How We Do It: Adopting a different mowing pattern

Features - Cover Story

To offset staff reductions, Chris Theur, CGCS, Bear Slide Golf Club in Cicero, Ind., altered his fairway mowing style from the traditional striped look to a “circle” pattern, and in the process cut hi

January 26, 2010

"Just like everybody else we’ve been faced with budget and staffing cuts. We have a reputation for maintaining a high-quality golf course, and just a couple of years ago Golf Week rated us the sixth best public course in the state. But with a reduced staff – I went from 12 seasonal guys to seven – and the challenges that presented us, we didn’t want it to show that we cut back. We needed to start saving on our labor costs.

"We used to stripe our fairways, which is a very common practice. I’ve been striping fairways for as long as I can remember, but this process takes a long time. Typically we get a two-hour head start of play in the morning and when striping on a diagonal it would take the guys – depending on how much play caught up with them and how much played through – six to seven and a half hours. And mowing straight stripes on Fridays would take five to six hours to compete.

"When I started mowing fairways in 1981 I mowed in a circle cut – which some people call the British cut, or Euro cut or classic cut. What happens is one mower will start in the middle and work his way out, and the other mower will do a circle around the outside and work his way toward the middle. You end up with a line right down the middle of the fairway with one side light and the other side dark.

"So last fall we decided to change our mowing pattern and adopt this mowing style. We soon realized with circle cutting we got done a lot faster. In fact, we knocked our mowing time down to about four to four and a half hours. Now it’s very rare to get caught by play and we’re usually on No. 18 before the first group gets there in the morning. This saves a lot of time because the guys aren’t sitting on the machines watching the golfers play through and it allows them to get to their second jobs a lot faster. It also saves fuel and wear on the equipment. So it’s helping us overcome our budget cuts.

"The feedback from players has been positive. We’re a links-style course, so we already have a lot of natural areas. So this cutting style seems to fits the overall look of the golf course. I can see us mowing like this for the next several years. One thing we may do is rather than maintain the split look, we may alter our mowing direction every time we mow. One time we’ll go clockwise and the next time counterclockwise and not get the split look. We ran into a problem from cutting in one direction for too long the grass wanted to lay over and get a little leggy. We may go to alternating our mowing and end up with a fairway that is one color all the way across. It’s a look some courses are experimenting with right now."