From their role in renovation projects to everyday use, utility vehicles are the lifeblood of golf course maintenance efforts.
Many factors drive the success of a golf course maintenance operation. From hiring dedicated personnel to relying on trusted equipment, golf course superintendents need to steer their departments in the right direction. And utility vehicles (UVs) have become some of the most critical pieces of equipment in superintendents’ arsenals.
“They’re indispensable,” Kevin Pryseski, Golf Course Superintendent at Marin Country Club in Novato, Calif., says of utility vehicles. “Other than mowers, they’re the heart of the fleet. You couldn’t operate efficiently without them, and you need the proper number of vehicles to move people around.”
Reliability for Renovations
SUMMING IT UP
• Superintendents rely on heavy-duty utility vehicles to haul materials, and light-duty UVs to move people and tools around the golf course.
• Letting turf and tree contractors use utility vehicles from a club’s fleet can help to minimize damage to the golf course and property.
• Assigning a particular utility vehicle to crew members gives them ownership of the equipment and encourages them to take care of it.
Utility vehicles get plenty of mileage in everyday use. However, the vehicles have also played an outsized role in the recent surge of golf course renovation projects, like the bunker renovations at Marin’s 18-hole golf course in 2017.
Under the renovation, the golf course’s 72 bunkers, built in 2007, were reduced to 51 bunkers, dropping the sand coverage from 90,000 square feet to 70,000 square feet. Crews also replaced the fabric-lined sub-surfaces of the hazards with Capillary Concrete to rapidly draw storm water through the sand without washouts or channeling.
Several dual fairway bunkers were combined into one, eliminating some greenside bunkers that got little play and converting others into closely mown collection areas. While the project originally called only for the bunker renovations, the property also expanded and improved its short-game practice area and built new forward tees while the contractors were on site.
Even though the renovation project changed, the need for utility vehicles to carry out the tasks remained the same throughout the effort.
“There’s a difference in what we need for a reconstruction job. There’s a lot of hauling, and the vehicles are getting a lot more heavy-duty work,” says Pryseski.
During the bunker renovation process, the heavy-duty utility vehicles were used to haul materials such as sod and sand and for soil removal. In addition, Pryseski reports, “The contractors borrowed them so they could get in tight spots. We do that with our tree contractors, too, so they can use them to remove logs. There is less damage to the golf course when they use our equipment.”
In a recent golf course renovation project at Columbus (Ohio) Country Club, the staff relied on its utility vehicles to move materials such as grass, dirt, seed and sod. The golf course renovations, which began in 2016 and took almost three years to complete, sought to recapture the club’s original Donald Ross design layout that opened in 1903.
“The golf course had slowly started to lose its identity and become more grown in,” says Golf Course Superintendent J.R. Lynn. “We wanted to capture the beauty of the amazing ridge that runs through the center of the golf course. We have a landscape you don’t really see around Columbus.”
In the first phase of the project, the property did a lot of tree work, including pruning and removing about 1,500 trees. While much of the work was contracted out, notes Lynn, the maintenance staff did a lot of it in-house as well.
During the major parts of the project, he adds, the Columbus CC grounds crew also shared equipment with the contractors.
Additional aspects of the project included opening up fairway sight lines and contours, replacing bunkers, building new tees, incorporating 60 acres of fescue into the grounds, and adding a putting green.
Indispensable on a Daily Basis
As crucial as they are for major projects, utility vehicles are the backbone of everyday maintenance tasks.
At Marin CC, the maintenance department has 23 utility vehicles—14 electric light-duty vehicles, one gasoline-powered light-duty vehicle, five heavy-duty vehicles, and three for Pryseski and his assistants. Pryseski’s utility vehicle has a cargo capacity of 1,250 pounds and a towing capacity of 1,200 pounds, and he likes the fact that, unlike the ones that crew members operate, the red color of the utility vehicles that he and his assistants drive stand out to give them more visibility. And of course, his vehicle provides a good ride for his dog, Betty.
The Marin crew members use their electric utility vehicles, which have a capacity of 1,200 pounds, when they mow greens to store tools such as blowers and cup cutters. The irrigation technician primarily uses the gasoline-powered light-duty vehicle, or crew members will use it to blow off fairways.
The frequency of use depends on the time of year, says Pryseski. While the people movers are in use every day, he adds, the heavy-duty vehicles are not.
Columbus CC has 16 utility vehicles in its maintenance department, and the staff uses its light-duty utility vehicles daily to move around the property for tasks such as mowing and golf course cleanup.
The grounds crew relies on the mid-and heavy-duty utility vehicles for large projects to move loads such as sand for bunkers, mulch for the clubhouse area, and gravel to repair cart paths.
“A lot of it is moving people to the right places, and then having the space to move materials back,” says Lynn. “We use them to get people or equipment into the right place at the right time.”
Almost every utility vehicle gets used every day, he adds.
The Plantation Course at Edisto in Edisto Beach, S.C., has five utility vehicles for its golf course maintenance staff. The grounds crew members use them for drainage or irrigation projects and to reach tight spaces. The light utility vehicles are used primarily for transportation, while the heavy-duty vehicles are used to haul materials.
“They have less of a footprint, so we can get in tighter areas with them,” says Golf Course Superintendent Curt Sheffer.
When selecting utility vehicles, Pryseski looks for features such as dependability.
