After four years in development, Toro came up with an electric mower, gentle enough for golf courses’ defining greens.
It’s been 90 years since the Toro Co. pioneered motorized grass cutting for golf courses by simply hitching five mowers to a tractor. It was a crude stab at innovation that eliminated an even cruder problem — cleaning up after the horses that until then had pulled mowers over fairways.
Since then, gasoline—not hay——has been the primary power source for golf course maintenance, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Now the Bloomington-based company has taken a step to change that, with a new lithium ion-powered, all-electric mower that’s a first in the turf care industry. The mower is specifically targeted for greens, whose tender grass is demanding enough to dictate precise care.
It’s the latest of several eco-friendly products Toro has launched in recent years, including hybrid mowers and water-saving sprinklers and irrigation systems. Many are aimed at the golf course market, which last year accounted for more than one quarter of Toro’s $1.69 billion in sales.
It took about four years for Toro to develop the new mower, with batteries supplied by Enerdel, an Indianapolis-based manufacturer of commercial-grade lithium ion batteries.
Helmut Ullrich, Senior Marketing Manager for Greens Mowers, said the principal challenges included meeting the six-greens-per-charge requirement, a goal Toro finally exceeded.
The company says its new machine can mow up to 45,000 square feet, or nine average-sized greens, on a single charge. Another challenge was managing the battery’s power flow to ensure precise and even cutting. “Golf course superintendents can lose their jobs over greens,” Ullrich said.
Rick Fredericksen, Course Superintendent at Woodhill Country Club In Wayzata, Minn. agrees that greens are a top priority. “You’re really judged on them the most,” he said.
Fredericksen said he began monitoring Toro’s development of the battery-powered mower a few years ago because of Woodhill’s focus on environmentally conscious practices. The course is one of 26 in Minnesota certified by Audubon International.
Fredericksen tried out one of the new mowers last month at a demonstration Toro arranged at Interlachen Country Club in Edina. “I was all on board with it,” he said. Woodhill plans to buy three and will store them in a new solar-paneled shed along with two other hybrid fairway mowers it also is purchasing from Toro.
Ullrich said the new mower is expected to cost about $14,000 and will be produced starting in October at the company’s Tomah, Wis., plant. The price compares with about $10,000 for a conventional gas-powered mower, but Ullich said Toro estimates the new machine should pay for itself within five years. In addition to not consuming gas, there are savings on maintenance, such as oil and air filter changes.
Ullrich said Toro will look for ways to expand lithium ion technology to other products. For now, he calls the breakthrough “a game changer” for Toro’s golf business.
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