Golf course superintendents run their utility vehicles hard, and they couldn’t get the job done without them. That’s proved to be especially true when meeting this year’s special challenges.
Call them the unsung heroes of the golf course maintenance fleet. Utility vehicles (UVs) might not get the same attention as mowers or other pieces of equipment—but whether they’re loaded up with heavy materials for a special project or simply used to move crew members from point A to point B, nothing happens in the world of golf course maintenance without them.
“They’re vital to our operations. They’re as vital as the mowers are. They save us money by getting us from place to place quickly and efficiently,” says Jeff Haskins, Golf Course Superintendent at Paragould (Ark.) Country Club. “If you’re short-handed with them, it’s hard to be efficient when people can’t be where they need to be.”
Fortunately, that is not the case at Paragould CC. The maintenance staff at the property, which includes 13 or 14 people in-season and six full-time equivalent positions in the winter, has three heavy-duty utility vehicles that are used to haul materials and four light-duty utility vehicles for its 18-hole, private golf course.
“We pull walking greens mowers with them. After that, they’re basically people movers,” says Haskins.
Paragould’s light-duty UVs have a payload capacity of 500 lbs., and the heavy-duty ones have a payload capacity of 1,500 to 2,000 lbs..
The property stayed open throughout the pandemic, but Haskins says the UVs didn’t get any more of a workout than usual. That’s only because of the nature of what constitutes “normal” operations for the maintenance staff, though.
“We do all of our bunker renovations, irrigation and drainage installs, and tee box construction. We don’t hire outside contractors very often,” Haskins says. “We do more special projects in the winter, so the utility vehicles get used 12 months out of the year.”
At Oakwood Country Club, an 18-hole golf course in Kansas City, Mo., the maintenance staff has 10 utility vehicles—three heavy-duty utility vehicles and seven haulers.
In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, the maintenance department reduced its staff. Like Paragould CC, however, the Oakwood golf course remained open for the season. As a result, business for the golf course maintenance department carried on largely as usual.
Likening the heavy-duty utility vehicles to small trucks, Golf Course Superintendent Brent Racer says the Oakwood staff members use them to haul materials such as bunker sand or sod. They also use the heavy-duty UVs for tree-trimming work, which they perform in the winter.
The seven remaining haulers are people movers for the Oakwood staff, and they also have beds to transport cutting equipment and mower rakes. Oakwood’s utility vehicles also have attachments such as topdressers and fertilizer spreaders for different projects.
“They play a big role anytime we have a big job that requires moving things,” says Racer. “It’s the only way we can get the job done.”
Westminster (Md.) National Golf Course, an 18-hole daily-fee golf course surrounded by farmland and rolling hills, has five utility vehicles. Two of the UVs are heavy-duty, and the other three are medium-duty.
“The utility vehicles get used every day,” says General Manager and Superintendent Ryan Kraushofer. “You always need to haul something around on the golf course. They get used hard.”
Sometimes, Kraushofer even uses his heavy-duty UVs to haul materials elsewhere—for a good cause, of course. He’s a member of the planning committee for National Golf Day, and each year about 150 golf course superintendents go to Washington, D.C., and perform a community service project as part of the event. Two years ago, he enlisted the aid of heavy-duty UVs to help move pallets of sod for the project.
Westminster’s heavy-duty utility vehicles have an automatic hydraulic lift, which comes in handy for big projects. They’re used to haul sand to fill bunkers or stone for drainage projects.
Westminster, which has a staff of 10 people in season, was closed for six weeks from mid-March until May 7 during the early days of the pandemic. During that time, Kraushofer had a smaller maintenance crew, which included himself and two staff members. With a skeleton crew, the grounds crew was unable to pursue larger projects.
“We concentrated on keeping everything mowed,” says Kraushofer.
To keep a golf course in top-notch condition, maintenance equipment replacement decisions are driven by budget, needs, and priorities. For Paragould CC, Haskins says, ownership of its utility vehicles makes the most sense for its operations.
“Our club’s business model is that we own all the equipment here, and we run it until the economics of the situation dictate that we do something different,” he explains. “We try to repair what we have. The bottom line dictates that we own our equipment.”
Ditto for Oakwood, which also owns its utility vehicles.
“If you can get a few more years out of them without making payments, it puts you ahead. We can allocate dollars to something else,” says Racer.
