Is the age of one machine for a single application on a golf course over?

By Alistair April 8, 2021 07:14 Updated

For Rupert Price, the managing director of Price Turfcare, the answer is a resounding yes! Obviously, as the importer of the Ventrac 4500 all-terrain compact tractor, he has a vested interest in convincing golf club managers that his innovative equipment is the way forward. But it’s a challenge he’s relished since taking on the franchise in 2017.

Like the majority of golf course maintenance equipment, the Ventrac 4500 is manufactured in the USA, but unlike ‘conventional’ machines, which usually have a single purpose on the golf course, it comes with over 30 specifically designed attachments. These front-mounted implements can be attached and de-mounted in less than a minute, ensuring that the greenkeeping team optimise their use for each application.

There are now seven different mowing decks in the Ventrac portfolio, either rotary or flail, but also a triple-cylinder mowing attachment for fine turf. No other machine is as versatile, but it doesn’t stop there. The Ventrac 4500, in its eight-wheel configuration, can operate on slopes up to 30 degrees, which in some cases is twice the angle of conventional mowers.  It can maintain areas on sloping ground that would otherwise consume greenkeeping-hours, with the team using brushcutters.

Rupert Price

The other benefit of the dual-wheel configuration is that it generates just 6 psi, which allows it to function on wet areas leaving minimal marks on the course. During the wet autumn and winter months it is still able to get out on the course.

However, it’s not just as a versatile mower that it excels. Other attachments include a stump grinder, blowers, trencher, powered brushes, buggy path renovation rake, aerator, overseeder, front loader, soil and snow blades, snow blower and much more.

Peter Pattenden, the golf courses and estates manager at Carden Park, was one of the early adopters to appreciate the benefits of the Ventrac. It was delivered with a selection of accessories including Contour deck, Tough Cut deck, Stump Grinder, Edger, Blower and Power Broom.

“I manage a team of 23 staff here and that might sound a large number of staff to many, but we manage over 1400 acres,” he said.  “800 acres of that at Carden Park including the two championship golf courses and a further 600 acres comprising the owner’s property and grounds and the tenant farms dotted around the estate.

“Every piece of equipment we buy has to earn its keep and this machine certainly falls into that category. I’ve been operating equipment since 1991 and buying machinery since 1996 and I can honestly say this is one of the best machines I have ever bought! Summed up in three words, it’s exceptional, versatile and robust.”

“The Contour deck is great out on the golf courses, especially on sloping tee banks, the Tough Cut deck is superb for land management as it can cut through saplings, bracken and gorse, helping to maintain the areas that consume man-hours and the Edger has saved hours of labour. We have a mile-long drive leading up to the hotel and we can keep this looking pristine all year at a fraction of the time and cost we previously incurred.

“We invested over £400,000 in new cart paths over the past few years and since then we have had a series of storms that have taken down trees, some close by the paths. We can’t send in an excavator to remove the stumps and roots for fear of damaging the paths and that’s where the Stump Grinder has come into its own.

“It’s the perfect size, not too heavy, so we can use it in the wet winter months and not too light that it can’t handle the implements. It has uplifted the presentation of the estate in the time that we’ve had it; it’s simply a no-brainer purchase for any golf course or estate manager.”

Accepting that it’s a versatile machine, how does it add up as a business proposition? As an example, assume that your requirement is for a new tees mower, a surrounds mower and a semi-rough/rough mower. A typical cost for these three dedicated machines would be £75-80,000 depending on the discount you could negotiate with your dealer.

Compare that with the cost of a Ventrac tactor unit with dual wheels, plus Contour deck, Reel mower and Tough Cut deck, totalling at circa £59,000. On the face of it, a significant and worthwhile saving over the dedicated mower package, but the three Ventrac decks also allow you to do more than one application.

The Contour deck will meet the needs for your bunker surrounds, tee banks and surrounds, first fairway cut and semi-rough, the Reel mower for tees and greens surrounds, the Tough Cut deck for the rough and intermediate areas of heavy growth near woodland margins. The added value is that the machine can operate on 30-degree slopes, allowing you to maintain areas that were previously not maintained.

Later, when cap ex becomes available and you need to purchase more equipment, all that is required is to add the relevant attachment, not a dedicated machine. You have the power unit, so the cost of adding, for example, a rear discharge finishing mower would be £5,000 instead of £30,000 plus.  As you increase the number of attachments, the more cost-effective it becomes.

Mark Todd is the course manager at The Wildernesse Golf Club near Sevenoaks in Kent. Commenting on his Ventrac he said: “It might be a cliché, but this incongruous looking machine is a gamechanger. We purchased the tractor unit and three attachments; the Contour deck, Tough Cut deck and Turbine Blower. We are a heavily wooded course and we spend too many hours using backpack blowers removing leaves and other debris, not just in the autumn, but all year round. It’s time-intensive, but the Turbine blower is brilliant; we also use it to remove the debris after scarifying tees and even blow cores from the greens after aeration.

“The Tough Cut deck is great for maintaining the woodland margins. We used to use a compact tractor and flail to mow these areas, but it was a heavy and cumbersome combination. The out-front position of the Tough Cut deck combined with the low profile and agility of the tractor unit, means we can get in and under the trees. Without doubt, it has lifted the presentation of the course.

“Changing between the different attachments is quick and easy. There’s no three-point linkage to worry about or adjustments to make, you simply drive out of the current implement and drive into the next one. The mounting system is ingenious; it’s so quick that it encourages you to use it to its full potential. We recently loaned the stump grinder attachment and I was extremely sceptical that a belt-driven implement on a sub-25 hp tractor would be robust enough to do the job. However, it was outstanding and seemed defy the laws of mechanics; it will certainly be our next purchase.

“Initially I thought buying the Ventrac would be just about maintaining the banks and removing leaves, but we’re finding more and more uses for it. When we were looking to purchase the equipment, I made what I hoped was a sound business case and also invited the greens chairman to the demonstration. Everyone was impressed with its slope climbing ability and its potential labour-saving attributes, which have since become a reality. You know you’re on a winner, when there’s a lot of interest and positive comments from the committee!”

So, the question been resolved: dedicated machines for one application or a single power unit with dedicated attachments providing the versatility for a range of jobs across the course every day of the year. It’s your call.

By Alistair April 8, 2021 07:14 Updated

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