Unveiling the ‘lightweight turf rolling’ time capsule

By Alistair December 8, 2023 08:22

The origins of rolling can be traced back to a time when the very concept of golf course maintenance was in its infancy. In the 1700s, mechanical smoothing through rolling was one of the earliest cultural practices, predating even mowing. Initially, heavy manually pushed rollers, hand-carved from stone, were used. It wasn’t until the mid-1880s that lightweight, manually pushed wooden rollers found their way onto putting greens.

The evolution of modern turfgrass rollers owes much to the innovative work of Australian engineer Ron Kaye, whose legacy continues through the pioneering advancements and impact of Tru-Turf. Kaye’s innovation aimed to create smooth, consistent and healthy putting surfaces, significantly influencing the game by providing more predictable ball behaviour on turf.

In the early 1940s, Kaye developed the three-inch roller after his father witnessed a groundsman collapse from pushing a heavy barrel-style three-foot diameter roller. Soon Kaye started manufacturing his own rollers in Victoria, Australia. In the mid-1940s, he initiated the modification and creation of walk-behind, electric-driven, large-diameter, single steel rollers for bowling greens in Victoria (picture below).

These initial rollers, weighing around 400kg with a single, hollow steel roller approximately 90cm in width, laid the foundation for Kaye’s pioneering work. His engineering brilliance led to the recognition of the limitations of single large-diameter rollers, prompting him to conceptualise multiple roller units. In the late 1960s, Kaye introduced the groundbreaking ‘sit-down’, electric-driven, multiple-head rollers for bowling greens, followed by the later development of petrol-driven golf green rollers.

Kaye’s engineering theory behind the conception of multiple roller units centred on their sequential forward rotation, leveraging relatively narrow contact angles to progressively even out surface imperfections by exerting downward pressure on any slightly elevated points on the greens. In 1978, Kaye was flown to Canada along with his bowls machines to correct the bad greens in Edmonton in time for the commencement of the Commonwealth Games, through which the roller gained significant recognition (picture below).

Kaye’s insights challenged conventional wisdom regarding the relationship between roller weight, contact area and surface pressure. His innovative designs, featuring smaller-diameter rollers and a greater number of contact points, revolutionised the effectiveness and efficiency of greens rolling. His pioneering efforts led to the development of lightweight, multiple-roller units, providing superior surface finishing and ease of operation.

Tru-Turf, born out of Kaye’s visionary design principles and philosophies (picture below), introduced lightweight, multiple-roller units in the late 1980s with Ray Dufty. The designs, integrating smaller diameter steering rollers and a focus on surface contours, offered superior rolling capabilities for golf greens, bowling and sports turfs.

Tru-Turf expanded its reach globally, exporting its innovative rollers to the United States, Europe, including the United Kingdom, and south-east Asia. The Tru-Turf patented smoothing rollers’ adaptability to various terrains and their ability to maintain golf green smoothness, trueness and contour integrity positioned them as a global success story. Tru-Turf is the only official licensed roller for the PGA Tour. Under the new leadership of owner Scott Bullard, the company’s ethos to innovation, precision and ease of use has solidified its position as a leader in the field.

Step into a time capsule and witness the living history of mechanised lightweight turf rolling and be part of a brand’s journey that continues to etch its rolling perfection on the greens. Tru-Turf, an embodiment of Kaye’s legacy, continues to shape the narrative of turf management for the better. History is marked again at the BIGGA Turf Management Exhibition (BTME) at Harrogate Convention Centre from January 23-25, 2024, where Tru-Turf exhibits its designs imprinted with Kaye’s engineering genius.


By Alistair December 8, 2023 08:22

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