“We want utility vehicles that can hold up to the job we purchased them to do,” he says. “You want to match the job with the vehicle, and you want to purchase it for a specific job.”
Marin’s heavy-duty vehicles have a capacity of up to 3,350 pounds and a towing capacity of 3,500 pounds, and also have rollover protection.
Superintendents look at more than the physical attributes of utility vehicles when they choose their fleets. One of the most important aspects of selecting UVs for superintendents is the relationship with their vendors.
Pryseski, who has been at Marin CC for 13 years and previously worked in Nevada, says he has had a strong relationship with his Northern California equipment vendor for 20 years.
“They provide great service. I can go to them any time,” he says.
Lynn and Sheffer agree. “It’s important for our equipment technician to be able to call somebody to talk to if we have a problem,” Lynn says.
He also respects the opinions of his peers, relying on word-of-mouth from other local stakeholders in the golf course industry for their input about equipment.
“They help us diagnose issues and tell us things we don’t know,” Sheffer says of equipment vendors. “We stay in constant contact with them to get information.”
As for other utility vehicle features that influence his decision-making process, Lynn looks at dump bed capacity, operator-friendliness, comfort, and transmission style.
“The world today is moving away from standard transmission. We want a utility vehicle that anyone can get on anddrive,” he says.
The Columbus maintenance staff also has trailers to move small mowers and a topdresser that fits on a large utility vehicle. “They are the only things we hook up to the vehicles,” reports Lynn.
Sheffer looks for comfort in the vehicles as well as ease of operation while carrying a heavy load in the heavy-duty models. The property also has a couple of attachments for its utility vehicles, including a topdresser for one and a sand hopper for a heavy-duty vehicle. “We can take the bed off and put the hopper on,” notes Sheffer.
With proper care of utility vehicles, maintenance can be kept to a minimum.
Pryseski says Marin’s light-duty electric utility vehicles require little upkeep. “There is not as much maintenance required on the electric vehicles as there is for the gas vehicles,” he says. “We don’t spend a lot of time on maintenance because there’s not too much to go wrong.”
At Columbus CC, the equipment technicians follow the manuals of all of their machinery to perform preventive maintenance.
The utility vehicles are checked after certain numbers of hours of operation, as recommended by the manufacturer, and regular oil and filter changes are performed.
During the winter months, the club’s equipment technician checks the fuel, brake, and hydraulic lines as well as items that get a lot of wear and tear, such as bearings and brake pads. Of course, the staff inspects these parts during the season as well.
Because the utility vehicles at The Plantation Course at Edisto are relatively new pieces of equipment, notes Sheffer, they require little upkeep other than general maintenance duties such as oil changes. He also prefers gasoline-powered vehicles, because “gas engines are easier to work on.”
Pride of Ownership
Another method of keeping utility vehicles in top condition is instilling pride of ownership in the crew members who use them.
The Marin CC maintenance department has more UVs than it once did, Pryseski says, so that every crew member can have his own vehicle. The club color-codes each person’s UV with electrical tape on the front bumper, and their tools are color-coded as well.
“The crew members are more responsible when everybody has their own vehicle,” notes Pryseski.
Lynn and his assistant have their own utility vehicles, but the other crew members do not use specific vehicles. However, each day Lynn and his assistant set up the fleet with the implements such as backpack blowers, weed eaters, and shovels that their crew members will need to perform maintenance inputs.
“As we set up the equipment, we assign the vehicles to personnel. That’s our way of knowing who’s in what vehicle and who has what tools,” Lynn explains.
Proper training on operating procedures contributes to the longevity and effectiveness of utility vehicles as well.
Each Marin CC crew member watches safety and training videos before operating the utility vehicles, and the staff goes over operational procedures with them. “We have a monthly meeting, and some of the topics we cover are operating our maintenance vehicles,” notes Pryseski.
Every staff member at Columbus CC ia also required to go through a safety program on the specific use of equipment.
“It’s hard to get around 230 acres of property, and there is a 40-foot elevation change on the ridge that runs through the center of the golf course,” Lynn says. “[The UVs] are vital pieces of equipment.”
Ditto for Sheffer. “We can’t drive cars around the golf course. We could drive small trucks, but that would be cumbersome,” he says of utility vehicles. “I don’t know how we would operate without them.”
Marin Country Club leases most of its equipment, including the utility vehicles. The property turns over its fleet of UVs every five or six years. Before leasing the assistants’ heavy-duty vehicles, Marin CC demo’d them to see how they liked them.
“We weren’t familiar with them, so we wanted to try them and see if they fit our needs,” Golf Course Superintendent Kevin Pryseski explains.
Columbus CC has leased its utility vehicles that get everyday use since last year.
“That’s a new thought process and a new way of acquiring equipment for us,” reports Golf Course Superintendent J.R. Lynn. “We were in the midst of renewing the lease for our golf carts at the same time, and we were able to work out a good lease package.”
Before the smaller utility vehicles were replaced, he says, they no longer could safely go up and down the inclines on the hilly property. “The vehicles couldn’t do what we needed them to do without stopping,” adds Lynn.
Columbus CC owns its mid-size and heavy-duty utility vehicles, and Lynn, who has been at the property for two years, says they are about 20 years old.
The Plantation Course at Edisto has a four-year lease on its vehicles, and the maintenance department sometimes demos the UVs before leasing them. C&RB