Fairway mowers: lightweight division

Lightweight fairway mowers came on the scene in the late 1980s as superintendents sought lighter equipment to minimize turf damage and compaction. The idea caught on and the major mower manufacturers all introduced new models.

The push to reduce weight, however, sometimes led to designs and components that didn't hold up as well under heavy use. As the industry has progressed, the major manufacturers have refined designs and upgraded engineering specs to put more durable machines into superintendents' hands.

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“Lightweight” is still a goal, but the emphasis of manufacturers now is more apt to be better weight distribution for a lighter “imprint” on turf, rather than strict lessening of overall machine weight.

John Deere

Deere replaced its “A” line of fairway mowers with the new “B” series last year, and Chuck Greif, manager of worldwide market development for John Deere Golf & Turf, says superintendents have welcomed the changes and upgrades. The new series includes the 3215B, 3225B and 3235B fairway mowers.

“Comfort and convenience have been a priority for the new series, based on our feedback from the field,” Greif says. “All three models come with a new-style suspension seat that makes it easier for the operator who has to ride one for eight hours a day.” Styling changes include a new fiberglass hood. More importantly, according to Greif, engine noise and hydraulic noise levels both are lower with the new series. Engines have a new air-intake fan that runs quieter, and hydraulic systems have been redesigned for increased flow and less operating noise.

Maintenance chores are easier, too. As before, daily maintenance checks can be accomplished entirely from the left side of the mower. “We've improved the backlap valves so they maintain a constant pressure for more uniform rotation of the heads,” Greif says. “Mechanics will find sharpening easier and more accurate.”

Greif says Deere has made several minor changes, such as upgrading electrical switches to improve reliability. Bigger changes are aimed at enhancing performance on the job. New reel motors for standard and Extra Strength & Precision (ESP) heads have increased torque for better cutting in heavy or wet grass. ESP cutting units are standard on the 3225B, optional for the 3235B. All three models cut 100-inch swaths.

All three models also have Deere's new Fairway Tender Conditioner (FTC) with optional rear roller power brush attachment. FTC was already available on the smaller heads. Now it's available on the ESP heads as well. The FTC re-chops clippings in front of the cutting heads for better dispersal and faster decomposition, while simultaneously slicing through stolons. The power brush attachment further disperses clippings and prevents build-up on the rear rollers. “This practically eliminates the chance of leaving clumps in the fairways when mowing after heavy dew or irrigation,” Greif says. “Both the FTC and power brush are powered by gear drive to eliminate slippage,” he adds.

ESP cutting heads come with Deere's patented RFS (Rotate For Service), which allows the shop mechanic to flip up the head and hand-face the bedknife without taking it out of the machine. Operating weights for the mowers are 2,520 pounds for the 3215B, 2,520 pounds for the 3225B and 2,980 pounds for the 3235B with standard cutting unit or 3,140 pounds for the 3235B with ESP cutting unit.

Jacobsen

Jacobsen's lightweight fairway mowers, the LF-3400 and LF-3800, have been designed to accommodate a wide range of golf course terrain and grass conditions. “We build them around a common platform, using common cutting units and components so that superintendents can ‘mix and match’ tractors and cutting units as needed for their own specific course,” says Peter Whurr, vice president for product management at Textron Golf, Turf & Specialty Products.

Both the LF-3400 and the LF-3800 have five cutting units, with 22-inch reels that mow a swath up to 8.3 feet. The 3400 uses 7-blade, 5-inch-diameter reels. The 3800 cutting units have 7-inch-diameter reels with 9 or 11 blades. Kubota diesel engines (34 hp on the LF-3400 and 36 hp on the LF-3800) let a good operator mow at speeds up to 12 mph. Both units are designed to follow ground contours for clean, even cutting.

Like their predecessors, the LF-3400 and LF-3800 are designed for enhanced operator comfort, along with high-quality cutting. Power steering and tilt steering wheel are standard equipment, as is joystick reel positioning. Options include cruise control, canopy and sunshade. Four-wheel drive options also are available on both mowers. “Adjustments and settings are as easy as we can make them,” says Whurr. Jacobsen's patented FlashAttach reel-mount system permits easy changeover to vertical reels or other bladed reels. Reel-to-bedknife adjustments are made with a single wrench. Independent reel-motor relief valves increase cutting torque with lower hydraulic circuit pressures.

The LF-3400 weighs in at 2,580 (2WD) and 2,705 pounds (4WD). The LF-3800 comes in at 2,790 pounds (2WD) and 2,915 pounds (4WD).

Following up on the LF-3400 and LF-3800, Jacobsen introduced lightweight seven-gang mowers last year. The LF-4675 comes equipped with 5-inch, 7-blade reels and the LF-4677 uses 7-inch reels with 9 or 11 blades. The 22-inch reels give an overall maximum cutting width of 11.7 feet.

At 3,180 pounds for the 4675 and 3,450 pounds for the 4677, Whurr says these are the lightest 7-gang fairway mowers in the marketplace today. The LF-4675 and LF-4677 are powered by a turbocharged, 44-hp Kubota diesel engine and come with 4WD transmissions. Operator comfort is built into these new models, including a suspension seat and tilt steering wheel. “The operator station is ergonomically designed so the operator has easy access to all the controls,” Whurr says.

