Andy Brown, corporate accounts manager with ASCGA Major Partner, Toro, recently sat down with “Golf Business Community” to discuss “how golf course management oeprations changed during the economic downturn and technical solutions developed to enhance efficiency.”
Have golf courses changed their approach to management and maintenance in the wake of the economic downturn?
There is definitely now more focus on productivity and doing more with less resource, encompassing labor, water, chemical and time. Clearly golf courses have had to look at their operations and costs and we have been assisting them with this. We are developing high productivity, lower maintenance machines that produce the same quality of cut and finish but take less time to prepare, maintain and use to achieve the same productivity output. For example, the latest ride-on triple greens mowers produce the same quality finish on the green that a pedestrian mower does, but with significantly reduced time and effort.
What impact has the rising cost of fuel had?
Over the past three years, there has been a 30% increase in fuel costs so fuel efficiency is an extremely important factor. Also, we are seeing the introduction of emissions regulations in Europe and the US, which will apply to any machine with more than 50hp. To meet these regulations, golf courses will need machines that are more efficient in their power usage. That means that it may appear that you have less power to do the same job, but other design changes and technological advances will allow the machine to achieve the same performance. We have spent a lot of time and money developing a new generation of mowers with lower emissions and higher efficiency and we’ll be seeing these introduced over the next two to three years.
Have golf courses been cutting back on their fleets of machines to save costs?
Clearly, the cost of fleet ownership and operational costs have been front of mind for many courses. One of our solutions has been to develop a software system called myTurf which is an interactive database that uses wireless hour meters on each machine to automatically record data on their usage and directly upload this information to a central PC. A technician can see how many hours each machine has been used, when a service is due, identify spare parts needed and if they are in stock. Over a period of time it will help an owner assess how much it is costing to run that machine in terms of labor hours, running costs and repair costs and evaluate when it’s time to trade it in for a new one. The real cost of ownership has previously been a grey and perhaps ignored area, but this system accurately audits usage and costs and takes the guesswork out of the equation.
You also supply irrigation systems. How have you approached the efficient use of water?
A significant focus of our research and development is on water efficiency. Specifically, we have created integrated systems to enable accurate soil moisture measurement and water monitoring, including an easy to install soil moisture sensor called Turf Guard. This electronically monitors and transmits localized moisture information to the central controller to help set programming so that only the required amount of water is applied through the automated irrigation system. These tools give the course manager real time information on which to base his decision to precisely control irrigation run times, thereby promoting consistent turf conditions across the course. Apart from saving water, this also saves electricity, emissions and system “wear and tear”.
Has Toro’s approach – and perhaps that of other golf course suppliers – changed following the experience of recent years?
It’s certainly true to say we are no longer simply a supplier of turfcare machinery and irrigation systems. Our aim is to understand and identify the challenges facing customers, how their operations are changing, being conscious of their issues regarding membership and rounds played. Ultimately, our customers’ business performance will impact us and the rest of the industry – if golf is down, then budgets for investment are also likely to be down. So we want to understand how golf courses are under pressure, and see if it is products or services that will help their business. It is about being close to our customers’ business and helping them in a variety of ways.
Research has shown that golfers want high quality playing conditions. Is it possible to meet a high level of customer expectation while also meeting the efficiency and budgetary needs of golf courses?
We never jeopardize the quality of cut – that’s central to the success of our customers’ businesses, and our own. But by spending time with our customers, we are listening to what they are saying and developing new technologies that increase efficiency in machines, labor utilization and water usage. Ultimately, it’s a partnership that will benefit the industry as a whole from a business and sustainability perspective.
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