Turf Equipment Maintenance
The stepping stone of a successful program
Anyone on a grounds crew
realizes how much work goes on behind the scenes to make it possible for
golfers to hit the links day in and day out. While dedicated professionals
spend hours keeping the grass green and the surface playable, it is the
machines that are the lifeblood the crew. Maintenance on those machines is
critical to ensure their precision.
Equipment breakdowns can wreak havoc, but they can
often be avoided with a little preventative maintenance done on a regular
The tips here are designed to provide some basic
maintenance items that everyone on the grounds crew should know. They will
be broken down into four sections: general, mowers, aerators and sprayers.
Remember, these tips are not a substitute for the equipment
manufacturers’ recommended maintenance schedules.
|Photos by Mitch Broadbent
|Adjusting the bedknife on a Toro Reelmaster 3100 cutting unit.
The most important maintenance item on any piece of
equipment in the shop is greasing. Almost every machine has bearings or
bushings that are lubricated through grease fittings, and each fitting
needs to be greased on a regular basis. You can follow the
manufacturer’s recommendations for the greasing intervals, but a
basic rule of thumb is to grease at least once a day. However, the more you
grease, the less chance there is of bearing failures.
The best time to apply grease is right after washing.
In fact, this should become part of your routine if you wash your machines
after each use. There is no such thing as over greasing. Greasing after
washing is important because it purges any water that gets into the
bearing. When cold water hits a warm mower, the metal expands and allows
water to be sucked past the rubber seals and into the bearing. If the water
is not purged, it will cause rust to form in the bearing, which will cause
premature bearing failure.
The proper way to grease a fitting is to apply two to
three pumps of grease from a grease gun to the fitting. That’s enough
to provide the proper amount of lubrication without damaging the bearing
with excessive hydraulic pressure. It also limits the mess made by the old
grease that will be pushed out.
Fluid and filter changes are another imperative
maintenance item. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for the
proper interval, but remember that sooner intervals are better than later
intervals. Take advantage of slow periods or off days to perform an oil
change. Remind your operators to check and top off fluid levels daily. Not
only is checking fluid levels important for equipment maintenance, but it
could also provide an indication of a fluid leak. Hot oils can damage turf,
so finding a leak early could save you time and money in repairs.
It is wise to pay close attention to your fuel and air
filters. In extremely dry or dusty conditions, an air filter will get dirty
very quickly. The dirtier the filter, the less air gets through to the
engine, which can cause hard starting and poor fuel economy. Also,
low-quality fuel or a microbial infection in diesel fuel could plug up a
fuel filter, which can also stop an engine in its tracks. Check your air
filter weekly, or daily in dry and dusty conditions. Have your diesel fuel
supply tested often, and replace fuel filters per the manufacturer’s
recommendations or when they get clogged.
|Performing a nozzle catch test on a Toro MultiPro 5700-D.
Mowers have the most impact on the appearance of the
turf. They are also used on a regular schedule. That level of regularity
The most temperamental cutting device is the reel.
Reel-type cutting devices require a lot of adjustment, especially as the
height of cut gets lower. The two primary adjustments are height of cut and
bedknife contact. A reel’s height-of-cut adjustment should not change
much from the time it is initially set, but it is best to check it once a
week. This is most important on equipment with multiple cutting units, as
variances in height-of-cut settings will be noticeable on the turf.
Bedknife contact will change with each use, as the bedknife is wearing
against the reel during its operation. It should always be checked and
adjusted after each use. Refer to the operator’s or service manual
for adjustment specifications and individual adjustment procedures.
Rotary mowers are less labor intensive to maintain.
They are more efficient than a reel, cutting approximately 90 percent of
the grass it contacts as opposed to only about a third of the grass a reel
contacts. The trade-off is that a rotary mower cannot cut as low as a reel.
Rotaries don’t require many adjustments, which means you get more
time to spend maintaining your reel mowers. As long as the belts are tight
(if it’s belt driven) and the blades are sharp, a rotary mower should
be good to go any day it’s needed.
In order for either a reel or rotary mower to perform
optimally, the cutting blade surface must be sharp. The benefit to a reel
mower is that the contact between the reel blades and the bedknife acts as
a self-sharpening agent. But, the cutting surfaces won’t maintain
their sharp edge unless the bedknife is adjusted for the proper contact.
Turf equipment manufacturers have different recommendations about how much
contact is required. Check the contact before each use. Rotary blades
should be checked about every week or so for sharpness. While checking the
blade edge, check the sail (non-cutting side) for damage or wear. Sharpen
and balance rotary blades as needed.
Aerators are generally only used for a limited amount
of time. An aerator might get used for two weeks in the early spring and
two weeks in the early fall, and that’s it for the season. Even
though it is only used for a short period of time, it will put in a lot of
hard hours when it is called upon for duty. Because of this, breakdowns put
a serious damper in an aeration schedule.
The best thing to do to ensure an aerator makes it
through its scheduled usage is to check it over before it goes out.
Don’t assume that because it worked fine the last time it went out
that it will work fine this time. Make sure the routine maintenance is up
to date. Check with the last operator to see if there were any problems.
Take it somewhere out of the way and test aerate. Check for loose bolts and
fasteners. Then, when aeration is finished, check with the operator to see
if he noticed any problems. Don’t put off any repairs; make them now
so the machine will be ready for the next time.
Another thing to keep in mind about aeration is that
tines break, and they break often. Order plenty of tines to have on hand
before you begin to aerate. Aeration follows a tight schedule, and
equipment technicians should be prepared to go out onto the course if
necessary to replace a tine or two.
If a mower or an aerator breaks down, the turf may be
affected, but it probably won’t be damaged. If a sprayer breaks down,
the health of the turf may be in jeopardy.
One thing that will stop a sprayer in its tracks is a
clog. Most sprayers have some kind of strainer or filter to keep larger
particles from making their way out of the tank and into the precision
parts of the spray system. If too many large particles get caught in the
strainer or filter, the flow will be blocked. The best way to prevent that
is to premix the chemicals outside of the spray tank. This is especially
important when using powdered chemicals. Mix them with water in a 5-gallon
bucket, and then pour into the spray tank. Always follow the chemical
manufacturer’s mixing directions. It is a good idea to do the same
thing for chemicals in dissolvable bags. The bags don’t always
dissolve completely, and the plastic can wind up in your strainer or
filter. After a spray tech has completed the application, spray out three
full tanks of clean water to clean the system.
Any sprayer, electronic or manual, has to be
calibrated on a regular basis to make sure that the actual application rate
is equal to the intended application rate. This is accomplished by
performing a nozzle catch test. A nozzle catch test shows what the sprayer
is actually applying to the turf. It will also indicate whether a nozzle is
not performing up to specifications. To perform a nozzle catch test, fill
the spray tank approximately half full with water. Extend all the booms and
engage the sprayer with the desired application rate as if you were going
out to apply chemical. Place a metered pitcher under one nozzle for one
minute. Compare your results to the specifications provided by your nozzle
manufacturer. Repeat the procedure for all the nozzles on every boom. A
variance of more than 5 percent is considered unacceptable. Replace any
nozzles that do not meet their specification. If all of the nozzles are out
of specification but are consistent with each other, there could be a
problem with one of the sprayer’s components.
These simple tips should help keep all your equipment
running in top condition. A healthy turf starts with proper and consistent
The author is a service writer for a commercial turf
equipment distributor in the greater Philadelphia area.