More than ever, experienced and reliable equipment technicians are in high demand, to help course-maintenance departments run at peak efficiency.
To have a fluid swing, a golfer needs to have good mechanics. To succeed in maintaining their turf, golf course superintendents also need to have good mechanics—in more ways than one. Not only do they need to run an efficient maintenance operation to keep playability and course conditions at the highest possible level, they also need a trusted equipment technician, to keep their machinery running smoothly.
|Summing It Up
• In an era of tightening budgets, having an experienced technician to ensure that equipment is reliably maintained is critical to a department’s performance.
• Superintendents should inform technicians of upcoming maintenance projects such as overseeding and aerification, so needed equipment will be ready to
• Downtime and off-seasons should be used to project repair costs for upcoming years.
Talking the Talk
Tom Dimberio, Director of Agronomy at Colorado Springs (Colo.) Country Club, calls the member-owned property a “hidden gem” in the community. And Equipment Manager Gene Pascarelli, he adds, is a behind-the-scenes treasure for his maintenance staff who has a lot to do with the course’s top conditioning and playability.
Dimberio and Pascarelli have worked together at the club for almost 15 years; Dimberio has been the superintendent for nine of those years, and was an assistant superintendent the previous six. “[Pascarelli] is the unsung hero who keeps things rolling,” says Dimberio. “He’s a one-man show.”
The two men have cultivated a relationship of mutual respect and trust through the years, through a bond built on open and constant communication. “We talk first thing in the morning to discuss what we want to accomplish for the day and how we want to get there,” reports Dimberio. “Then we touch base at the end of the day to see if we accomplished our goals, and to talk about our goals for the next day.”
They also touch base throughout the day as needed, and often ride the golf course together to inspect every last detail on the property, from the condition of the greens and fairways to the upkeep of the bunkers and rough.
The relationship between the superintendent and equipment manager is important to eliminate mistakes, potential problems, or any negative effect on the golf course, Dimberio says. “It’s the best opportunity to give members the greatest experience they can have every day,” he believes.
James Houchen, Golf Course Superintendent of Sand Creek Station in Newton, Kan., shares a similar bond with Mechanic Mike Goerzen. The two have worked together at the KemperSports-managed property for eight years.
“We have a lot in common. We have a similar background, and we have a lot of respect for each other,” states Houchen, who grew up around automotive and farm equipment and has a keen understanding of how machinery works. “I trust Mike and I know he’s doing what’s right for the facility and the course. It’s good to have somebody like that on your team.”
While Houchen and Goerzen don’t have formal meetings, they keep each other informed about operations. Sometimes the regular routine changes because of weather or upcoming tournaments, but the two men rely on strong communication to stay on top of maintenance plans. “It’s important for us to be on the same page with what’s happening on the course,” says Houchen.
Goerzen, who worked in a small engine and lawn mower business before he became the mechanic at Sand Creek Station, agrees. “It’s important for me to know what’s going to be happening, so I can get the equipment ready,” he says.
|How to Make Your Equipment Technician’s Life Run Smoothly
The relationship between a golf course superintendent and equipment technician is built on mutual trust and respect, and good communication is the key to a strong relationship. But to make the technician’s job easier, the course maintenance staff and superintendent should also follow these specific practices:
• Operate the machinery properly—don’t drive it too fast.
Houchen and Goerzen sometimes ride the golf course together, and Goerzen also goes out on the course on his own, particularly in the early spring, to help the maintenance crew with mowing duties. “Going out on the golf course and mowing helps me try to diagnose some problems,” he says. “I can do most everything on the golf course with the equipment, and that helps me fix problems.”
At Colorado Springs CC, Pascarelli’s chief responsibilities include the maintenance and repair of all equipment, training the maintenance staff to use the equipment, inspection of the golf course and the quality of cut, and the maintenance of miscellaneous items around the clubhouse, swimming pool, tennis courts, and grounds.
“He is 100% responsible for ordering his parts, gas, and fuel,” says Dimberio. “He deals with his sales people and distributors and takes care of anything that has to do with equipment.”
From the firmness of the greens to the appearance of the bunkers, notes Dimberio, properly operating equipment is vital to the aesthetics and playability of the golf course. With a combination of new and old machinery, Colorado Springs CC purchases the majority of its equipment. However, Dimberio always consults with Pascarelli before he finalizes his budget.
When Houchen prepares his budget for Sand Creek Station, he discusses major expenses with Goerzen as well. “A lot of the time, I can go off of the repairs we made the last year and give it a percentage increase,” he notes.
Houchen also has Goerzen participate when new pieces of equipment that are being considered for purchase are demo’d and tried out on the course. “I’ll have Mike take a look at it and see what he likes and dislikes about it,” he reports.
In addition to maintaining turf machinery, equipment technicians often handle minor golf-car repairs at their properties. Pascarelli inspects the batteries, fluids, and brakes of the 40 golf cars in Colorado Springs CC’s fleet. Because the cars are leased and under warranty, however, the manufacturer handles any major repairs. Pascarelli also maintains the club’s beverage cart and range picker.
