As they continue to be made more versatile and more durable, utility vehicles are taking on increasing importance as an indispensable part of golf course maintenance operations.
It might be easy to take it for granted, but the relationship between superintendents and golf course utility vehicles should not be overlooked. Sure, their companionship and loyalty can’t compare to what’s provided by the dogs that accompany many superintendents on their regular tours around the course. But these four-wheeled vehicles have become just as important to golf course operations as superintendents’ four-legged friends.
“I’d be hard-pressed to see how you could effectively maintain a golf course without [utility vehicles],” says Brian Boll, Golf Course Superintendent of North Oaks (Minn.) Golf Club.
And Michael Fabrizio, Director of Golf and Grounds Maintenance of Daniel Island Club, a 36-hole private facility on Daniel Island, an island town within Charleston, S.C., calls utility vehicles the “backbone” of maintenance operations.
|SUMMING IT UP
• Golf course properties need a variety of light-, mid-, and heavy-duty utility vehicles to perform various maintenance tasks, ranging from course setup to hauling equipment.
• Grounds crew members need to follow standard procedures to operate utility vehicles safely and effectively, and they should only use the carts to perform tasks they have been designed to do.
• Attachments and modifications, such as inserts to convert utility vehicles to beverage carts, can increase their versatility.
Ryan Deur, Golf Course Superintendent of Prairie Links Golf & Event Center in Waverly, Iowa, agrees. “We’d be stuck without them—somebody’s always on one,” he notes.
The Basics and Beyond
North Oaks GC, an 18-hole course with a summertime staff of up to 28 people, has seven light-duty, two mid-duty, and four heavy-duty utility carts. The property purchased two new utility vehicles in the past year, and Boll says they can generally be expected to last for 10 to 12 years of service.
The golf maintenance staff at Daniel Island Club has 37 light-duty carts and four heavy-duty vehicles. “You need a majority of the least expensive and most reliable carts to move people around, and you need a certain number of mid- to heavy-duty carts to carry heavy loads,” explains Fabrizio.
At Prairie Links, an 18-hole, links-style golf course with rolling terrain, the golf course maintenance staff has four utility carts—three mid-duty vehicles and a “beefier,” truckster-type cart that’s used for projects. The property replaced two mid-duty carts last year when their lease, along with the club’s golf car fleet, expired, and new ownership decided to purchase new ones. “We were looking for carts that were durable and had weight to them,” Deur says.
Superintendents look for a variety of features in utility vehicles to help them keep their properties in top condition. For example, Boll looks at the suspension and the smoothness of the ride, and notes that aluminum framing holds up well in Minnesota winters.
One of the new utility carts at North Oaks also has low noise levels; coil-over shocks on all four wheels, which help to create a smooth ride; and a split frame and gimbal joint that keeps both wheels on the ground on uneven terrain.
Boll also works with utility cart manufacturers to suggest enhancements for future designs. To fit his 6-foot-6-inch frame, for example, he likes a cart with plenty of room. Other creature comforts matter to superintendents as well. The utility carts at North Oaks have USB ports to charge mobile devices, although cell phone use while driving is strictly prohibited, with violations resulting in “immediate consequences,” Boll says.
It would also be “foolish,” Boll says, if a manufacturer didn’t include a cup holder for coffee. In addition, he notes, “It’s becoming more and more common to use canopies, to keep the sun off of you.”
Utility carts can come with attachments to help them perform additional duties and to create more space in the bed and increase hauling capacity. One of the new utility vehicles at North Oaks GC has an attachment for two waste cans on the back of the cart. The property collects garbage, recycling, and compostable waste, explains Boll, and the waste-can attachment makes completing that task more efficient. “As a club, we wanted to put a more environmentally friendly footprint out there with our waste streams,” he notes,
Daniel Island Club replaced about 90% of its light-duty utility vehicle fleet in 2015, and Fabrizio wanted a basic, no-frills model for the carts he calls “people movers.” The majority of the grounds crew’s light-duty carts also have manual tilt beds.
“Most of them do not have USB ports, but those are becoming standard now,” notes Fabrizio. “I have mixed feelings about that, because we discourage people from using their cell phones while they’re working.”
A couple of the light-duty carts also have canopies for employees who are sun-sensitive.
For the heavy-duty carts, Fabrizio prefers models that have hydraulics, for running implements and lift beds.
Features of the new utility carts at Prairie Links include ample bed space for transporting trimmers, cup cutters, and golf course setup tools. “They have brackets that you can attach to the side,” Deur says. “When we trim around the bunkers and ponds, we put the trimmers on the brackets, to keep them stabilized.”
The vehicles stand up to the weather as well. “The new carts are fuel-injected, because it can get cold here,” adds Deur. “They no longer have a choke, so they start up right away.”
Even Fabrizio discovered recently how well utility carts can function in winter conditions, after normally temperate Charleston had snow on the ground for six straight days. “We had a lot of work to do to clear the sidewalks,” he says.
Of course, superintendents also don’t go out on the golf course without their must-haves in their utility carts. “Every superintendent has a bag of various tools they’re using with them in their carts,” says Boll. He never leaves the shop without a soil-moisture meter, a stimpmeter, and a hand blower in his vehicle. Deur also keeps a moisture meter, flag key for irrigation, and water bottle in his cart.
Matching the Jobs
During staff orientation, North Oaks GC trains its workers to use the smallest utility vehicle they can for the job at hand, to minimize wear and tear on the turf. “We plan the day to make sure we have the right vehicle for the different jobs we’ll be taking on throughout the day,” says Boll. “There’s nothing worse than realizing you’re out with the wrong vehicle and having to find another one and switch it out.”
