Grinding technology, like that with televisions and phones, has changed dramatically in the last 20 years – and for the betterment of the golf course maintenance industry.
“It’s vitally important for any business to keep ahead of market dynamics,” says Steve Nixon, director of sales for Bernhard and Co., based in Warwickshire, England.
Twenty years ago, most grinders required manual set up and operation, which meant “laboriously” doing a single pass at a time over each blade, Nixon says.
“Mechanics will tell you that blade sharpening was 80 percent feel and 20 percent technology,” Nixon says. “Then came automation. It’s now possible to return the reel and bedknife to showroom condition with the touch of a button. The whole process is faster and far more accurate.”
Jim Letourneau, president and CEO of Foley United in River Falls, Wisconsin, says the company is selling more automated grinders today than it has ever sold. Foley United introduced automated reel-grinding technology in 1994.
“Now we’re seeing the semi-automatic machines taking a backseat to the computer-driven machines,” Letourneau says.
Automated grinding machines have brought tremendous value to the golf course maintenance industry, Letourneau adds.
“There is a definite value there when you can start the machine and just walk away from it and know that it’s going to finish the task that you set it up to do,” he says.
Superintendents want speed, ease of use and accuracy when it comes to grinders, Nixon states. Not surprisingly, improvements made in grinder technology stem from golfer expectations for near-perfect conditions, says Nixon, who believes that demands for tournament conditions are only getting greater, including for firm and fast greens, which has increased superintendents’ propensity for light topdressing. Increased topdressing is not good for mower blades, however.
“There is nothing like sand to take the edge off of a bedknife,” Nixon notes. “That’s why speed and ease of use are such important features for grinders. Topdressing means you need to sharpen blades more regularly, both to support turf health and eliminate potential for reel tapering. Fast turnaround is imperative.”
Grinding technology has also had to adapt with mower technology, including mowers that feature more blades to provide a higher frequency of cut for more consistent ball roll.
“There is less space between the blades and as such we have introduced variable grinding speeds,” Nixon says. “This ensures an even and accurate grind.”
Sharp mower blades are vital to achieve consistent green speed, not to mention turf health.
“Dull or poorly sharpened mowers tear and shred grass blades rather than cutting them,” Nixon says. “Regular blade sharpening ultimately generates savings on fertilizer, fungicides, labor, energy and water.”
With automated grinders, super-intendents don’t have to worry about torn and shredded grass, Letourneau adds.
“The quality of the product coming off is very high…you can create as high a quality product as you want,” he adds. “It’s like having a big tool chest at your disposal.”
Easy to operate
Letourneau says technicians are difficult to find these days, which makes automated grinders that much more important to golf course maintenance operations.
“Grinding has never been a glamourous part of the maintenance job. It’s something that has to be done, but it’s not something that is highly sought after [as a career],” he says.
But older millennials, those born in the 1980s, will find computerized and automated technology more to their liking when operating and maintaining the equipment, Letourneau adds.
“That was something we were thinking when we went through the design process,” Letourneau says. “[The automated equipment] is very intuitive to use and doesn’t require a lot of training.”
The automated machinery also helps take out the guesswork in grinding, Letourneau notes.
While the automated equipment is easy to operate, there is a learning curve.
“The new machines are robust with tutorials to work people through set up so they are not intimidated by operating them,” Letourneau says.
When Foley United introduced automation, it originally did so for employee safety reasons and featured an enclosed grinder. But automation was required to run the grinder because it was enclosed.
“There is a huge evolution that has occurred from 20 years ago,” Letourneau says. “There is a vast difference.”
There are benefits for courses that own automated grinders.
“It [allows you to] to carry out scheduled maintenance without paying for, or relying on, third-party services,” Nixon says. “[The] machines also give you options for automated grinding cycles, configurable routines, variable speed cycles, plus the added advantage of super-fast setup.”
Nixon and Letourneau say that increased improvement in grinder technology is top of mind at their companies.
“Our product development cycle is based on suggestions from mower manufacturers and the people who regularly use our machines. We are currently looking at innovative ways to speed up the process, ” Nixon says.