The facility in Woodstock, Ill., recently learned about autonomous mowers and decided to try out the new technology. The Echo Robotics model also picks up to 12,500 range balls daily in-season, delivering and dumping them at a chosen location. Charging stations at a base location power the battery-operated, self-driving dual mower-ball picker, and employees monitor and control units from laptops and smartphones. Bull Valley estimates annual savings through using robotic mowers are up to $25,000.
Margins at golf courses, country clubs and resorts are often tight. How do managers save money without compromising and often enhancing high-quality deliverables to members and guests?
Among the largest line items in any expense budget is maintenance. So that’s the area that Bull Valley Golf Club in Woodstock, Ill. focused on when planning for the year.
With serendipity, says General Manager Brad Hisel, the Landscapes Golf Management-operated club was exposed to and educated itself about autonomous mowers. Could an all-electric turf cutter, requiring little labor “touch,” perform for golf like it does for cemeteries and parks?
Hisel, the golf course maintenance crew and his Landscapes Golf Management support team made the executive decision: Let’s try out the technology to mow the driving range.
Moreover, with the help of Joe Langton from Illinois-based Automated Outdoor Solutions, the Echo Robotics model chosen also picks up to 12,500 range balls daily in-season, delivering and dumping them at a chosen location. Compared to traditional ball pickers, use of robots with a protective guard on mowing blades keeps balls from damage and destruction compared to use of conventional, staff-operated mowers.
Charging stations at a base location power the battery-operated, self-driving dual mower-ball picker, and employees monitor and control units from laptops and smartphones. They scoot around the range – wires are laid in ground around the perimeter like an electric dog fence – at two to three MPH as programmed. Consistent heights of cuts range from 3/4-inch to four inches.
The Echo Robotics model benefited Bull Valley in multiple ways, such as providing a healthier cut (and eradicating human error), offering a solution for labor challenges, eliminating expensive and highly depreciative equipment, providing day and night mowing capabilities, and lighter weight equipment which could mow in wet conditions without turf damage.
In addition, the robot offers less risky safety protocols, does not require as much supervision or training resources, and emits less noise and carbon.
There are more fiscal advantages, too: The cost to operate the robots is less than traditional gas mowers and the monthly subscription payment is lower than paying cash upfront.
One final advantage? The driving range no longer needs to be closed for mowing.
To see robots maintaining the driving range emits a cool vibe, Hisel says, with members and guests frequently commenting on Bull Valley’s contemporary ways. Students in the club’s junior instruction programs now want to work at the “course with the robots.”
Bull Valley estimates annual savings are up to $25,000. The ball pickers alone save at least two hours a day whereby Hisel could bank staff salaries or reallocate duties to impact member-guest satisfaction.
What’s next for autonomous mowers at Bull Valley is expansion to roughs along the course and between holes.
Beyond autonomous mowers, experimentation isn’t foreign to Bull Valley and Landscapes Golf Management. At the pandemic’s start, the club was recognized as the first in America to turn its food-and-beverage operation into a community market for food and drink.
The moral here, says Hisel, and echoed by Landscapes Golf Management President Tom Everett – “don’t be too shy to try.”