The North Oaks GC grounds crew uses light- and mid-duty carts to move people around the golf course or to transport materials for tasks such as watering or cup-cutting. The staff uses large-duty carts for hauling heavier loads or to pull trailers with heavy implements, such as topdressers or rollers. The light-duty carts have a capacity of less than 1,000 lbs., while the heavy-duty vehicles have a payload capacity of 2,000 to 3,000 lbs., and can tow up to 3,500 lbs.
At Daniel Island Club, the maintenance staff uses light-duty carts to pull walking greens mowers or tee mowers nearly every day. The lighter vehicles also transport backpack blowers or equipment used to fly-mow bunkers, or to pull turbine blowers.
The Daniel Island crew uses heavy-duty vehicles to pull items such as topdressers, sprayers, aerifiers, wood chippers, and sod pallets. In addition, notes Fabrizio, “Some of them are spray-capable.” The payload capacity of the heavy-duty carts is about 1,500 lbs., he reports, and their weight capabilities, hydraulics, and hitches allow them to pull heavy loads.
At Prairie Links, the grounds crew uses its mid-duty carts to move tee markers and to carry walking greens mowers. The oldest mid-duty cart, which is similar to the two new ones, is more of a transportation cart, notes Deur. Although it doesn’t have brackets, he adds, the staff uses it to transport golf course setup materials and trimmers.
“They’re simple to operate, so all of my guys are capable of using them,” Deur says of the vehicles.
The three mid-duty utility carts at Prairie Links also feature phone-charging capabilities and cubbyholes to store phones or notepads. “If I need to take invoices to the office, I can put them in the cubby,” reports Deur.
The three mid-duty carts can carry loads of about 500 lbs., while the larger, project-oriented cart can accommodate about 1,000 lbs. Prairie Links’ grounds crew also uses the large cart to haul dirt when digging irrigation heads or transporting sod, and to pull blowers or rollers on a trailer.
Some utility carts can also serve in other capacities, such as golf ball pickers, security vehicles, or personnel transporters. At North Oaks, one of the light-duty utility vehicles has an insert, so it can be converted to a beverage cart for outings.
“At the end of our day, we will put the insert in and take the cart to the food-and-beverage staff,” says Boll. “The value of that cart increases because it is being utilized for two different tasks. The insert fits right into the bed, so it’s not a canopied beverage cart.”
Daniel Island Club also has inserts for three or four utility vehicles to convert them to beverage carts for large events, and the two new utility vehicles at Prairie Links also have inserts for the same function. And in addition to the vehicles used by the maintenance department, Daniel Island’s golf staff and food-and-beverage department each has two dedicated carts of their own.
“[The F&B department] uses them to move people and food,” Fabrizio notes. “We’ve had community events where people have asked to borrow a few of our carts, and the property owners’ association has used a couple of them as well.”
Safety and Performance
To increase the performance and productivity of utility vehicles, and to operate them safely, grounds crew members should only use the vehicles to perform tasks that they are designed to do.
Crew members need to be mindful of the capacity and weight ratings that heavy-duty carts can haul safely, Boll says, and operators should consider vehicles with stick shifts versus automatic transmissions, for ease of use. He prefers manual transmission for heavy-duty carts. “We’re always trying to maintain a certain speed or RPMs going uphill,” he explains.
In addition, Boll says four-wheel drive is beneficial for some courses, depending on their topography, and can also help when towing large equipment, such as topdressers.
Prairie Link’s new utility carts, which were purchased in March, have been reliable in their first year, Deur says. “We have a large property, so something that scoots around quickly is important to us,” he adds. “These are the fastest carts we’ve ever had. When we need to go, they go.”
The new carts have a two-year warranty, he notes, and Prairie Links takes care of all service for them in-house, unless the problem is covered by warranty. During the winter, the service list includes changing the oil, tightening lug nuts, and visually inspecting the belts. “With minimal winter service, they’ll be ready to go in the spring,” Deur says.
Rules of Operation
Anyone who operates a utility vehicle at North Oaks GC must have a valid driver’s license. In addition, Boll says, “One of our staff members rides or drives out on the golf course with our new employees.”
During orientation, new staff members are also required to review a document outlining standard operating procedures. For example, staff members are expected to inspect the carts before use, to make sure they have plenty of fuel or electric charge. They are encouraged to share carts with other crew members if possible, and they must obey all traffic laws.
Utility vehicle operators should use cart paths when available, superintendents stress, and should never drive down a fairway or on a slope of more than 30 degrees. If cart paths are not available, the carts should be driven in the rough or on the periphery of the golf course. And crews should be instructed to park the vehicles away from greens and bunkers.
At North Oaks GC, crews must drive utility carts at moderate speeds, and they cannot drive past golfers when they are on the tees or greens. Two stakes are put up at the end of the cart paths to guide traffic for members, and maintenance workers drive their utility vehicles through the stakes or further away, to help limit wear to the turf in those areas. “Two stakes are easier to move than 125 feet of rope,” notes Boll.
All items must be secured in utility carts while they’re in use at North Oaks GC. “Gas cans have to go in specific racks,” says Boll. The crew is also instructed to sit in available seats, and not in the beds. When they have completed their tasks, staff members clean out their carts and return tools to their proper place in the shop. They also need to report any mechanical issues to the equipment technician.
At Daniel Island Club, notes Fabrizio, “New employees have individual training sessions with an equipment technician to go over proper use [of utility vehicles]. They also get hands-on, direct training from a supervisor.”
Crew members are responsible for the care of the vehicles as well. “Each full-time employee is assigned a cart,” Fabrizio says. “They take ownership of it and pride in it, and the carts have had very little damage.”
At Prairie Links, Deur says, the grounds crew is trained “not to overload the carts or do things they’re not capable of doing.”
“I trust the judgment of my employees,” Deur adds.