Equipment Options: Utility vehicles

While water and fertilizer make the grass grow, utility vehicles make the work flow on golf courses and large landscape sites. From the first time a golf course superintendent used a dump truck to transport workers to their various assignments throughout the course, utility vehicles have taken on ever-expanding roles in turf maintenance. Whether it’s transporting people, hauling cargo, pulling a trailer or powering a specialized tool or attachment, turf utility vehicles are the ace up a turf manager’s sleeve.

Major turf equipment manufacturers like John Deere and Toro have focused on utility vehicles over the past decade as a new and growing market, and have introduced many new models and design innovations. At the same time, long-term vehicle manufacturers like Cushman, Club Car and E-Z-GO have refined and improved their product lines. Productivity, durability, operator comfort and quiet operation have driven many of the design improvements.

“We see the vehicle industry growing steadily with an increased need for productivity,” says Neil Borenstein, marketing manager for vehicles for the Toro Company, Bloomington, Minn. “New product offerings are designed to better fit the specific needs of golf course superintendents and turf managers.”

The current turf utility-vehicle market can be loosely divided into heavy duty, mid-duty and light duty (runabout) vehicles; but those categories are blurred somewhat by “crossover” models that may fit more than one niche. Heavy duty models like the Cushman Turf Truckster, Toro Workman and John Deere ProGator lines are the largest and carry the heaviest loads (up to 2,850 pounds total payload), but also are engineered to offer the most versatility. All will accept a variety of the usual attachments like dump beds, topdressers and sprayers, while some also can be equipped with specialized attachments like scissor lifts. These units often have the capability to power air compressors, generators, power washers or hydraulic power tools to become mobile work centers.

Safety concerns with early 3-wheel vehicle configurations on undulating terrain (particularly with heavy loads or high center-of-gravity attachments) have led to a trend toward 4-wheel platforms and the improvement of 4-wheel steering systems. Many of the 4-wheel turf trucks now offer 3-wheel maneuverability within a safe and stable four-wheel configuration.

Creature comforts such as contoured bucket seats with hip restraints, power steering, larger storage areas, cup and radio holders and 12-volt power outlets for radios and cell phones are also being integrated into new models. The use of dent- and corrosion-resistant plastic for front cowling and even dump beds is another major trend, with the added benefits of lighter weight and lower noise. The venerable Cushman Turf Truckster line received a major overhaul two years ago, with new heavy duty models equipped with a choice of next-generation Suzuki 32- or 34-hp liquid-cooled gas or 22-hp Perkins diesel engines. Payloads have been increased up to 2,850 pounds (including 200 pounds each for the operator, passenger and dump box). The traditional left-hand gearshift manual transmission was updated to a right-hand dash-mounted shifter for the 4-speed, dual-range manual transmission. A new 3-speed automatic transmission was also offered for the first time in a heavy-duty turf vehicle. For Turf Trucksters equipped with the 34-hp Suzuki gas or Perkins diesel engines, power to the optional rear PTO has been increased to 15 hp for higher-horsepower attachments.

The Toro Company redefined the heavy-duty utility-vehicle market back in 1993 with the introduction of the Toro Workman series of multi-function work vehicles. Designed on a “cab forward” platform with mid-mounted engine, they offered 70-degree steering for 3-wheel maneuverability with 4-wheel stability, a 2,600-pound total payload, and a novel 1/3 to 2/3 split cargo or attachment configuration. Engines include air- and liquid-cooled gasoline and diesel options. A four-wheel drive version is also available for added traction in wet, hilly or slippery areas. Workman vehicles also offer optional mid- and rear PTOs, supervisor’s third-gear lockout to limit top ground speed and a built-in roll over protective structure.

John Deere followed suit in the heavy-duty vehicle market with their ProGator introduction in 1999. With a cab-forward configuration similar to the Toro Workman, the ProGator 2020 has a 26-hp Yanmar liquid-cooled gasoline powerplant, while the model 2030 has a 23.5-hp liquid-cooled Yanmar diesel. Optional on-demand 4-wheel drive is available. The five-speed manual transmission enables a 19 mph ground speed, although the standard fifth-gear lockout allows the grounds manager to limit the top speed to 15 mph via a separate key.

The ProGator has a 2,650-pound total payload, and incorporates a certified ROPS and seat belts for safety. A 3-pin quick-tach system enables easy changeover from cargo box to a sprayer, spreader or topdresser attachment. Hydraulic lift of the dump box is standard.

Mid-duty vehicles offer a broad spectrum of capabilities Mid-duty vehicles have higher-horsepower engines, greater payload (1,000 to 1,500 pounds) and beefier suspensions than the light-duty runabouts. The Kawasaki Mule line broke new ground in the mid-duty market back in the late 1980s, with a get-up-and-go vehicle that offered new levels of power, traction and off-road performance. Using liquid-cooled motorcycle engines and ATV-type tires and suspensions, Kawasaki Mules quickly became a favorite for new golf course construction. But higher noise levels and top speeds over 20 mph became an issue for some turf managers for day-to-day use, so additional models with turf tires, slower top speeds and quieter operation have been added.

