Walking the line

As golf's popularity increases, more and more people are plopping themselves in front of televisions each weekend to watch rising stars like Tiger Woods and David Duval or venerable favorites like Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer perform.

When those players reach the green and line up their putts, people at home take note-consciously or unconsciously-of the narrow stripes that make the putting surface look so meticulously manicured. And when those people pry themselves off their couches and head to their local courses, they expect to see those stripes on the greens they play.

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To get that look, many courses are relying less on more productive triplex riding mowers to cut the turf on their greens and going back to walk-behind mowers.

"There certainly is a trend to walk greens more," says Peter Whurr, vice president of product management for Textron Turf Care and Specialty Products. "The perception is that a walking greens mower is going to give you a better quality of cut. It's more of a perception than a reality."

Shorter, faster greens It's a golfing truism that the quality of your greens determine the quality of your course. Keeping greens smooth and manicured can shave strokes off a player's score and spare superintendents the carping of club members who want to attribute their putting woes to an imperfect green instead of their own lack of skills.

Less-than-perfect conditions elsewhere on a course might not attract the same attention, let alone the wrath of golfers, but if your greens don't look good, you're going to hear about it.

Many players, influenced by what they see on televised tournaments, equate stripes with a higher standard of care.

"TV golf is putting more pressure on golfing," says Dana Lonn, director of Toro's Center for Advanced Turf Technology. "Golfers all want their courses to look like Augusta or the U.S. Open."

Whether the desire for striping stems from perception or fact, once enough golfers clamored for them, superintendents were going to respond. And they have.

"Many of the major, high-profile courses are walking their greens," says Whurr. "Their members are driving them to do that."

Slower, smaller machines Besides wanting the pleasing effects of striping, golfers may also perceive that a worker trimming a green with a walk-behind is delivering a more accurate and careful cut. The tradeoff, of course, is that it's going to take longer to maintain your greens using walk-behind mowers, says Chuck Greif, national sales manager for John Deere's golf and turf division. One cutting unit won't trim as much as the three units found on riding triplex machines-and that means money.

As golf course managers have struggled to find enough workers to maintain courses, triplex greens mowers have become more common. They allow smaller staffs to handle a greater workload. Productivity is still the paramount concern at many courses, but those that can afford the additional cost are catering to their members' wishes.

Superintendents sometimes are able to split the difference between productivity and aesthetics by using triplex units for day-to-day greens mowing and walk-behinds for special events, such as tournaments.

Some golfers may feel that heavier triplex machines, with more tires, leave marks on the green. Whurr says that immediately after mowing, you can see tire marks from a triplex on a green, but the mowers are designed to have a light footprint and the marks go away within a few minutes. Still, those few minutes may be enough to give golfers the impression that walk-behinds are more gentle on greens.

Turf specialists say that the stress that a hot summer can put on a green makes the fragile surface more susceptible to injury from larger equipment such as triplex riding mowers. Many specialists suggest switching to the lighter walk-behind greens units during those periods.

What's available Examining the specifications of walk-behind greens mowers will give you a better idea of the productivity you are giving up to provide aesthetically pleasing stripes on your greens.

Walk-behind greens mowers provide a close cut. A greens mower reel has between seven and 11 blades. Some walk-behind units deliver a height as short as 3/64 inch, similar to what a triplex riding mower delivers.

Walk-behinds are smaller and lighter-about 200 pounds, compared with 1,000 or more pounds for triplex machines. The size differential is reflected in the capacity of the fuel tanks. They typically hold about two-thirds of a gallon for walk-behinds, compared with 7 to 10 gallons with triplex riding mowers.

Walk-behinds have cutting widths that range from 18 to 26 inches. Any way you calculate it, mowing a green will take longer with an 18-inch cutting width than with the 62-inch path that triplex riding mowers deliver.

Besides the mower itself, many accessories are available for walk-behind greens mowers. You may replace reels with vertical mowers and groomers to control grain and thatch. Other accessories include brushes for working in topdressing and standing up turf for a better cut.

Roller attachments offer deeper penetration into the turf, and ultra-thin bedknives are options that allow you to achieve the low cut of height you need for tournament conditions. You also may choose from reels with various numbers of blades. The more blades per reel, the higher the cutting frequency, thus enabling you to maintain a lower cutting height.

Light kits are available to let you mow at night and avoid disrupting play.

Deciding which type of greens mower will work best for you depends on your unique situation.

"It's a matter of productivity-a time and a staffing issue," says Whurr. "If you've got the time and the budget, you may want to cut the greens with walking mowers."

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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