Whenever warranties are expiring on Sand Creek Station’s golf cars, which are also leased, Goerzen is sometimes called upon to diagnose problems. “It saves us money if we can fix them in-house,” Houchen says.
At Colorado Springs CC, the peak golf season keeps Pascarelli busy with regular maintenance duties such as adjusting and backlapping equipment. “I give him ample time to repair and maintain the equipment, and someone to help him if he needs it,” Dimberio says. An assistant superintendent, for example, sometimes helps out with duties such as oil changes while Pascarelli is performing other tasks.
The crew members at Colorado Springs CC also use growth regulators on the fairways to reduce mowing needs and therefore the maintenance needed on the mowers.
Pascarelli bases his routine maintenance schedule on the meticulous records that he keeps. He also plans his maintenance according to the mowing schedule and time of year. He goes over the aerifying equipment two or three times a year, checking it several weeks before the grounds crew aerifies the golf course. “He always has everything ready before I need it,” Dimberio says.
Mowers require the most attention from the equipment technicians, and Pascarelli makes sure to sharpen and touch up the reels so the grounds crew can mow the turf at optimum levels. “The greens mowers make the most crucial cuts, so he checks them on a daily basis,” says Dimberio. “He also inspects the fairway and tee mowers each time after they have been used.”
To plan his maintenance schedule, Goerzen also depends on the service records he keeps on all of the Sand Creek Station equipment. “I have a folder for every piece of equipment, and I write down the last date for everything I do,” he says. “After eight years, I have a feel for what’s happening at certain times of the year.”
Houchen informs Goerzen of upcoming maintenance projects in advance so if, for example, the grounds crew will be topdressing, the needed equipment will be ready. Emergency repairs depend on the type of equipment. If a greens mower malfunctions, for instance, its repair becomes the priority. “Ninety-five percent of the time, we can get the equipment going. If not, I adjust the schedule,” says Houchen.
While Dimberio reports that there is no down time in Colorado Springs CC’s equipment maintenance schedule, there are certain tasks that Pascarelli performs in the winter months. During the off-season, he tears down pieces of equipment to inspect them, checking the safety switches, paring down reels, re-sharpening all reels and bedknives, and changing out hoses.
In the winter months at Sand Creek Station, Goerzen also takes apart the equipment and writes down the parts, such as belts, bearings, bedknives, and reels, that will need to be purchased the following year and gives cost estimates to Houchen. “This helps us avoid breakdowns during the busy times of the next year,” Goerzen explains. And while he doesn’t overhaul engines, the Sand Creek Station mechanic will refurbish the most wearable parts of cutting units.
Continuing education and adherence to safety practices are an important part of equipment technicians’ jobs. Pascarelli conducts research on the Internet and reads trade magazines. He also attends workshops at the three-day Rocky Mountain Regional Turfgrass Association conference each year.
Goerzen receives most of his continuing education online from equipment company websites. He also relies on service manuals and takes classes at local dealers’ facilities. “New machinery is now more computerized. It’s not as mechanical,” he says.
Dimberio has Pascarelli educate the club’s maintenance staff about the tools of the trade. If a piece of equipment doesn’t sound right or operate correctly, he tells his crew members to let Pascarelli know right away, so they can fix any problems before they escalate.
Pascarelli also has his own shop, Dimberio says, “and he’s responsible for it.” Safety is a top priority, he adds.
“We do whatever it takes. We make sure the carbon monoxide and fire detectors and alarms are working in his area,” Dimberio says. “We make sure he has the right lifts to hoist machinery, and he has safety goggles and hearing protection.”
The Colorado Springs CC maintenance staff also has a large building, where it stores about 80 percent of its equipment.
At Sand Creek Station, Goerzen works out of a two-bay, heated shop in which one of the bays is deeper than the other to accommodate a lift. The shop is connected to the office area, and the maintenance staff also has an equipment storage building as well as a mix and load/dry storage building for fertilizer.
The property, which is managed by KemperSports, has a company-wide safety manual, and a safety coordinator regularly inspects the facility.
“I always tell my staff members that If you see something that’s not right, let somebody know,” says Houchen.
Because so much of an equipment technician’s duties can entail fixing problems, superintendents also try to offer positive reinforcement as often as possible.
Nominated by Dimberio, Pascarelli won the Most Valuable Technician Award, presented by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America and Golf Course Management magazine, in partnership with Foley United, in 2011.
“I wanted to recognize him for his work ethic, attitude, professionalism, and knowledge,” says Dimberio. “He takes a lot of pride in what he does.”
In addition, Colorado Springs CC’s General Manager, Kevin Sanger, compliments the equipment technician at the annual property’s membership meeting. He is sure to let the members know how much money Pascarelli saves the property.
“He’s a professional,” Dimberio says of Pascarelli. “He recognizes his accomplishments through the quality of the golf course.”
Houchen and Goerzen share a great deal of mutual respect for each other as well.
“He’s good about letting me know what they need and what the priorities are,” Goerzen states. “I’m here to do what he needs for me to do and what’s best for the golf course.”