Ransomes

Ransomes' side of the Textron stable includes the Ransomes 250 lightweight fairway mower with two engine choices, 28 hp or 33 hp, both Kubota liquid-cooled diesels. Either way, the mower is equipped with 5-gang 22-inch cutting heads, 5-inch diameter reels in 7-blade, 9-blade or 11-blade configuration to fit a wide range of applications.

Ransomes' 305 fairway mower comes with 6.5-inch reels in 7-blade or 11-blade versions with five 26-inch gangs for an overall cutting width of 116 inches. Technically, the 305 is considered a midweight fairway mower, weighing in at a little over 3,300 pounds. By comparison, the Ransomes 250 weighs 2,530 pounds with 28-hp engine in 2WD and 2,720 pounds with 4WD. With a 33-hp engine, the 250 weighs 2,610 (2WD) or 2,800 pounds (4WD).

“These mowers come with a weight transfer capability and variable reel speeds, which enable the operator to fit mower operation to both terrain and grass condition,” says Whurr. Both mowers are configured for convenient, easy maintenance, he adds.

Perhaps one of the most talked-about features of both Jacobsen and Ransomes fairway mowers, says Whurr, is the fact that they are shipped from the factory with GreensCare biodegradable hydraulic fluid. “A spill on the fairway may cause some browning of the grass, because of the heat, but the grass recovers and greens back up in a few days. And the oil is washed away readily with rain or irrigation water.”

Toro

Toro brought its Reelmaster 5200-D and Reelmaster 5400-D lightweight fairway mowers to the marketplace nearly four years ago, but the company has continued to refine and upgrade its designs. Just last spring, Toro brought out a new cutting unit design for its fairway mowers. “The changes are subtle,” says Brad Hamilton, marketing manager for Reelmaster products, “but the objective was to make an already proven design even more adaptable for variable cutting conditions.”

Changes were made to the bedknife adjustment mechanism and improvements made to front and rear rollers. “We wanted the same mower design to be as efficient for the superintendent in Seattle as it is for the superintendent in Phoenix, under all types of weather and turf conditions.”

The 5200-D and 5400-D fairway mowers were based on Toro's successful Reelmaster 223-D fairway unit, which first came to the marketplace in 1989. Some of the improvements included on the newer models were wider, high-flotation tires for easier tracking on turf and standardizing on power plants. “We made the decision to go with Kubota diesels on nearly all our line: the fairway mowers, trim mowers, diesel rotary mowers, ” Hamilton says. “That way, the maintenance shop can stock fewer parts and accessories because so many of them are interchangeable.”

Hamilton says Toro has always used an electronic joystick control for raising and lowering cutting heads. “It's been one of our most popular features. When I get out in the field to gather customer feedback, the mower operators invariably say it's one of their favorite features.” In fact, most other manufacturers have added similar designs, according to Hamilton.

Another item that Hamilton likes to tout is Toro's manually adjusted reel-speed system. “This is a feature that gives the superintendent precise control over cutting quality. No matter what time of year it is or what condition the grass is in, the manual adjustment allows the superintendent to fine-tune reel performance to fit his program.”

Superintendents and players both are more particular about course appearance these days, according to Hamilton. “We offer a nylon comb kit option that gently stands the grass up ahead of the reel for better cutting. It's not necessary in all types of turf, so it's an option, but one that is proving popular with many users.”

Both lightweight models also can be equipped with optional powered rear roller brushes to better disperse clippings, especially in wet grass. “It was popular for our greens mowers, so we adapted it to the fairway mowers.”

Both the 5200-D and 5400-D cut a 95-inch swath with 5-gang, 21-inch reels. Reels are 5-inches in diameter, with a 5- or 8-blade design. Hamilton says 90 percent of the units are sold with the 8-blade reels for fairway use.

The 5200-D and 5400-D both weigh in at just under 2,400 pounds in 2WD configuration and slightly over 2,600 pounds with 4WD option. That contrasts with Toro's larger fairway mower, the Reelmaster 5500-D that weighs over 2,900 pounds and its midweight mower, the 6500-D that weighs about 3,100 pounds. “About 250 pounds of the extra weight on the bigger mowers is because of the larger reels,” Hamilton says.

National Mower

National doesn't make dedicated fairway mowers, according to Stan Kinkead, National CEO. But National trim mowers often double as fairway mowers on smaller, par 3 courses, or in conditions where light weight is important. “Some California courses use their National trim mowers to cut fairways during the winter when the ground is wet, because the mowers have a lighter ‘footprint’,” Kinkead says.

National makes several versions of its 84-inch triplex mower, including the 8400, 84 Van and Hydro 70. The Hydro 70 is widely used for sports fields, as well as on golf courses. The mowers are compact and lightweight, and cutting heads are powered by mechanical drive for economical operation.

Gary Burchfield is a freelance writer specializing in equipment topics.

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