Westminster owns all of its equipment, including the utility vehicles, as well. Kraushofer buys equipment online or finds used utility vehicles from other golf courses on turfnet.com. The property sells the UVs later.
Kraushofer looks for durability and reliability when he purchases utility vehicles. “They need to be able to take abuse and haul the weights that we need to haul around the golf course,” he says.
Because Westminster has hilly terrain, the maintenance staff needs UVs that can climb hills and get good traction. “We need golf carts that can do the same, and we try to demo the golf carts and utility vehicles when we can before we buy them,” says Kraushofer.
Taking CareProper maintenance helps golf course properties hang on to their utility vehicles as long as possible. “Since we own them, preventive maintenance is stressed,” notes Haskins.
Paragould’s grounds crew changes the oil and filters after about 75 to 100 hours of use, and the staff only uses factory parts on the UVs.
Any decision to replace utility vehicles is based on economics, says Haskins. When the cost of repairs becomes too high to keep them in good working condition, it’s time to replace them.
At Oakwood CC, the golf course maintenance staff follows a winter maintenance program to keep the utility vehicles running properly, taking advantage of the downtime to change the oil and filters. Repairs are also made as needed throughout the year.
The relationship with the manufacturers and distributors is important in the upkeep of the vehicles as well. “I don’t have a mechanic, so I need advice from my supplier,” says Racer. “I can call them, or they will swing by and help me out.”
To care for the utility vehicles at Westminster, the staff also does routine maintenance such as oil changes and fuel filter changes during the winter. “We go over them once a year,” says Kraushofer. “If there is an issue or a breakdown during the year, we take care of it then.”
Another advantage of owning the utility vehicles is that it gives the property the opportunity to enhance the machines as needed.
“We modify them to suit our needs, but we don’t make it into something they weren’t meant to be,” Haskins says. “We try not to modify any of the vehicles any more than necessary to fit our operation.”
The Paragould grounds crew has built racks on UVs and added solar panels to a pair of them. The solar panels help to maintain the batteries on the UVs and other equipment such as the backhoe, which might sit for a week or more without being used.
The club’s irrigation controllers were solar-powered until last year, and the property had 15 excess solar panels. As a result, the grounds crew put them to use by adding some of the panels to the two UVs.
Paragould doesn’t have the manufacturer customize its UVs. “Anything we do to them, we do it ourselves,” says Haskins. For example, the club’s staff placed high-mounted work lights on their UVs to help them see when they work early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
Paragould has utility vehicles from all of the major manufacturers, and Haskins says he doesn’t look for particular features when making a purchase. “They come equipped from the factory just fine,” he says. “High-flow hydraulics on the heavy-duty vehicles are the only thing we specify that we need.”
The maintenance staff has hydraulic implements such as a topdresser, debris vac, and core harvester. However, the Paragould grounds crew has a dedicated sprayer.
All of the UVs at Paragould CC are gas-powered as well. The Paragould golf course is relatively flat with some elevation changes, Haskins notes, so trying to navigate the terrain at the property is not a concern.
“For something that gets the amount of hard use that these utility vehicles get, the technology with gasoline or diesel engines is more powerful at that level,” he explains. “For us, when a piece of equipment has to pull a tractor or carry a heavy load, that really stresses the electrical components.”
Haskins drives his own UV around the golf course, and he keeps it supplied with a small set of hand tools for emergency equipment use, a small set of irrigation tools, his volt meter for electrical diagnoses, a pipe wrench, a soil probe, and a marking paint gun. “We return everything to the maintenance center between uses,” he says.
Racer and his two assistants have dedicated utility vehicles, and the one that the superintendent uses is electric. He keeps routine supplies such as shovels, hoses, valve keys, and moisture meters in his UV.
The rest of the UVs in the Oakwood fleet run on gasoline. “A gas utility vehicle has more power and doesn’t wear out as easily,” says Racer.
At Westminster, where staff members use whatever utility vehicle is available, all of the UVs are gasoline-powered. “Electric utility vehicles won’t handle our hills,” says Kraushofer, who makes sure he always has hoses and moisture meters with him when he goes out on the golf course.
Successful superintendents are skilled at getting the most out of their staffs and the equipment they need. And savvy use of their UVs helps them maintain their properties in the best possible condition.
“We rely on them every day to do [everything from] the smallest job to the biggest job,” Kraushofer says. “There is always a need for a utility vehicle on the golf course.” C+RB