Feature Article - November 2014
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From the Ground Up

Best Practices in Grounds Maintenance for Parks and Golf Courses

By Deborah L. Vence

Beat the Budget

Develop a sustainable budget by pricing your services as if you were a contractor. Predictable budgets enable better resource management.

For parks dealing with budget constraints, Keith Hoverstad, business manager, government sales of the Agriculture and Turf Division of a manufacturer of grounds equipment such as lawnmowers and more, suggested three tips to better manage it.

The first, he said, is to reduce per-hour production costs:

  • When upgrading machines, select the next wider mower. For example, going from a 54-inch to 60 inches is an increase of 11 percent on each pass. This enables more work to be done in the same amount of time.
  • Newer machines have the horsepower, drive system and mower decks that allow for faster processing of grass. Increasing your mowers forward speed one-half mile per hour is about a 10 percent gain in production, likely without a loss in cut quality or a sacrifice to safety.

The second is to work within an operating budget:

  • Develop a sustainable budget by pricing your services as if you were a contractor. Predictable budgets enable better resource management.
  • Equipment leasing can enable better resource usage. It minimizes downtime potential by reducing the average fleet age, and increases the time in which machines are within their warranty period. In addition, newer machines may feature technology that can lower operating costs (i.e., EFI gas engines provide improved fuel economy).

The third is to use mulch-on-the-go mower decks:

  • Returning fine clippings to the soil reduces the cost and need for fertilizer.
  • You can direct how clippings will flow without stopping production. Keeping grass clippings off paths and drives reduces labor spent with power blowers.

Similarly, Higgins discussed that when it comes to budget limitations, one of the biggest expenditures is fertilization.

"We are careful to make applications when the grass requires it and make sure it is applied only where it is needed," she said. "Our fairways, greens and tees are kept fertilized because this is where we get the most traffic. Roughs require less."

And, to make sure that the fertilizer use is maximized, she added, "we keep our grass as healthy as possible. This means aggressive aerification and topdressing. Plus, fungicides and pest controls are applied as needed. We scout for pests before making applications and make sure the chemical only goes where needed. We maintain buffer zones along our lakes to keep chemicals out of the lakes.

"Whenever we can, we take areas of the course that are not in play and naturalize them. We remove the turf to reduce maintenance and fertilizer costs and replace them with native plants which require less input," she said. "We are proud of our efforts at Naples Lakes Country Club. Our management personnel have all achieved Certification in Best Management Practices for Golf from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection."

Higgins went on to say that the club now is a certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary through Audubon International.

"This program follows closely the guidelines for Best Management Practices and in addition enhances habitats for wildlife," she said. "Through this certification we feel we are being the best stewards of the land while providing great golf for our members."

The Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program is an education and certification program that helps organizations and businesses protect our environment while enhancing their bottom line. The "plan-do-check-act" approach of the program offers information and guidance to implement an environmental management plan that improves efficiency, conserves resources and promotes conservation efforts.