popular cassettes are its SMART-Sarel roller and SMART-Vibe vibration cassettes.
As the name indicates, thatch removal was the goal behind GreenTek’s Thatch-Away cassette system 15 years ago. That task remains just as critical, if not more so, today, Oliver says.
“Everybody is constantly trying to improve the quality of their putting surfaces – any course, really, is rated according to the quality of the greens. So everybody wants to provide the firmest, fastest putting surfaces that they can,” he notes. “The fundamental factor underlying the surface is what degree of thatch build-up you’ve got within your root zone.”
Over the years, the company has introduced more options in the types of cassettes that make thatch removal more precise and effective, while allowing for many other uses. Today, for example, GreenTek offers specialized cassettes that can be swapped out in a matter of seconds, such as finer-spaced cutters for grooming and for texture improvement on broader-leafed grasses like Poa annua; scarification cassettes that work deeper for thatch problems; surface aerification with slitting cassettes or spiking cassettes to get oxygen in; brushing cassettes to remove debris or to brush in topdressing; rolling cassettes for creating a smoother surface; and specialized cassettes for the management of bermudagrass greens.
At the same time, head/cassette systems from ATT and GreenTek have become easier to use.
“The greens grower market is constantly evolving,” says Oliver, especially as major manufacturers such as The Toro Co., John Deere Golf and Jacobsen have moved toward the use of quick-fit connections for drive motors and cutting heads.
“Whereas everything used to be done with a wrench, now it’s more a matter of quick-fit catches and clips,” Oliver notes. Likewise, manufacturers of cassette systems have followed suit to offer compatible heads with similar quick-fit features. That means that it has become faster not only to switch out cassettes, but to install and remove the heads themselves.
Because cassette systems have become such an important part of many superintendents’ maintenance programs, mower manufacturers now are making sure their products are easily compatible with aftermarket heads.
“It literally becomes a necessary factor in the sale of a greens mower; if somebody has this system already and they’re thinking of getting a newer greens mower, or an alternate brand of greens mower,” they’re going to want to know if the heads to their cassette system are going to work on it, states Oliver.
Maredo is another company that manufactures specialized head systems for greens mowers, though its approach differs slightly.
“Each Maredo head is dedicated for one job only,” explains company President Marinus Reincke. In other words, rather than different cassettes that can be quickly swapped in and out of a single head, each head is designed for a specific purpose, such as core aerating, overseeding, counter-rotating sweeping and more. Reincke says the company’s GT 230 coring head is particularly popular. “It goes only 1-inch deep, but it is fast,” he explains.
That’s typical of the way that many cassette/head tools work, Reincke notes. They may not provide the same power or depth of dedicated machines, but they offer other key benefits. For starters, on a greens mower the driver is sitting above the tool doing the work, providing a better view of what is happening than when an implement is being pulled behind a tractor. But, more importantly, he says, there is less wear and tear on greens.
“For coring, seeding, sweeping, etc., you can buy dedicated machines, which may be more durable. But they are heavier, too,” Reincke says. “And many superintendents don’t like heavy equipment on their greens – triplex greens mowers are designed especially for greens.”
Because lightweight, maneuverable greens mowers are serving as the vehicle to get work done faster and with less compression, maintenance can be performed on a more frequent basis.
“Some new turf species need more maintenance (verticutting/aerating), and, for that reason, heads and cassettes will become even more popular,” Reincke predicts. “Superintendents appreciate when they can do more with their greens mower than just mowing.”