Perhaps the long-term standard of reliability by which the mid-duty category is judged is the Club Car Carryall II, which is available in both gas and 48-volt electric versions. It offers a 1,200-pound total payload. Designed with traditional golf car features like pedal start and smooth tires, the Carryall line also makes extensive use of rust-proof aluminum framing and plastic body panels in a compact configuration. The Carryall II Plus has an 11-hp OHV gasoline engine and a top speed of 18 mph, while the new Carryall Turf II offers many standard features requested specifically by turf managers. The Turf II XRT, designed for aggressive rough-terrain use such as golf course construction, features knobby tires, 4-wheel brakes, higher ground clearance and an independent front suspension.

John Deere’s Gator line of mid-duty vehicles was introduced in the early ’90s and included both 4x2 (four wheels, 2-wheel drive) and 6x4 (six wheels, 4-wheel drive) configurations. All have continuously variable (torque-converter, or snowmobile-type) transmissions for clutch-free operation.

The Gator line has since been expanded with several variations, including a 4x2 Turf Gator with foot pedal start and an iso-mounted engine for quieter operation. The Trail Gator has both 4x2 and 6x4 versions in a sportier package with olive drab color for primarily recreational use. A diesel Trail Gator was introduced in 2000. Other niche products in the Gator line include the WorkSite Gator (in contractor yellow, sold through their skid-steer/loader dealers) and the Military Gator, a diesel unit that is air-drop and sling-load certified for helicopter drops and is sold only to the military through GSA contract.

A 48-volt E-Gator offers quiet operation with zero emissions for golf course use while also appealing to environmentally-conscious individuals, according to Collis Jones, product marketing manager for the John Deere Vehicle Group. “We see the golf course market moving more toward the zero emissions/electric product type than traditional combustion engines,” he says. “While the mid-duty vehicle market has been growing at about 10 percent per year since 1995, we see electric vehicles growing at 15 to 20 percent per year.” Deere opened a new $40 million vehicle plant in Williamsburg, Va., this year.

Ron Skenes, communications manager at E-Z-GO Textron, Augusta, Ga., disagrees about the trend toward electric vehicles. “Our WorkHorse utility vehicles are available in gas and electric versions, with the gasoline units having the largest market share. We see that continuing, primarily because turf managers like to run these vehicles all day long and not worry about a charge. Our electric vehicles are popular with university campuses, hospitals and for other use around buildings.”

The top end of the E-Z-GO WorkHorse lineup, the models 1000E and 1200G, fall into the mid-duty range with total vehicle capacities of 1,000 and 1,200 pounds, respectively. The 800G and 800E models fall into the light duty runabout category with their 800-pound payloads. E-Z-GO’s electric models use 36-volt power systems, while the gas-powered units use 9- or 12-hp Fuji twin-cylinder gasoline engines.

E-Z-GO WorkHorse models are designed as “truly multi-purpose vehicles that can be run and run with minimal maintenance,” according to Skenes. “Even something simple like our standard bedliner contributes to long-term durability.” The E-Z-GO WorkHorse 1200G is also co-branded with an orange paint scheme as the Jacobsen 1110 Hauler.

Toro introduced a new line of Workman mid-duty vehicles in 1999 and 2000. The Workman 1100 has a 12-hp Kohler engine and 1,250-pound payload, while the model 2100 has a 16-hp Vanguard engine and 1,650-pound total capacity. Both feature the innovative “active in-frame suspension” that allows the vehicle chassis to twist and flex over undulations, keeping all four wheels on the ground at all times. The Workman 110 and 2100 utilize the same 70-degree steering system as the Workman 3000 and 4000 series for tight maneuverability.

Neil Borenstein of Toro says the recent Workman mid-duty introductions were designed to be “mid-duty vehicles at light-duty prices”. Both have dent- and corrosion-resistant plastic hoods and cargo boxes.

“Corrosion is a big problem for many golf courses, particularly along the coasts,” says Borenstein.

Pug Power’s Back Forty Series, introduced last year, was originally designed with farmers in mind. However, it has become popular with grounds professionals because it can carry a crew.

“It’s really designed for anyone who works the ground,” says Dusty James, Pug Power advertising manager. “The Stow-away seat gives the Back Forty a four to five passenger capability—a popular feature with grounds managers who need to carry crews.”

Pug Power’s Back Forty Series consists of mid-duty vehicles offered in 4x2 and 6x4 versions. The F570 6x4 has a 1,250-pound payload capacity, while the 4x2 offers an 1,100-pound payload capacity. Both are powered by Vanguard air-cooled gas engines and designed to travel at a top speed of 18 to 19 mph, but their governors can dictate slower speeds.

Light-duty models have new power trains, features Most light-duty utility vehicles can trace their lineage back to golf car origins, but now have beefier chassis and suspensions and improved power trains at affordable prices. The Yamaha G-11 has a 301-cc, 10-hp, 4-stroke, single-cylinder Yamaha gas engine, continuously variable transmission with pedal start, tubular steel frame and thermoplastic body panels. A tilting, extruded aluminum cargo bed with 500-pound capacity is standard.

Club Car’s Carryall I is available in both gas and 48-volt electric versions, and has a rated capacity of 800 pounds. Typical Carryall features such as all-aluminum frame, chassis and cargo box, and polymer body panels are standard.

Both mid- and light-duty vehicles often find additional uses as golf ball pickers, beverage carts, security vehicles or personnel transporters.

Regardless of the intended or new-found use, utility vehicles are available in a wide variety of sizes, configurations and capabilities to assist the turf manager in getting his work done.

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