Walk-behind vs. riders

Dan Copeland, vice president, S&D Lawn Maintenance (Oldsmar, Fla.)

The most obvious difference is price when choosing between riding or walk-behind mowers. When making the decision on which mower to use, the first thing the owner gets is shock at the price difference. However, price does not get the grass mowed. You need to evaluate the amount of grass to cut in relation to how much time you have to make a profit. Although a walk-behind may have the same deck size and ground speed as a commercial rider, the rider will cut more grass. The reason: operator fatigue. In Florida, for example, the summer heat is brutal. Operators here simply cannot keep up with riders. In addition, with mulching a priority these days, it is sometimes required to run over the clippings a second time to disburse the debris. Again, the walk-behind operator wears down in doing so.

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The second difference-one not so obvious-is that a mower must be user-friendly. Most first-time operators tend to fight for control of walk-behinds. The hand controls on most models require strong hands and great coordination. Experienced operators handle these machines with the grace of a ballerina. Riding mowers, however, tend to take less time to learn with new operators [producing more work] on the first day. Of course, both mowers have the potential for damaging turf or landscaping with inexperienced operators. However, given a choice, I would take the rider. I can cut more grass in a day with less fatigue and-as an often-overlooked benefit-my company appears more professional and prosperous by using riders vs. walk-behinds.

Brian Schafer, assistant golf course superintendent, Mariner's Point (Foster City, Calif.)

At Mariner's Point, we've found that in certain applications such as greens, approaches and other high-traffic areas of the golf course, a walk-behind mower is clearly the better choice for two reasons. First, the quality of cut when using a walk-behind mower is far superior than what we achieve when we use a triplex for mowing these same areas. The turf tends to have a more upright growth pattern, better color and more root mass when regularly mowed in this manner. The second reason is the lack of compaction due to using a smaller, lighter machine in areas that already can be highly compacted from the foot traffic of more than 65,000 golfers per year.

However, when choosing which type of mower to use, you also need to take a good, hard look at the crew that will be carrying out the mowing program. When a competent, motivated and well-trained greenskeeper is behind the walking mower, the benefits are almost instantaneous. In contrast, an unconscientious employee can negate these benefits by incurring damage inflicted from poor turnaround technique or with a loping gait that jostles the mower up and down giving you an uneven cut at best and can even damage the plants.

Tight time constraints and the labor lost when you devote members of your crew to a hand-mowing program may seem problematic at first glance. But embracing such a program can result in great benefits for your turf-not to mention the added benefit of compliments directed toward you as players enjoy the visual effects as well as the increased playability of your healthy, vigorous turfgrass.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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